5 practical ways to regain focus and find peace

boy looking at sea

Like you, I have been stuck in my house for weeks. We started isolating on March 13, the day the Portuguese government announced that schools would be closed the following Monday. About a week later, the government announced a state of emergency that included forced isolation orders. Which means, in short, that we’re stuck at home. Other than exercise (with one other person max), short walks, travel to work (only in approved fields), and travel for necessary errands, we are ordered to stay at home.

And like you, we’ve made the best of it. Or at least we’re trying. My husband is homeschooling our daughter and caring for our son, plus is now spending a lot of the day in the kitchen since all four of us are home right now. While we normally have a wonderful woman who comes to clean, she is ordered home as well, and so we are now doing extra work around the house with extra bodies here all day, every day. I’m working more than normal to safeguard my business and make sure we’ll be able to ride out this potential recession.

That’s all to say: life has been totally disrupted. I know you feel it too. Some of us are feeling overwhelmed. Maybe you’re going into news spirals, or worrying much of the day, or feeling especially isolated if you’re single. (Extroverts, I’m looking at you.) Maybe you’re in a country that isn’t doing enough and you’re concerned about what’s to come in the weeks and months. Maybe you have older parents or grandparents that aren’t heeding safety recommendations, or you lost your job, or you’re feeling generally like what in the sam hill is happening in this gosh darn world. (I edited that language for you, dear reader.)

So if you’re feeling that way, I’d like to share the simple phrase I have posted on a sticky note on my computer monitor:

When in doubt, CREATE.

For the first week or so of the COVID-19 chaos, I didn’t do this. While I was able to maintain focus on my client work, when it came to creative engagement in my own work, I struggled. Part of the reason, for me, is that I was allowing my thoughts to drift into the scary and uncertain, rather than engaging my best tool for combatting fear: my own brain. We must be intentional in what we feed our brains each day (news, social media, even daily conversations) and how we engage our brains each day (journaling, art, writing, recording, music).

Once I recognized what was happening inside of me, I wrote the phrase above on a sticky note as a daily reminder that, as creators (which I believe we all are), we need to create to see our way through this. So without further ado, I want to share the morning and daily habits that have helped me regain focus, find peace, and stay (mostly!) positive.

#1 Don’t open the trap door to your brain

One survey found that 46 percent of Americans check their phones before even getting out of bed in the morning; another 28 percent check their phones during breakfast. That means that an incredible 74 percent of Americans check their phones before even really beginning their day.

Checking your phone first thing in the morning is detrimental to your focus, creativity, and stress level. If you now have the freedom to work from home and dictate more of your schedule, why not begin cultivating discipline around phone usage? Here’s what I recommend: don’t check your phone or email until after a period of focused time, whether that time is spent writing, on strategy development, or in another area of that needs intention and attention. Personally, I don’t check email, social media, or any other communication platforms (text, WhatsApp, etc.) until 11 a.m.

#2 Develop a morning rhythm

You might have a morning rhythm—a specific routine you follow, day after day. If not, now is the time to create one. I had to shift my morning rhythm when I noticed my energy and focus dropping in relation to the uncertainty around me. Now, I am choosing to read something that inspires me (I’m currently rereading A Moveable Feast) and spend time journaling, and then I meditate or pray before getting into my work. I also intentionally choose background music that connects to the work I’m doing in some way, open a window to let fresh air in (I’m fortunate in this regard—weather in Portugal is amazing right now), and do my best to generally create a peaceful environment. I’ve talked with clients and colleagues who also find that having a set routine in the morning helps them get into their days and stay focused.

My morning rhythm is a savior for me. Whenever I’ve let this specific routine slip, I’ve struggled to focus and get into the flow for writing.

#3 Creators, create!

My anchor, the thing that has been keeping me positive and peaceful, is engaging in my creativity. Because creators need to create! We need to live and breathe on the page, or screen, when the world around us in uncertain. Creating is a meaning-making activity, one that helps us sort through the things that are happening around us and find our way through.

But for me, it’s not just been creating that’s helped. It’s been creating with intention—with purpose. I’m ghostwriting a book right now and editing another, and I’ve been able to engage fully in those projects because they contribute something good into the world, like all the work I strive to do. I’ve showed up for my book coaching clients, knowing they are contributing good into the world. I’ve been putting my heart into emails to my e-list community, delivered a free training on book writing, and have been working on a group book coaching program (which I can’t wait to share!).

By finding ways to engage your creativity, you’ll be better able to stay positive and productive. The goal? To emerge from this chaotic time with greater clarity and purpose, and progress made toward our goals.

#4 Be sure to rest

For all this talk about creation and productivity, rest is just as important. In fact, I recently released an entire podcast episode all about “Why rest is critically important.” For many of us, myself included, this is the first time in a long time that we’ve been in place. Personally, I had three trips cancelled in April, which means that, yes, I lost some business, but I gained time with my family. For the past several years, I have been traveling all the time, and for the last two years I have been gone about once every month or so, usually on international travel (long trips).

Now, I am home. Literally at my house because I cannot leave. You might be too. We are compelled to slow down, even stop, much of daily life. We’re being asked or forced to stay home. And while I deeply believe we need to engage our creative selves, and continue to work and be productive (if not for our own sanity, also for our careers, businesses, and goals), it’s also just as important to find stretchy space to rest.

For me, that’s taken shape in exercise and yoga. It’s meant having more meals with my family, not setting an alarm (our 4-year-old is my alarm anyway), and taking time throughout the day to breathe. It’s involved having no-meeting days and being sure that I’m not working ’round the clock (which, to be honest, I am geared toward). If you need help thinking of ways to work rest into your life, the podcast episode I mentioned above has advice for how to rest daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Hint: scrolling your social media feed before bed isn’t enough.

Rest, my friend. Rest because it renews us and allows us to show up for ourselves and the people we care about. Even if we’re just showing up on FaceTime.

#5 Begin writing your book!

I can’t help adding this to my list. I deeply believe everyone has a book inside them, an idea or story that needs to be shared with the world. Most of us just need the space and structure to be able to write this book, and the internal motivation to see it through.

Well, space granted. You are likely home now for the foreseeable future, and while maybe you have kids to homeschool or other obligations that are adding more pressure to your day, other things are gone: Your commute. Unimportant meetings. Interruptions from coworkers. Having to change out of your pajama pants.

Can I make a suggestion? Maybe the universe is nudging you right now. With this space and time at home, without travel and sports to drive the kids to and birthday parties on the weekends and other things to fill our days and weeks, could you wake up early each morning to dedicate time to your book? Could you begin ideating around your book? Could you then outline that book? Could you then plan your writing out, giving yourself specific deadlines for each chapter? Could you begin writing your book?

You don’t need hours and hours each day to become an author. You need 1–2 hours of focused, uninterrupted time, and you can write your book. Maybe you could even emerge from this pandemic with a draft done—wouldn’t that be amazing? (If you’re curious about the book-writing process, be sure to access my free training here.)

 

I know we are facing a difficult time in human history. But when this is over, I hope we can look back on our decisions and behaviors and feel pride for how we handled it. For me, creativity and rest is an anchor, and being disciplined with my mind and body is keeping me strong.

What habits are you cultivating to stay mentally and physically well? What creative projects or personal goals are you working toward? Please share—I love hearing from you, and I read and respond to each and every comment.

4 Comments

  • Donna Cook Reply

    I have found the same strategies to be incredibly helpful. It’s amazing the difference a good morning routine can do (sans screens!). Another thing I’ve found helpful is working in the yard. We’re fortunate that there’s plenty in our yard to keep us busy; we’re also getting the garden going again. Being in the warm sunshine and fresh air, while moving my body and getting in touch with the earth, has been even more restorative than my morning routine. My favorite days are when I get to do both. 😉

    Interestingly, my brain and muse both need a break from writing books right now. I have no problem honoring that. I’m keeping creative with my short story projects, but also working on creative things that are more tactile like quilting, baking, and even puzzles with the kids. Big or small, the act of creation is uplifting.

    The biggest blessing in all this has been rediscovering the beauty of a slower pace. Like you, I tend to put in a lot of hours. I’m absolutely loving the extra time with my family. Just relaxing in the evening with them and being present has been a salve for all of us.

    A wonderful post, my friend. Thank you for all the positivity and wisdom you put out into the world.

    • Stacy Ennis Reply

      Thank you for this thoughtful comment, Donna. I wish I shared a love of working in the garden! 🙂 We had a giant backyard growing up with two small ponds and tons of fruit-bearing trees, and one of my chores was weeding and picking up rotten fruit. I really disliked being in the garden. I think I need to find a way to cultivate a love of yard work.

      The extra time with family is special, and your perspective is spot-on. You are one of the least-lazy people I know, and I’m glad you’re honoring the need to slow down. At our house, we’ve been doing crafts and science experiments, which has been fun.

      Thank you for sharing your insights—and for your positivity and wisdom too. I appreciate you!

  • Rodney Richards Reply

    Hi Stacey , greetings from Rod ( down- under). I am a firm believer in routine. Your tips are great.
    Writing my 3rd draft of my International mystery. For me its a great time to focus and ” get it done”. Less distractions and I like the rest idea. I get a nanna nap everyday as well
    This a good time to research, wrote and not get lost in the distractions.
    My morning is devoted to learning, not the news.nothing could be worse than waking up to negativity every day.
    Best wish from Rod

    • Stacy Ennis Reply

      Yes to daily naps and working on your book! What a great way to spend this time at home. And I agree: learning and growing is much better than panic-reading the news. I deleted my Apple News app on my phone and now aim to check three news sources (two US, one Portugal) once a day to keep up to date, and only read for about ten to fifteen minutes to stay informed. Like you, I’m doing my best to protect my mental space and stay positive. Good luck on your draft!

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