Four Strategies for Handling Your Brain's 'Waiting Mode'

Four Strategies for Handling Your Brain's 'Waiting Mode'



Photo: NicoElNino (Shutterstock)

If you’ve ever been in a position where you’ve been unable to concentrate because you can’t stop thinking about something scheduled for later in the day, such as a doctor’s appointment or meeting with your boss, then you’ve experienced something called “waiting mode.” Waiting mode—a state of anxiety or rumination due to an upcoming event—is often experienced by people with executive functioning issues, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, due to struggles with attention regulation and time blindness.

If you are unable to focus on anything but the upcoming event, these four coping strategies can help.

Make a list of priorities 

The struggle with waiting mode is that it can be hard to switch off the worries, which can result in forgetting about everything else that needs to be done. In order to help switch back into your regular mode, write down a list of priorities for the day, which you can refer back to when your thoughts inevitably turn to your worries about the upcoming appointment. This list of priorities should include what absolutely needs to get done for the day, as well as the nice-to-finish items.

Start with low-effort tasks 

One of the big struggles about being in waiting mode is that it seems as if all of your available brain power is being occupied by your worries about the upcoming appointment or meeting. It can also be especially nerve-wracking to start up a big task—you might worry about losing track of time altogether. One way of alleviating these anxieties, while also keeping on track for your big appointment, is to work on low-effort tasks, whether it’s cleaning out your inbox, sorting papers, or finally getting around to organizing your desk. If it needs to be done, and doesn’t require a lot of brain power, now may finally be the time to get around to it.

Be strategic about scheduling appointments 

If an afternoon appointment has the effect of disrupting your morning routine, get strategic about scheduling. Instead of an afternoon appointment, which might leave you staring at the clock all morning, an early morning slot will have you finished and ready to resume your daily routine. It can also help to schedule appointments for other strategic times, such as just after the morning school drop-off or right after lunch, which cuts down on those smaller chunks of unscheduled time.

Set an alarm 

One of the major difficulties with having time blindness is the inability to correctly gauge the passage of time, whether it’s an hour feeling like five minutes, or five minutes feeling like an hour. If you add in difficulties with controlling focus, whether it’s hyper-focusing on one subject to the point of forgetting everything else, or getting distracted by 10 different topics, then it’s all too easy to lose track of time. It’s this difficulty with time that can create an enormous amount of anxiety about missing an important appointment, creating a waiting limbo where it’s impossible to focus on anything but the upcoming commitment. One way of reducing this anxiety is to set an alarm. Now you can focus on the task at hand—without worrying that you might let your appointment time pass right by.

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