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PATH TO CLARITY

Five ways to find focus despite election stress

A person wearing a Statue of Liberty outfit to pose for tips checks his cell phone during warm weather in Times Square in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York, U.S., October 19, 2016.
REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
You might be tempted to keep refreshing election predictions. But let’s face it, you have stuff to do.
  • Alexandra Ossola
By Alexandra Ossola

Deputy membership editor

Election day has come and gone, and the US still doesn’t know who its next president is. This isn’t a surprise—due to the pandemic, mail-in and early voting were at an all-time high, throwing states off their typical election night vote count. You might be tempted to keep refreshing the election results pages, but let’s face it, you’ve got stuff to do.

Fortunately, we’ve asked the expert for his tips on how to maintain your focus. On Oct. 15, Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable, did a workshop with Quartz about how to manage distractions. Here are the suggestions of his that could be helpful as election results trickle out.

Observe the sensation

That feeling when your brain tries to flit to the next thing? Yup, you’re getting distracted. No need to blame it on stress or our shortened modern attention spans—describe the sensation so you can recognize it next time. Yes, the election is what’s interfering with your focus, but try to get more specific: What about your feelings or environment changed just before your mind wandered? Once you identify the trigger, you can try to avoid it.

Fight temptation

Before you give in to the distracting task, whether it’s checking election forecasts, scrolling through Twitter, or opening a text from a family member you know is seeking reassurance, stop yourself and set a timer for 10 minutes. Sit with the feeling, and let it float away without giving in to it. “Allow it to crest and then subside,” Eyal says.

Prioritize your day

What is a distraction if you don’t know what you need to focus on? Take a few minutes to think about what needs your fullest attention today, and make an effort to stick to it.

Don’t get reactive

Email, phone calls, chats with the boss, appointments, spontaneous interactions—these are what Eyal calls reactive work, and they may provide more triggers for election distraction. It’s necessary work, but can be a morass that takes you away from sustained concentration. Set aside some time each day for distraction-free thought, during which you avoid all reactive tasks, so you can be better at what you do best.

Sign off

It can be tempting to stay glued to social media or news alerts to keep up with the minutia of the electoral process. This ultimately isn’t beneficial—for your mental health, or for your work. Eyal has lots of great suggestions for digital tools that can help you block out distractions, such as Forest app, SelfControl, or just changing your phone’s notification settings.

If these suggestions feel like a tall order, it’s OK, you’re only human. Make space to process what’s going on if you need to, and don’t feel guilty if you slip up.

To read the full list of Eyal’s suggestions, click here.

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