How to Be Productive When You’re Grieving

12 September 2018

Losing a loved one is never easy. When you have work stress or other pressures, the death of a loved one can stop you in your tracks. If you like the feeling of being productive, the pause that you have to take to grieve could stress you out even more.

Grief has been a running theme in my life for the past few months. I’ve been through it. My husband has been through it. Friends and clients are going through it. So if you’re going through it, and you’re saying,

“I’ve got work to do. Why can’t I get anything done?”

I’ve put together some gentle reminders and practical tips (from my own experience) to help get you through the grieving process, without totally neglecting everything else in your life.

  1. Remember the Purpose of Grief. If someone in your life has died, you now have an opportunity to release unhealed aspects of your psyche. You are being given the space to connect with your heart. You have an excuse to connect with others in ways that you haven’t been able to before. When you’re feeling unproductive or frustrated by outside pressures, your heart is telling you to stop and listen to it. So take a few minutes to breathe into your heart, and listen to how your heart wants to guide you. It may only take a minute or two at a time to connect, release and heal.
  2. Give Yourself More Emotional Space than You Think You Need.Grief has its own timing. The emotions of grief can come in waves, or they can be triggered out of the blue. You may go along feeling stable and emotionally ok for a few days, weeks, even months, and then the grief will rise again. Our rituals around death, typically give us space in the first few weeks to deal the ups and downs of our emotions. But after that, you kind of have to build it into your life on your own. Grief gives you the opportunity to root out the things that curtail the freedom to just BE with yourself on a regular basis.

This may seem kind of abstract, so let’s make it concrete. Here are some questions that will help you root out what’s really stressing you out and keeping you from being productive ….

  • What are you doing that’s numbing you out and keeping you from being present to your emotions? Consider stopping or severely limiting these activities
  • Are you spending time with people who drain your energy, distract you with drama or fail to understand your needs? It’s probably time to say goodbye (at least temporarily)
  • Where are you putting pressure on yourself to live your life as though it’s “business as usual”? Cut some things out of your schedule. And definitely cut out any self-judgement you have about not being able to do all the things you could do before. A person just left your life! That’s huge. Let that settle in, and allow its reorganizing force to reshape your daily activities.
  • What kind of support do you need during your grieving and reorganizing process? It could be grief counseling, a support group, a coach, a vacation, or anything else that your heart is guiding you to do (see number 1). Give it to yourself now. The right support will help you keep the spaces open to deal with the timing and emotions of your process.

4. Redefine Your Idea of Productivity.

When you’re grieving, you don’t have a lot of bandwidth for other things. You’re going through a cycle of internal reorganization. Your outer world may be reorganizing as well. This creates a lot of disruption. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t do what’s most important, and make progress. It just means that you may have to shift your definition of productivity, and find different ways to be productive that serve you right now.

5. Here are some suggestions that may help you to make that shift…

  • Clarify and adhere to your top priorities. Go back to the questions in number 2. Write down your answers. Distill them into a few written reminders, and put them on a notecard that you can take with you wherever you go. When you’re in the midst of disruption and stress, refer to your notecard, and ask your heart to guide you in the next action to take.
  • Work in small focused spurts. When you have to get something done (that’s in alignment with your highest priorities), block out the time on your schedule and make an appointment with yourself. Consider working with a buddy to hold you accountable to the activity. Only intend to work for the amount of time that your level of focus can handle. If it’s just an hour, let it be an hour. Make another appointment for another time if you didn’t complete the task. If you’re doing mental work, it might help to team up with an online co-working partner. There’s a service called Focusmate where you can make appointments with others to get work done in 50 minute blocks of time. Just make sure you can commit to that amount of time before signing up.
  • Take breaks to tend to your body. Schedule in your self-care. Consider it to be like a doctor’s appointment. Instead of visiting the doctor, you’re visiting the doctor within. Do you need to spend extra time in nature or in the gym? If so, put it on your calendar. Don’t neglect your nutrition and hydration. Give yourself plenty of time to sleep and rest. If you have to work on a rigid schedule, make sure you take breaks when they’re available. If your work schedule is flexible, still take breaks every hour or two to connect with your body.
  • Recognize that inward productivity doesn’t always look like outward progress. Grieving is a highly personal, internal process. It can be extremely cleansing and productive. Grieving can bring clarity to aspects of your life that you hadn’t considered before. And if you allow the inner work to happen, you will emerge more illuminated and focused on what’s most important to you. In the meantime, it may not look like “the work” is getting done. Be patient. The work that needs to get done, will get done… when you clarify your priorities, allow yourself space, take care of your body and work in small structured spurts.

As I’ve been working with my own grief and seeming lack of productivity over the past few months, I realized some simple truths.

  • It takes as long as it takes to get back to normal.
  • When normal returns, it’s not the same normal as before.
  • Some things have to go by the wayside. Those things were probably not that important.
  • Other things, like my heart, my highest priorities, and my body, need more tending.

Due to the transformative nature of grief, you can get things done that you didn’t even know needed to be done. But it takes a lot of awareness to ride the wave of disruption, and trust that you’ll come out ok. It takes a lot to trust that you won’t abandon yourself in the process. It takes a lot to trust that you’re being very productive under the surface, and eventually you’ll see the results.

Be kind to yourself and be patient with the process. Remember to listen to your heart and stay focused on its priorities. Take good care of your body as you manage what needs to be done. When you look back, you will discover that you were more productive than you thought you could ever be. But it may not look like your old idea of productivity.