One day recently, I arrived at the Manhattan office where I work as a tutor. I was hoping to tame my inbox before my first session. Instead, I clicked an alert and succumbed to a media storm of Ukrainian refugees fleeing bombed homes and President Biden’s ominous warnings about Russian chemical warfare. This news cycle – more like a cyclone – then engulfed me in TikToks of teenagers mourning their country in tears, families sheltering in the subway, and images of safe life for Ukrainians a few weeks earlier. . Soon my chest was constricting uncomfortably. A donation to the International Rescue Committee could not entirely comfort me until my client arrived.
I describe my morning, but I am not the only one to have this experience. Oddly enough, when Ukraine updates make me feel helpless, I feel an added anxiety knowing that I can’t sit and scroll forever. Despite the events that changed my life, I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world: I have to meet the conditions of my job.
On the one hand, the importance of daily commitments diminishes while so many people are suffering. Yet neglecting all but the most recent global trauma would lead to unemployment and instability. There is a fine line between dealing with terrible realities and wanting to be productive in order to support oneself. “The media informs us, but there is a lot of bad news. And our brain has a negativity bias,” says psychiatrist Jess P. Shatkin. “We have an innate mechanism in the amygdala and limbic system to pay attention to what can harm us. But engaging like this impacts our mood, sleep and anxiety,” he says.
Shatkin, director of NYU’s department of child and adolescent mental health studies, pointed out that dealing with work and family matters can avoid feeling incapacitated by current events. “I can’t directly influence what happens in Ukraine,” he says, “but I can try to be good to my students, my patients and my family. Investing in your own commitments and relationships builds resilience.
While technology can produce bad news paralysis, online tools can also help you make productive contributions in your various roles. As an organization junkie juggling four part-time jobs, college classes, and a private life, here’s how I balance responsibilities.
Plan and recognize the time
To-do lists can feel like a failure record when you can’t check off things on your list. Google Calendar works best for me because it promotes (A) designating a time for each task so I can realistically see what I can accomplish each day and (B) easily documenting changes so I recognize my efforts when a last minute meeting comes up, my Wi-Fi drops on me, or a friend is in need.
I create events for most everyday activities: emailing, running errands, giving presentations, even having lunch. This way I assign a beginning and an end to each business instead of looking at a list with no direction. The best part of GCal is its flexibility. When my time estimates are wrong, I edit the event to capture the time I spent on an obligation and defer subsequent tasks to the next day, if necessary. This week, for example, sending my colleagues a post-meeting email took an extra 30 minutes because I was browsing our shared Google Drive for a spreadsheet. (That’s saying it politely – I was ready to throw my laptop against a wall.) To compensate, I adjusted my next task to start later and changed my “Send Email” event. debriefing email” to reflect its actual duration. When I opened GCal the next day, I realized why my plans had been changed instead of thinking that I just hadn’t been productive enough, and knew that more time needed to be spent on writing. e-mails in the future.
Also, try creating calendars for different aspects of your life and attaching documents to event descriptions so that you aren’t me on Monday night, furiously searching for missing documents. If planning daily work becomes compulsive or tiring, you can use GCal’s Reminders or Tasks feature instead, and there’s always the Reminders app for Apple users or Todoist for Android fans. I find time allocation more motivating, but do what you love most.
Focusing on timelines is difficult when it feels like World War III is raging. Every once in a while, you just need to congratulate yourself on small victories, like attending all of your meetings (or even smaller accomplishments – I’m not above celebrating the shower). Don’t blame yourself, but hold yourself accountable with compassion.
If quantitative data motivates you, consider an app like Yeolpumta, available in English and Korean for Apple or Android devices. Graphs in the app that track time spent on different businesses help me visualize daily, weekly, or monthly progress. Plus, the in-app stopwatch start prevents unapproved apps from opening, encouraging focus when willpower wanes.