Here we are in the middle of December, and many of us find ourselves pushed to the brink.

End of year work goals.

Holiday shopping.

Parties.

Traditions.

EXPECTATIONS.

We try our best pull it all off with a great attitude, a perfect to do list and a flawless manicure.

But, most of us would admit that December can be a hard time to be a professional woman. The already challenging pace of our lives seems to warp out of control. Smiles and joy, while expected to be in full supply, feel forced or are absent altogether.

Many of us find our focus slipping as well. We struggle to be productive and to keep our minds on the task at hand. At every turn, we feel frustrated and like we’re slipping further behind, but it doesn’t seem like there’s much we can do about it.

It’s not likely that we’ll ever be able to totally rid ourselves of distraction, during the holidays or otherwise. But, how can we find our focus in challenging times?

Breathe

When you find you’re being pushed to the limit, hit pause. Remind yourself to stop and notice your breath. I bet you’ll often find that your breathing is short and shallow, almost as if you’re gulping for air.

Instead pushing through like this, take two minutes and focus on breathing deeply and slowly. Set a timer if you need to. Close your office door, or find a quiet corner of your house. I’ve even been known to take breathing breaks sitting in my car in a parking lot.

Allow the oxygen to fill your body and feed your brain. Allow thoughts to come in and out of your brain freely. Watch them come and go, but don’t chase after them and don’t try to catch them. Just let them be. Keep breathing, for the full two minutes.

On the other side, you’re likely to feel a renewed sense of calmness and clarity that will allow you to get back to the task at hand.

Avoid Multitasking

When things get busy, it’s tempting to think you’ll never get it all done unless you multitask. The problem is, multitasking is an illusion.

In reality we can’t do more than one thing at a time effectively. In fact, science shows that when we try, we are actually toggling quickly between the two tasks, never giving our full attention to either of them. Our productivity suffers, our work quality suffers, and each task we try to complete takes longer than expected.

Instead of multitasking, focus entirely on one task at a time. Close open browser windows that aren’t being used. Turn off background noise like televisions and music. Give all the attention you have to what you are doing. You’ll be surprised at how much you are able to get done and at the quality of the work you’re doing.

Use Blocks of Productive Time

None of us can be “on” all the time – and this is even more true in times of high stress. To maintain maximum productivity and focus, especially when there’s so much to distract us, we need to work in blocks of productive time.

To do this, chose a single task and set a timer for about thirty to forty-five minutes. Work on nothing but that task until the timer goes off. Once the time is up, get up and take a ten minute break.

Be sure to make the most of your break time. Avoid mindlessly scrolling through social media or getting embroiled in the office gossip with your colleague. Instead, move your body. Drink some water. Step outside.

Once the break is over, set another timer. Continue working on the original task, or if it’s completed, choose another.

You can experiment with the specific times that work best for you. The key is to use the work/break pattern to keep yourself working at your peak capacity.

It’s tough to maintain consistent focus, especially when the demands for our time and attention run high. But, with a little discipline and a few new habits, you can find improved focus even in the busiest seasons.