Tag Archives: sense of accomplishment

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.

AVAILABLE NOW AT: AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ NOOK ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

AND STONE RELEASES TODAY!!

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?

Right?

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.

RELEASES TODAY ON: AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ NOOK ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

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.

PREORDER AT: AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ NOOK ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

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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6 Thoughts on Labor

by Kassandra Lamb

aerial of crowded beach

Traditionally, beaches are jammed full on the last big weekend of summer. (photo by John Murphy, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Another Labor Day has rolled around. For many of us this is just another three-day weekend, an excuse to have a cookout or make a trip to the department stores to grab some bargains.

Or we may look upon this holiday as the bittersweet end of summer.

But the day was originally set aside to honor people who worked for a living (which is almost all of us). Back when this holiday was a new thing, in the late 1800s, many more people did actual physical labor in their jobs than we see today.

Indeed, the word “labor” implies hard physical effort. We talk about a woman laboring to give birth.

But what about if our work is something we are passionate about. Then we may call it a “labor of love.”

Here are six things I’ve learned about labor during my lifetime:

1.  Find work that you enjoy, and preferably work that you can feel passionate about.

There are lots of different vocations available today. Don’t settle for one that you can barely tolerate, if you can help it.

2.  Accept the bad with the good.

Not all of the tasks involved in that work will be ones you like. I try to deal with the less pleasant tasks first thing, so I can enjoy the rest of my day without them hanging over my head.

3.  Take time to experience a sense of accomplishment.

The next time you finish a task, stop and notice what that sense of accomplishment feels like for you.

For me, it’s a light feeling in my chest and I find myself smiling even if no one else is around. I experience this feeling, to varying degrees, every time I accomplish something, no matter how small. Even something mundane like changing the sheets on the bed comes with a small sense of satisfaction.

image of joy

(image by Camdiluv ♥ from Concepción, CHILE CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

When the accomplishment is a major one, there may be bubbles of joy in my chest and the urge to jump up and down. I get that more intense feeling when I finish a first draft, and when I hit Publish for a new release.

Once you’ve discovered what “accomplishment” feels like for you, stop to let yourself experience that feeling every time you finish a task. Take the time to savor it; it’s your reward!

4.  Realize that passion can burn out eventually.

We have much more permission to change careers today than previous generations did. Don’t hesitate to at least explore other options when what was once pleasant is now burdensome. I’m now working on my 4th career.

5.  Don’t make what has come before wrong because it is no longer right.

Things we once felt passionate about can become mundane. Tasks that we once tolerated can become excruciating. But that doesn’t mean that particular passion wasn’t right for us back in the day. Things change; cherish the memories and move on.

My first career was as an administrative assistant in Human Resources (we called it Personnel back then). The tasks I did in that job would bore me to tears today, but I was excited to be part of the business world and to use my interest in psychology to help my employer hire good people.

line drawing of Labor Day parade

The first Labor Day parade, in New York in 1882. (public domain)

When I hit the glass ceiling (which was a lot lower in those days), I went back to school and then became a therapist. I loved that work.

For two decades, I loved it, until I didn’t anymore. But that didn’t make what I had accomplished any less meaningful to me or my clients, nor did it change the fact that I had indeed loved that career for a very long time.

And then I loved to teach, until the other aspects of the job (like grading papers) got to be more trouble than it was worth. (I miss the students though.)

And now I’m writing fiction. I’m still passionate about it, but not as much so as I once was. It feels a bit more like “work” these days. Nonetheless, I suspect I’ll be at this until I’m old enough to finally be content with full retirement.

Each of my careers was fulfilling in its own season, and I cherish all the memories.

6. Balance work with play.

There is much truth in the old adage: All work and no play makes one a dull girl/boy. If work is nonstop—no matter how passionate we are about it—we can become dull shadows of our fully alive selves.

I learned this one the hard way. It’s easy for the business of writing, polishing, publishing and marketing books to become all consuming. I let this happen for several years until a vague sense of discontent had grown into a low-grade depression.

Now, twice a week, I make myself take time off from my business and writing tasks and go to the senior center to play cards or mah jongg. I call them my “old lady days” but really they are my mental health days

How about you? What are your thoughts about “labor” on this day set aside to honor it?

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 once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )