Breakups don’t just kill romance — they can disrupt nearly every area of your life. You don’t feel like doing things you enjoy, you can’t stop thinking about the ex, and you may find it incredibly difficult to focus on work. If you’re having trouble staying productive during a breakup, here are some ways to power through it.
The end of a relationship feels a lot like losing a loved one, because, well, you are losing a loved one. It’s hard to accept that person will no longer be in your life (or at least not in the same way). Of course, it’s important to go through all of the stages of mourning and properly heal from your breakup. But in this post,we’re focusing on the specific steps you can take to cope in your work life. Healing is part of that, but here’s how you can stay productive while you’re healing.
Focus on Smaller Tasks
You’ve probably heard to “take things one day at a time”. It’s cliche, but it’s true. Getting over a breakup is sort of like any other goal. It helps to break the healing process into smaller, digestible steps. Thinking about the weeks or even months you’ll have to endure heartbreak is overwhelming. Instead, focus on getting through the pain for that day, or even the next few hours.
You can translate this concept to your work too. When you have a work project and your mind is on the breakup, you might be in no mood to get things done. But take it one task at a time. Focus on powering through just the one task at hand. Don’t think about the next one until you get there.
I tried this when I went through a breakup years ago. When I thought about long-term work projects, I felt defeated. I thought, how am I to get through this for the next month feeling this crappy? Instead, I told myself if I could just get through one task, that lasted an hour, that would be enough.
Soon enough, I found that I actually enjoyed the work because it gave me a small reprieve from the heartbreak.
Schedule “Emotional Interrupts”
It might seem like you should try to completely forget about the breakup and move on. But rather than sweep your feelings under the rug, it helps to work through them.
One study in Social Psychology and Personality Science suggests that periodically reflecting on a breakup can actually help you heal faster. Researchers studied 210 people who recently went through a breakup. Half of the subjects were instructed to come into the lab regularly and answer questions about their breakup for the next nine weeks. The other half was only asked to complete two surveys — one at the beginning of the study, and one at the end. The first group recovered better. According to the study:
Participants in the measurement-intensive condition reported larger decreases in self-concept disturbance over time; no other main effects were observed based on condition. Improvement in self-concept clarity (for people in the measurement-intensive condition) explained decreases in breakup-related emotional intrusion, loneliness, and the use of first-person plural words when describing the separation.
You can periodically reflect by taking an occasional break throughout your workday. Jose Gonzales, author of How to Get Over Your Ex, calls it an “emotional interrupt”. He suggests devoting this time to thinking about your emotions and learning how to heal. Learning might mean talking through the breakup with a friend so you can better understand it. It might mean reading articles like this, on how you can cope with things. The purpose of an “emotional interrupt” is to progress from the heartbreak and regain emotional control.
For me, it helped to journal. At lunch, I wrote a few sentences on how I was feeling about the breakup and any thoughts I had on those feelings. It helped to put it on paper, because I could clear my head and focus on work. It also gave me permission to reflect, so I wasn’t distracted all day trying to ignore my emotions. I knew I’d have time to deal with them later by journaling.
But Don’t Dwell Either
On the other hand, journalling doesn’t work for everyone. In some cases, it could make things worse. A study in The Atlantic Health channel that found some recently-heartbroken folks actually felt worse after being instructed to journal their breakup for 20 minutes each day. Jezebel reported on it:
“If you’re someone who tends to be totally in your head and go over and over what happened and why it happened, you need to get out of your head and just start thinking about how you’re going to put your life back together and organise your time,” said lead author and psychological scientist David Sbarra. “Some people might naively call this avoidance, but it’s not avoidance. It is just re-engagement in life, and the control writing asks people to engage in this process.”
You don’t want to avoid the breakup, but you don’t want to be overly engrossed it in either. That’s probably why Gonzeles recommends scheduling the time separate from work, and not just reflecting during that time, but also learning. The bottom line: Take time to deal with the breakup productively, but be careful not to dwell on it. Find the right balance based on your own situation and personality.
Ignore Your Phone
You probably know it’s best to cut communication with the ex while you’re recovering. This gives you time to think about things rationally on your own. But it’s always tempting to send a text or pick up the phone, especially if your ex reaches out to you first.
To combat this temptation and avoid the rush of emotions that comes with post-breakup communication, stay away from your phone. This might mean turning it off. If that’s not possible, it might mean blocking your ex’s number. If your ex could email you, you might avoid checking your personal account while you’re at work.
The point is, you want to avoid bringing drama from your personal life into work, and when you’re going through a breakup, it might be hard to do this, since emotions are riding high. Minimising any possible communication with your ex during work hours will ensure your mind is on work, and help you stay productive.
It also helps ensure you won’t text friends throughout the day to talk about the breakup. Again, it does help to work through your emotions and learn from them. But that’s why you should reserve interrupts — so you can set aside time to do this without it affecting your productivity.
When Your Ex Works In Your Office
Of course, if you work with your ex and have to see them everyday, it’s a lot more difficult. Chiara Atik, author of Modern Dating: A Field Guide tells Forbes:
It’s not so much the end of a romantic relationship as it is a transition into a more distant, professional one. Your ex is still a part of your everyday life, and rewiring how you think of them and how you communicate with each other is challenging.
There are a few habits that can help get through this challenge.
- Keep things professional: Don’t badmouth your ex at the office, and don’t talk about the breakup with co-workers.
- Don’t talk about the relationship with your ex at work: It’s even more tempting to rehash the breakup when your ex is in the same building. Do what you can to avoid this temptation, and that probably means avoiding your ex whenever possible. Again, keep things professional and only discuss business.
- Focus on work: It sucks to associate your job with your ex, so focus on your skills instead. Pick up some new ones and think about how you can improve yourself and make your work more challenging and satisfying.
You’ll have to try a bit harder to think of your professional life as separate from your personal life. In the meantime, you can stay productive by doing what you can to remain professional and focusing on yourself, your job and your skills.
Build a New Routine
Sometimes, part of the reason breakups suck so much is less because we miss the person and more because we miss the routine we had with them. As we’ve explained before, when you love someone, you usually integrate them into your day-to-day routine. When they’re gone, you don’t know how to handle the lapses in that routine. For example, if they always did the dishes, doing the dishes is going to dredge up a whole fountain of emotions, making the task seem more arduous than it is.
In fact, it can be a lot like an addiction. That’s what researchers from Stony Brook University conducted a study found when they compared the brains of drug addicts with those of people who recently went through a breakup:
[T]he fMRI results of the study show that looking at a romantic rejecter and cocaine craving have several neural correlates in common. The findings are consistent with the hypothesis that romantic rejection is a specific form of addiction (Fisher 2004). The perspective that rejection in love involves subcortical reward gain/loss systems critical to survival helps to explain why feelings and behaviours related to romantic rejection are difficult to control and lends insight into the high cross-cultural rates of stalking, homicide, suicide, and clinical depression associated with rejection in love.
You’ll have to kick the habit. We’ve suggested reminding yourself that reestablishing your routine is part of reclaiming your independence. And it can help you feel stronger to change that routine up a bit.
If you used to call your ex from your desk at lunch everyday, lunchtime is now going to seem emotionally unbearable. Change the routine you’re used to by leaving the office and having lunch with a coworker instead. If you used to swing by your ex’s house after work, you might get emotional as you start thinking about them towards the end of the day. Fill that space with another routine — going to the gym, perhaps. You want to establish new, independent routines that put an end to those emotional triggers. This not only helps you stay more productive, it’s also an important part of healing.
When you’re dealing with a breakup, it can feel like your world is turned upside down. It’s hard to stay focused and productive during that time. But the above steps should help you regain a little more control as you heal.