Productivity Hacks: When Too Many Emotions Keep You From Focusing

When we're concerned with a number of things

When we're concerned with a number of things

Everyone has had those days where you can’t seem to get your mind focused on the task at hand.

Maybe your mind is wandering off to the 10 things you need to do after work. Maybe you’re really bored with the task you’ve been assigned and you can no longer fight the temptation to open Facebook.

While there are an infinite number of things that can be used as the excuse for our distraction, what I want to focus on today is when you’re distracted by an outside emotion that just won’t pass through your body and let you go.

I’m not speaking about the emotion of anxiety, in particular, here. If you are worried about the 10 things you have to do after work, there’s about a 90% chance that what you’re really worried about is forgetting 1 of the 10 things and that making a quick brain dump list will relieve you of most of your anxiety. After that, you just have to make peace with the present moment until the time comes to tackle the items on your list.

What I am speaking about are less material emotions that come from life instances we put some stock into:

….You had an argument with your significant other that you keep replaying in your mind

….In a meeting, your co-worker took credit for something you came up with

….Your leasing manager is giving you the run around about fixing some part of your apartment


These are incidents that come up in your life that give you a mixed bag of emotions, that are pretty hard to sift through, and can make you feel like you’re all over the place. Life is funny in its way of inserting itself to prevent us from getting things done.

We all go through experiences--from the day we’re born to the day we die--that are opportunities for growth. The experiences make us feel something we haven’t felt before and we are responsible for responding in a way that will help us grow into better human beings.

At least, I think that’s the point of this thing called life.

And, if you have something going on in your life that’s causing a flood of mixed emotions and you can’t understand them clearly, they will most definitely affect your concentration and thus your work.

In the instances where you are feeling unproductive because of an emotion that won’t run its course and leave your body naturally, here are 3 ways to remove those mental-emotional blocks and get back to getting things done:


1. Actually feel the emotions you’re experiencing

I know that all you probably want to do is forget about whatever gave you this slew of unsortable feelings. Trust me I’ve been there. But I promise you that when you’re feeling like you’re all over the place emotionally, it is one of those instances in life where you have the opportunity to learn something about yourself.

After having that argument with your significant other, you probably had a ton of thoughts racing through your mind that were trying to demand your attention. Things you should have said, ways you could have avoided the argument, what you should do now, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

As much as these thoughts will clamor away, fighting for the full attention of your mind, I encourage you to actually explore what your body is feeling instead. This isn’t a practice of shoving the thoughts into a bottle and not looking at them. Rather, this is a practice of really directing your thoughts inward.

We’ve established that this conversation between you & your significant other has you upset enough to keep you from working productively. So where are you actually feeling this “upset”-ness?

With just a high school level understanding of physics, we can agree that everything in this world is made up of atoms. This includes our emotions. When we are having an emotional reaction to something, atoms in our body are literally moving in a certain way to make us feel that way.

When we feel angry, often our atoms congregate tightly in our chest and feel like they are about to burst out of it. When we are nervous we get knots in our stomach which may be our atoms feeling inflated and not having enough room to move about. When we are sad we may get a heavy weight on our shoulders and an achiness in our sides.

Our thoughts and emotions  This icon was created by  Freepik  from

Our thoughts and emotions

This icon was created by Freepik from

When we are only feeling one of these emotions, it’s a bit easier to identify without taking a minute to think about. But when we’re all over the place, our body is sending us tons of signals that we need to sort out. Josh Pais claims that if we give an emotion trying to run its course through our body the time and attention it needs to actually run its course, it cannot sustain itself for more than 45 seconds.

I have tried it, and he is absolutely right. By concentrating on what our body is actually feeling (how, biologically, our atoms are moving)  the emotion will have its surge and evolve into something else (that you may also have to sit with) all on its own. Now, if your mind feeds the emotion with recurring thoughts of doubt or despair, it will last longer. The trick here is to just concentrate your thoughts on what your body is experiencing as the emotion, not what your head is turning the situation into.


2. Write about the instance that has you upset

I’m a natural-born writer and have never had a problem expressing myself with words. I know for many people, though, writing is not a natural instinct and hardly their idea of a good time. For these people, even the suggestion to make a pro-con list can be too tedious of an exploration with writing.

However, writing something out has a benefit that can only be seen if you actually do it: it’s finite.

Your writing about the situation will not go on forever. Your thought patterns, on the other hand, will continue to spin in circles and, excluding those of us on mental par with the meditating Tibetan monks, we won’t be able to sort them out in our heads.

Writing to express yourself

Writing to express yourself

If you find your productivity blocked, give yourself half an hour of uninterrupted free write time. For most situations that will be plenty of time to get everything from your mind to the page. Don’t worry about editing or if what you’re writing may hurt someone’s feelings. Let this exercise be entirely for yourself. You can burn or shred the paper afterwards if you are worried about it slipping into the wrong hands.

The point here is to sort through the things going on in your head. If it is the situation mentioned above where a co-worker claimed credit for something you’ve come up with, you may spend a whole page on what a jerk that person is and how inconsiderate and how you feel like making a voodoo doll of them.

After you’ve written it all out, your emotions will very likely not feel as large and inescapable anymore. You’ll feel like you can get a grasp on each of them and even if they aren’t something you want to feel, you’ll realize that, ultimately, it does not consume you.

The idea that writing is finite whereas thoughts can run on forever is something in which I take great faith. I’m glad that if I sit down to write it all out, I eventually get to the end of that thought and emotion. I now have it down on a page and I can realize that I am bigger than just those thoughts and emotions. That, yes, something happened to me that made me feel them, but I am not them.

There are undoubtedly other ways for people to express this. I like writing because I tend to think in words and so it’s a natural extension for getting it out of my system. But if you think more in images, then by all means, draw it out. Do what will help you realize that your feelings about this are not infinite and you are more than that.


3. Assess whether it is something you can let go or whether you are being called to make a decision that will help you move forward

There’s not many things that I believe we can find universal agreement on, but I do believe that we can all agree that we want to move forward in life, not backward. We don’t want to constantly be feeling crazy with emotions we can’t sort through. That craze keeps us in a constant state of flux and doesn’t give us the peace we generally want to feel in our daily lives.

Do you need to make a decision?

Do you need to make a decision?

So when you are having strong feelings, assess whether it is something that you want to let go of or if it is something you are being called to make a decision on. Personally, I believe in each of our own intuitions that will guide us to making the best decisions for ourselves. Please note that I did not say the easiest decision for ourselves. Oftentimes our intuition is calling us to make really difficult decisions that we don’t want to make.

What constitutes a best decision is how aligned it is with our own path forward. That takes a lot of discernment to know what you want, to know what forward is, and to be comfortable enough trusting it.

Once you’ve assessed if your strong feelings are calling you to make a decision on something in your life, you won’t be able to turn back. You’ll have to make the decision or you will live for as long as you hold off on it in turmoil, knowing what you’re supposed to do but too scared to do it.

My last suggestion is to not waver on your decision once you’ve made it. Wavering brings up the same doubt that you started with on your path to making a decision in the first place.

I look at making a decision very much like taking off a band-aid. You can do it fast or you can do it slow. Both ways have their benefits and only you can decide which feels better. I usually like to do it fast before I can second guess myself, but if you can stay true to yourself and execute decisions slowly, then by all means.


So whenever I’m feeling all mixed up with my emotions and I’m unable to get work accomplished, I really try and walk myself through these steps. It is the most beneficial use of my time. If I don’t go through these things and actually sort out what I’m feeling, I will have a whole day where I’m unproductive on top of feeling like a basket case.

Emotions can be new frontiers, especially when they get packaged in new ways that we’ve not experienced before. They can be scary to look at and we may want to avoid them, but not assessing your feelings about a situation can lead to lifelong misery. It can also be helpful to have things booked on your calendar or added to your schedule so we can be forced to follow priorities.

What about you? When was the last time you had a hard time getting stuff done at work because your mind and body is all tied up in a mixed bag of emotions? What ultimately helped you overcome it? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Want more business & productivity tips?
Get weekly updates from our blog right to your inbox

* indicates required