5 Tips to Help with Focus in These Stressful Times (Plus New Releases!)

by Kassandra Lamb

help with focus in these stressful times

Celebrating Independence Day this year was bittersweet for me.

I’ve lived through the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, multiple assassinations of leaders, the Gulf War, 9/11, the War Against Terror and never have I seen our society so disrupted for so long. And the end is not yet in sight.

I believe that good will ultimately come out of much of this upheaval, that our society will have a better appreciation of what is most important in life, and a better appreciation for others’ lives and experiences.

But in the meantime, how do we do the tasks we need to get done?

Especially the tasks that require a lot of focus. And especially when a lot of us are working from home, where structure, peace, and quiet may be harder to come by.

(Note: I’m using authors’ problems with focus as an example, but these tips apply to any focus-intense tasks.)

Like many other authors I’ve talked to recently, I’m having trouble focusing. Not surprising. The job of writing requires a lot of focus. So this thing we writers love, this thing that is often the refuge from other stressors in our lives, is now harder to do.

(For a quick explanation of why it’s harder to focus, check out this article on Fiction University; it’s a bit oversimplified, but basically accurate.)

Here are some things I’ve found that help with focus in these stressful times. I hope they work for you as well.

#1 – Don’t blame yourself

Don’t beat up on yourself for not being able to be as productive as you usually are. It’s not your fault. These are extraordinary times.

And self-blame is not motivating. It is depressing. It makes us want to curl up and forget about everything, not buckle down and get things done.

I love this quote I saw recently in an article from BookBub (emphasis is mine):

“Your writing is not garbage. Even your draftiest of drafts … And those few words you managed today? Not trash. Moving away from that thinking is one of the kindest things I ever did for myself. I am in the business of words, so I know words can be weapons. Why would I weaponize them against myself? My words are a part of me and I am worthy of grace, first and foremost, from myself. You are, too.”
—Samira Ahmed, NYT bestselling author of Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know

from Inspiring Words from Authors to Authors During Difficult Times, by Diana Urban, June 26, 2020, BookBub Partners Blog.

So be gentle with yourself. The obstacles to productivity and focus during these stressful times are real. And the most productive use of our brain power, instead of mentally berating ourselves, is to look for ways around those obstacles.

#2 – Break the tough tasks into chunks

One of the things I’m struggling with most is editing, either my own work or that of other authors I’m supposed to be critiquing/proofreading. Editing takes a different level and kind of focus than writing a first draft, or even a blog post like this one.

One of the tasks I’ve had on my desk this month was copy-editing the last two installments of Kirsten Weiss’s trilogy of Doyle Witch novellas. They were only about 150 pages each, and I love this series of hers. Should’ve been a piece of cake.

help with focus in these stressful times
Where I normally do the first read-through, on my chaise outside. Not this time, I couldn’t let myself get too comfy or I’d lose focus.

Normally, I would breeze through the first read-through in a couple of days, during my reading-for-pleasure time. Then it would take me maybe another few hours to do a second skim-through to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

Less than a week to get the entire task done, usually.

This time, it took me a week to get through the first read-through. And I had to schedule it during my work time, because if I was in read-for-pleasure mode, I couldn’t concentrate enough to catch the mistakes.

So I “chunked down” the second skim-through into 25-page chunks and set myself the task of doing two of them a day, if possible, but at the very least one a day. (Fortunately she didn’t need it back in a hurry.)

And it worked. I did a 25-page chunk the first morning and actually went on to do another 15 pages in the same sitting.

The psychology of this is that if we give ourselves goals that feel doable, we are more likely to attack them with gusto. And may even be able to exceed the goal, once we get rolling.

And if we’re dreading a task, we can tell ourselves that it’s just a little chunk—not that hard to just get it done and out of the way.

If it still feels overwhelming and de-motivating, chunk it down again into even smaller bite-sized pieces.

#3 – Rethink the timing of when you do the most focus-intense tasks

Usually when I sit down at my desk to start my workday, I go right for the toughest tasks that need to get done that day. To get them out of the way while I’m fresh.

help with focus in these stressful times

I’ve been rethinking that lately, when it is harder to focus in these stressful times. Now I will often do two or three little tasks first, to give myself a sense of accomplishment. Then I take a deep breath and knock out that tougher task.

Having had to change your work environment, say from an office to your home, may present other reasons for rethinking the timing of certain tasks. When’s the best time to create the privacy and quiet that a tougher task might require?

I’ve been doing a lot more writing lately after my husband goes to bed. 🙂

#4 – Stop and savor the little achievements

Have you ever stopped and noticed what a “sense of accomplishment” feels like in your body? For me it’s a full, proud feeling in my chest, sometimes accompanied by little bubbles of excitement. And I often feel warm and good all over.

Right now, close your eyes and recall a time when you accomplished something big. Let yourself sink into that experience again, recalling the details, and especially pay attention to how it feels in your body.

Then take a few moments, or at least a few seconds, to stop and notice that feeling after each task you complete. Even little things like doing a load of laundry or scrubbing the kitchen sink. Give yourself permission to stop and savor. It’s a huge motivator, and mood elevator too.

#5 – Give yourself little rewards for getting the tougher tasks done

Pick some self-care things that give you pleasure—a bubble bath, reading a magazine with your feet up, taking a walk—then take a break and indulge in one of those things after finishing a tough task.

help with focus in these stressful times

I know I shouldn’t be promoting the idea of food as a self reward, but the truth is, I’m a chocaholic. I allow myself one dose of chocolate per day. It may be a bowl of ice cream or a couple of cookies or candies (love me some Dove dark chocolate!) And I usually have it whenever the mood strikes.

But lately, I’ve been using that chocolate break as a reward for getting the toughest task of the day done.

As a matter of fact, I’m going to tackle another chunk of Kirsten’s last novella right now, and when I’m done I’m going to tackle some Famous Amos cookies!

Do any of these tips strike a chord for you? Have you found new ways to help with focus in these stressful times? Share with us, please.

And speaking of Kirsten’s stories, here are the first two of them. I really loved them!

OAK, A Doyle Witch Cozy Mystery (#7)

Doyle Witch Lenore has one job…

Destroy a magical book that threatens to devastate the world.

But try to tell that to her small-town sheriff.

When a decade’s old corpse turns up in the hollow of a haunted oak, Sheriff McCourt drafts Lenore into service. Since the coroner can’t identify the body, why not ask a shamanic witch who can see the dead?

Little does the sheriff know how dangerous the spirits of Middle World can be. And once they have Lenore in their sights, she can only keep moving forward – into a cold case at a local winery that threatens her sanity, and her life…

This novella is a witch cozy mystery featuring true-to-life spells in the back of the book, a trio of witchy sisters, and a dash of romance. Oak can be read as a standalone.



STONE, A Doyle Witch Cozy Mystery (#8)

A murder. A haunted house. A possessed spell book…

What could go wrong?

Since childhood, Doyle Witch Jayce figured the old stone house was haunted. Turns out, she may have been right.

A string of odd deaths in the house has culminated in murder, and newlywed Jayce is on the case. She is a witch after all. So what if it’s Samhain season, when the veil between the worlds is thin?


But when Jayce finds creepy connections between the old house and the spell book she’s sworn to destroy, she’s plunged into a conspiracy darker than anything mysterious Doyle has thrown at her before. Are supernatural forces at work? Or is Jayce facing a mortal foe?

If you’re a fan of Charlaine Harris, Heather Blake, or Amanda M. Lee, don’t miss this Halloween novella.


AND you can PREORDER STREAM (#9) ~ Releases 7/23/20

Will murder cancel this Doyle Witch’s Christmas?

Certain holiday spirits are keeping Karin’s hands full. And the challenges of motherhood and a cursed spell book have already put a dent in her usual good cheer.

But when she discovers the body of a man in a mountain stream, she’s swept into a mystery that will take all her magic and mental powers to solve. Because the dead man’s mysterious colleagues have taken an interest in Karin’s children…

This Christmas holiday novella is a complete cozy mystery and wraps up the story of the cursed spell book once and for all.


Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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  • Reply
    Nolan White
    July 7, 2020 at 11:07 am

    I share you sentiments about our stressful times. Dr. Fauci said viral infections are superimposed on the baseline, so there’s no short-term solution for Covid-19. On the flip side, CNN’s Dr. Vin Gupta said medics have learned that patients on ventilators need steroids and blood thinner to recover. It’s sad to think the virus could have been stopped back in early January.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      July 7, 2020 at 5:06 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Nolan. I hope the tips are helpful for you. No, there are no short-term fixes with this, but it is gratifying to see how much the scientists and doctors are learning every day. Me, I’m staying home until they either have an early-intervention treatment (i.e., you don’t have to be hospitalized for it) or a vaccine.

      I’m grateful that I can afford to stay home, as a retiree and writer who already works from home. Others aren’t so fortunate.

  • Reply
    K.B. Owen
    July 7, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    Congrats to Kirsten on her novellas! I really enjoy her series.

    Kass, I face the same struggles with focus. My productivity has been way down these days. I have to remind myself that it’s okay to turn away from the latest news articles about the virus and other distressing news reports from time to time. As one meme put it, “My need to stay informed is warring with my need to stay sane.”

    That kinda sums it up. Hang in there!

    Hugs, Kathy

    • Reply
      Shannon Esposito
      July 7, 2020 at 1:24 pm

      That’s a great meme, Kathy, & so true!

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      July 7, 2020 at 2:12 pm

      Yes, that meme does sum things up nicely, Kathy. 🙂 One of my friends actually got off of Facebook completely. I try to avoid thinking about what’s going on in the world during the day. Then I watch the evening news at 6:30, and then drink wine…lol

  • Reply
    Shannon Esposito
    July 7, 2020 at 1:23 pm

    Yah! Loved these new novellas in Kirsten’s series & am glad they are finally available for everyone to enjoy!

    Great tips. Honestly, I’m not doing a good job at all managing stress and focusing. Part of it is the kids being in the house all the time now. I’m one of those writers who needs complete silence and no one in my space to focus. And part of it is just being afraid for the future. The anxiety gets debilitating and makes thinking about anything else impossible. I do like the “reward yourself with chocolate” idea though lol! I’ve started baking as a way to get my mind off of things… though not sure that’s the healthiest coping mechanism. 🙂

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      July 7, 2020 at 2:18 pm

      I can only begin to imagine trying to work from home with kids around, Shannon. So challenging!!

      I think baking is an excellent distraction/outlet. Even I’ve been doing more cooking and baking. They’ve gone from being annoying chores to an opportunity to create something constructive.

      Indeed, I should have mentioned that in the post … finding other ways to be creative such as cooking or crafting. I’ve also been doing some minor redecorating, as the budget allows. Gives me a shot of that sense of accomplishment.

  • Reply
    July 7, 2020 at 3:14 pm

    Congratulations, Kirsten!

    Kass, I love the quote from Inspiring Words from Authors to Authors in Difficult Times. I’d seen that blog advertised various places but hadn’t checked it out. I definitely need to work on a kinder internal voice.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      July 7, 2020 at 5:08 pm

      That quote really spoke to me, Vinnie (no pun intended). Why would we weaponize words against ourselves, indeed!

  • Reply
    libby huber
    July 17, 2020 at 10:56 pm

    Great blog post! I too have been having a really difficult time with focusing and getting important things done. It’s been so hard to concentrate on tasks. You had some really great ideas here. I especially love the quote you included, as well as the link to the other blog post. Going to be thinking of these tips throughout the week and hopefully will have a better go of it!
    With heart,

    Libby Huber | Western Daughter LLC
    Writer and Digital Marketer
    Currently at work on my first mystery novel set in far West Texas

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      July 20, 2020 at 1:33 pm

      Hi, Libby. So glad you found the post helpful. I especially love that quote as well!

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