If you’re sitting at your desk working on a report and you think you hear someone trying to break into your house, are you going to be able to focus on the report while you’re fearing for your life? Of course not. Productivity becomes a back-burner issue when you don’t feel safe.

It’s no wonder so many of us are struggling with good time management these days.

A lot of us are feeling unsafe, and for good reason. We’ve been through months now of worrying about our own health and the health of our loved ones. Every cough is a potential sign of infection, every CDC update a reminder that all of us are at risk.

In the midst of all that, racial issues have exploded. Tensions are running high in every part of our country. For the Black members of our community, psychological safety has never been guaranteed.

So, it’s a scary time for everyone, to say nothing of whatever additional fears and tensions you’re also struggling with right now. There’s a lot of external stuff that may show up for you when you sit down to work. You could try to ignore those feelings, but productivity will continue to be out of reach. There’s a better way.

Safety First: Making Space For Time Management

Humans can’t function well when they don’t feel safe. We all probably know this to be true from our own life experiences, but it’s also the basis behind a well-known psychological theory created by Abraham Maslow. Called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the theory is generally illustrated as a pyramid with five levels, each corresponding to a different human need.

From the bottom, the levels of need are:

  • Physiological (sleep, water, food, warmth)
  • Safety (physical and mental security)
  • Love and belonging (friendship, family and romantic attachments)
  • Esteem (self-esteem and a sense of validation)
  • Self-actualization (reaching full potential)

Maslow’s theory is that humans can only attend to the higher levels when their lower-level needs are met. If you don’t feel safe, then you can’t focus wholly on your personal relationships, your long-term goals or your sense of self. So right now, you may be struggling with fears around your own safety and the safety of your loved ones. Is it any wonder if you’re struggling with productivity or time management or just plain old moving things forward?

Of course not. Even if you’re physically safe and your baseline human needs are being met, you may still be fearful about what will happen tomorrow.

You can’t “move up the pyramid” when you’re consumed with fears around your psychological safety. But you still have to work and keep building your business. So how do you do that when you’re distracted by fear?

feel safe, fears

First, notice those distractions and those fears. Instead of trying to push them down or ignore them, take a little time to acknowledge the thoughts that are keeping you from focusing. They won’t just go away if you ignore them. If you’re someone who likes making notes or lists, try jotting down all the things that are distracting you and interfering with your time management goals.

Next, contain those distractions. This step is all about creating distraction-free zones that are optimized for productivity and good time management. Nothing should be beeping or buzzing at you, nothing should be pulling your focus.

Finally, create systems to handle those distractions so you can focus on productivity and get stuff done. The idea here is to set up systems that pull you into your important tasks instead of pulling your attention away from them. When you’ve set yourself up for success in this way, you’ll still have time and space to attend to all your non-work tasks.

And keep leaning into support. Though the pandemic restrictions are starting to lift, this experience is far from over. Issues around psychological safety may come up again and again in your life, long after current events are history. If you need someone to talk to about safety, please know that I’m always available. Send a message and we’ll set up a time to talk.

Speaking of personal support, I hope you’ll join me on Thursday, June 18th for the Weekly Planning That Works, Even in Times of Uncertainty masterclass. This live virtual training is designed to help you create plans that will actually support your goals and let you move forward, even when you’re overwhelmed by everything that’s happening around you.

Registration is free—click here to get more details and save your spot.

Be well, 


Sarah Reiff-Hekking