The first time I got in trouble for daydreaming was in second grade. My teacher told my mother that I routinely did not complete worksheets in the time allotted because I was staring out the window. Through some tough love my mom and Mrs. Derby helped me learn to focus—the things I learned that year applied long after elementary school.
Fast forward to my life as a professional and I have a confession: I’m still prone to distraction.
When I’m in the zone, get out of my way because I will PLOW through tasks with lightning speed, but when I’m distracted, well…let’s just say I have to dig deep and try to remember those words of tough love that kept me going in second grade.
As a military spouse, there are many life situations that may lead to more distractions than usual, but in my opinion, there may be nothing more distracting than the deployment of your significant other.
Where are they? What are they doing today? I wonder if they’ll be able to call soon? Those are just a few of the questions about THEM that may distract YOU. What about things at home—can I make that meeting and still make it to pick up the kids/let the dog out/get to the gym before dinner? Certainly those last questions are not unique to military life, but if you typically have someone to help manage those things and they’re now gone for an extended period of time, the tone of those questions changes a bit.
How do you manage deployment distractions when you need to have your professional hat on? Here are 6 things that can help keep those distractions at bay.
1. Manage expectations with your service member.
I list this one first because I truly think that one conversation with your SM before they leave (and perhaps revisited periodically as needed) can play a HUGE part in managing distractions. Determine the following: what will be the primary medium of communication? How often do you expect to talk to them? What should you do to contact them in the case of an emergency? These may seem like common sense things to the seasoned spouse, but I can’t tell you how many spouses I’ve talked to that are worried because they have no idea what to expect and when to expect it.
Early on my husband and I agreed to a once a week phone call “rule” for deployments. He answered emails as often as he could and we had a set day/time of day where I knew he would do his best to call. That may not be enough for your family, but my husband is not really a talker and his deployment days tend to be LONG so this worked for us. There were plenty of times when he wasn’t able to call when expected, but by being clear in what we would aim for, I didn’t spend every single day wondering if I would miss a call. That same expectation also helped on his end because he knew if he wasn’t able to call during that time, a quick email as soon as possible would help me relax.
2. Limit or eliminate news outlets during work hours.
I realize this won’t be something everyone can do depending on your job, but if the news doesn’t have anything to do with your work, stay away from it during work hours. If, like me, you’re a born research addict, every news story that might possibly have something to do with where your service member may or not be serving will only lead you down a wormhole of worry and speculation. I’m not suggesting you should bury your head in the sand, you can keep up with the news after work…or perhaps with a little morning Skimm (my personal favorite).
3. Tell someone at work that you’re operating solo.
I am very familiar with the ongoing debate about whether you should tell an interviewer/supervisor that you’re a military spouse. In most things I believe that being a military spouse has no bearing on your ability to be a talented, productive professional…until it does. Deployment, like any other all-encompassing personal distraction may eventually come into play at work. Perhaps it’s the fact that you usually take turns taking off work for sick kiddos and now you’ll have to do that and may be gone more often. Maybe it will only come into play during an emergency, but if no one at work knows about your solo operations they may assume you’re just unprofessional if you start missing more work.
My suggestion: If you’re sure this will only come into play during an emergency consider telling a trusted co-worker. Let them know you don’t expect anything major, but in the case something unexpected happens they can be set to let supervisors know there may be something extra to consider.
If your entire schedule is going to need adjusting during deployment, don’t just go to your boss and tell them your troubles. Think about solutions first. Present them with an option that shows you’re dedicated to making things work despite your additional considerations during this deployment.
4. Set priorities.
In this case, I don’t actually just mean setting priorities when it comes to your work tasks. Take a few minutes and rack and stack household chores, kids’ activities and everything you have pulling at you. I know it may be uncomfortable to think of life that way, but you don’t have to share this list. You do, however, have to know which things are allowed to fall off first. Maybe it’s the laundry or maybe take out again won’t kill the family. I know you’re strong and you got this (I seriously believe that), but there are going to be days where it is not possible to get to everything—in those cases give yourself an out. Know which things you’re allowed to postpone guilt-free. Even if it’s just this once.
5. Consider outsourcing.
After you’ve established those priorities, think about this: are there things you can take off your plate altogether? Can the neighbor kids mow the lawn or take the dog for a walk? Can you get a college student to pick the kids up from school and get them to soccer practice? I find there is no better time to hire a housekeeper than during a deployment (though I dream of a day when I can keep one always and forever). Do you know how magic it is to have had a stressful day/week/month and come home to a lemon fresh smell and clean floors? I swore the woman that cleaned my house last was hiding some magic powers in her mop!
6. Take care of you.
Whatever you do, don’t forget about taking care of you. One of the easiest ways to let distractions take over your mind is to not stay sharp. I know, I know, there are roughly 1.2 million things to fill your day and you feel like you have to do them all, but seriously figure out what refreshes you.
Is it time with friends? Schedule a guilt-free lunch/coffee/dinner. If you can’t get away completely schedule a phone call or video chat. There is no one that knows how to pick you up (or kick you in the butt) like your friends so make the time to chat with them! Whatever makes you feel recharged and ready to tackle the world is the same thing that will help keep you on track at work.
The reality is that deployments can be incredibly distracting and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to completely ignore every distraction that pops up, but with these things in mind you can stay on track and get back to taking over the world one day at a time!