In Focus
In Focus

Having Bipolar Disorder is like having an electrical short in your strand of Christmas tree lights; all you get is On. Off. On. Off. I have a fairly high-pressure job as faculty at a small Christian university – one of those places where one person does the job of 5, so there really is no “down time” while at work. And even though sometimes I just have to chuck it all in the fuck-it bucket, and take a few hours off, most of the time, I do use a list of strategies to push through the fog in my brain and getter done.



One of the things that my doctor and I agree on is an effective use of meds. I am borderline for ADHD on the Connor’s, but sometimes my meds, depression and stress can kick it into high gear. For that reason, we have settled on a small dose of Focalin three times per day – not only because the stimulant increases the effectiveness of dopamine in my system, but it also counters the sedative effects of my other meds. I bring this up only as a starting point for a conversation with your pdoc.

There are, however, some very good strategies for punching the gas pedal on days where you struggle at work.

• MUSIC. I have no idea how so many of my colleagues can do an 8+ hour workday without music. Music is essential to my every waking moment. I start my morning, usually, with hymns or other praise music to slowly wake up my system and give thanks for another day. Before heading into the office, I crank up some Pink!, sometimes some Pharrell Williams’ Happy or even a little Amy Winehouse. This gets the blood circulating while I shower and get dressed. By the time I sit down at my work desk, I really need to focus. Classical music is my go-to for most of the day. Sometimes it’s Renee Fleming or Natalie Dessay – something in a foreign language that won’t distract me or cause me to sing along. On tougher days, even opera is too distracting. For days like that, it’s strictly Bach, Verdi, or Mozart. The background music fades out the telephone, hall talk and other distractions and helps me to focus on my reading or computer work. If you share an office, keep a set of earphones in your desk for tough days. Consider them to be an accommodation.

• DO NOT DISTURB. I am lucky to have a small professorial-type office space to my self. I close the door, and turn out the overhead fluorescents and just use my desk lamp to light my workspace. This lets others know in a kind way, that I need to focus and prefer not to be disturbed.

• A STASH OF SNACKS. I keep an entire filing cabinet drawer stocked with snacks like granola bars, Peanut butter and crackers, individual applesauces, and nuts or trail mix. I also try and bring in some protein snacks like string cheese, cottage cheese, or hard boiled eggs on Monday and bag them up to hide away in the community refrigerator. They last all week and sometimes, just a little protein is all you need to fight off the mid-morning or mid-afternoon slump. I also keep a box of Arbonne’s Fizz sticks, which are laced with vitamin B, and other brain supplements that I can mix with a water bottle for a quick pick-me-up. (I also keep a Keurig in my office and coffee pods handy)A My Desk

• TAKE A SHORT WALK. You need a breath of fresh air and a little exercise every few hours.If you’re chained to a desk 8 plus hours in a day, and are lucky enough to work in a place like I do, a 15-minute walk to get a coffee or juice at 10 am or 2 pm will help refresh your thoughts.

• MAKE A LIST. I am a complete slave to my to-do lists. I have a blank sketchbook that I keep lists, notes and doodles in. I always try to put at least one easy item and one more complicated item on my list. When my big project isn’t making headway fast enough, I can take a break, complete the short task, and feel good about being able to check at least something off of my list.

This list is by no means exhaustive. I’m sure there are other strategies out there. Considering I am a single mom who works full time plus and just finished a 4-year degree, I think there’s something to be said for these. I’m always looking for new and innovative ways to push past the negative feelings. What are yours?


Lisa Keith, Psy.D.

September 29, 2014 Lisa Keith,Lisa.Keith Psy.D. is a 20-plus year veteran special education teacher who has taught grades K-12 and now teaches graduate students who want to grow up to be special ed. teachers. When she’s not teaching or academically engaged, she is completely engrossed in 49er football or the art of Zentangle. A typical day for Lisa begins at 4 a.m. to check email, Pinterest and journal, followed by a hefty dose of coffee and hours of study. You can learn more about her here:

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APA Reference
, . (2014). IN FOCUS: INCREASING YOUR PRODUCTIVITY AT WORK. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 20, 2018, from


Last updated: 3 Oct 2014
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Oct 2014
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