From The Straits Times    |

 How to focus at work when you’re dealing with personal problems


There are times when personal problems outside of work can get to us, at the detriment of your work performance and relationships with colleagues. It could be family issues, problems with your partner or friends – anything non-work related that is bringing you down.

We asked Geraldine Tan, principal-registered psychologist and director of The Therapy Room, what you can do to keep focused at work, and tune out your negative thoughts.

1. How can you recognise that your work is falling due to personal problems (e.g. you’ve been snapping at co-workers, less productive, losing focus)?


The best way is to get feedback from around you. For example:

a. People are backing away from you.

b. No more lunch kakis.

c. You are feeling tired.

d. Not wanting to go out or do things that you normally like.

e. A feeling of dread.

f. Feeling that things are going wrong.

g. Eating too much or too little

h. Using alcohol to numb yourself

i. Insomnia


2. How can you keep focused at work even if you’re having personal problems?

 How to focus at work when you’re dealing with personal problems


That is a tough one as we have only one brain. So trying and segregating your thoughts may be tough. What might help is to move into “action mode” where you focus on tasks that need to be completed and by when. This will help make your tasks more manageable. So if you have emotional issues:

a. Look at the what needs to be done

b. Break down the tasks. Take a call, answer an email, cut the vegetables, take the letter from the letterbox. 

c. Allow yourself to “go slow” for a while.




3. Are there any steps one can take to improve their situation or mental wellbeing in the long run?

 How to focus at work when you’re dealing with personal problems


a. Identify the problem and then look for ways around the issue. Do not sit on the issue. The longer you do, the harder it is to sort it out, and will become a festering wound.

b. Look at it objectively, how big is it? Sometimes problems are not as big as they seem. When we are anxious, the brain tends to “fantasise” about the problem.

c. Utilise resources around you. Talk to your friends and family. Many people are afraid of “burdening” the people around them.

But think about it, if you talk to them in the initial phase and clear whatever worries you may have, this means less anxiety and less of a fear of “burdening” them in the future. If not, talk to someone professional. They are neutral and you may be less likely to feel like a burden.


4. How can someone separate their personal problems from any work-related problems?

It is certainly not easy and we can try the steps in point 3 and to keep things as short and as objective as possible. Emotions tend to be messy and spill over. However, approaching it in a more structured and task-focused fashion helps one to deal with the here and now. Having said that, the issues need to be managed and dealt with soon so as not to allow the issues to continue and to move on more efficiently.

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