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Anne Louise Mahoney

Feeling Scattered or Overwhelmed? Some Tips for Staying Focused

A person stands in front of a window and next to a disorganized filing cabinet with papers and folders strewn everywhere. A clock and a painting hang on the wall behind the filing cabinet, where a plant sits on top.
A person stands in front of a window and next to a disorganized filing cabinet with papers and folders strewn everywhere. A clock and a painting hang on the wall behind the filing cabinet, where a plant sits on top.
Copyright: marinanaumova

After reading Nicola Aquino’s blog post “Editing in Times of Chaos and Loss,” I’ve been thinking about ways editors can stay focused and motivated when feeling overwhelmed. This could be in times of trial, but also when our energy or mood is low, when there are distractions outside of our control, when the content is difficult or not engaging, or when work and life put too much on our plates.

Here are some tips I’ve found useful that might help you manage all you are carrying these days. In the spirit of avoiding adding to your already full load, they are short and (I hope) sweet!

Structure your workspace and your day

  • Create a workspace that suits you (preferably with a door or divider). Whether it’s a corner, a closet or an entire room, set it up so it’s comfortable, cheerful and not too cluttered.
  • Begin by spending 15 minutes planning your day: set priorities, make lists and block off breaks. These 15 minutes will start you off on the right foot and will probably save you time in the long run.
  • Ease in gently: Check the document’s formatting, create a template for the style sheet, scan the text or review the instructions from the client or manager. These tasks are a way of warming up for the main effort and can help settle any anxiety.
  • Follow your natural rhythms and work at your most productive time(s) of day. We’re not all morning people; if you find your stride after dinner, go for it!
  • Tell your family/roommate/partner when you have to focus and can’t be disturbed. Hang a sign outside your workspace when you need quiet work time.

Streamline your systems

  • Use online tools (such as time tracking and invoicing software or macros) that will simplify your work process. Ask colleagues for their recommendations for systems that work for them.
  • Delegate tasks within a larger job. Get to know what other editors in your network are good at and share the work: checking facts, picture editing, copy editing references and testing website links are all things you can carve out for someone else to do for a more efficient workflow when time is tight.
  • Hire a cleaner, dog walker, babysitter or caregiver when you need backup. These sanity savers are worth the investment and give you blocks of uninterrupted time (bliss!).
  • Check email periodically but not constantly. It’s too easy to get distracted by other people’s priorities when we’re glued to email.

Set boundaries

  • Practise saying no. It can be tempting to take on more work, but first spend some time thinking about whether you’ve got the time and energy for the job. Sometimes, passing up a job that’s not right for you at this moment is the healthiest option.
  • Ask for an extension for a deadline that isn’t doable. Most clients can offer some wiggle room with enough notice.
  • Turn off social media notifications and silence your phone for specific periods. You can check your feeds during breaks or after your work is done.
  • Unsubscribe from emails that are no longer useful to declutter your inbox. Do you really need daily promotional emails from that store you visit only rarely?
  • Review your client list. Are any clients draining you because of regular last-minute emergencies, difficult personalities or slow payment of invoices? Think about letting them go.

Give yourself a break

  • Take mini-breaks every hour (or more often, if needed). Walk in place, sing at the top of your lungs, stare out the window, play with your dog, do some yoga stretches or dance moves.
  • When your attention starts to wander, stop whatever you’re working on as soon as you hit a new section and work on something else (ideally involving a different task) for a while. Then return to the original task. This is especially helpful with work requiring a lot of concentration that’s hard to sustain.
  • Don’t forget to eat and hydrate! It’s easy for our energy to flag without nutritious food and fluids to keep us alert.

We all go through times when we feel overwhelmed. Hang in there! With a few adjustments to how, where and when you work, you can start to regain some balance.

What are your tips for staying focused when work and life are a lot to manage?


Previous post from Anne Louise Mahoney: Learning to Love Style Sheets

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2 Comments on “Feeling Scattered or Overwhelmed? Some Tips for Staying Focused”

  • Rohandip Samanta


    This is such a helpful post not only for experienced professionals but also beginner editors like me who are starting out. I often do some “book cleanings” to ward off my uncontrollable anxiety. It’s difficult, but I know I got to have to do something else you get carried away.

    By the way, I love these insightful tips though.

  • Anne Louise Mahoney


    It is a challenge for editors at every stage, I think, Rohandip! Finding ways to control the chaos and related anxiety, even if they are small things like cleaning off your desk or organizing resources you’ll need, can really help. Another option is to form a small virtual group with other editors where you can share ideas and encourage each other regularly when work gets overwhelming. Good luck as you find your way!

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