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Last Updated on December 1, 2020

How to Compartmentalize to Get More Done

How to Compartmentalize to Get More Done

I’ve never believed people are born productive or organized. Being organized and productive is a choice.

You choose to keep your stuff organized or you don’t. You choose to get on with your work and ignore distractions or you don’t.

But one skill very productive people appear to have that is not a choice is the ability to compartmentalize. And that takes skill and practice.

In this article, I will explain what exactly compartmentalization is and how to comparmentalize time to get more done.

What Is Compartmentalization?

To compartmentalize means you have the ability to shut out all distractions and other work except for the work in front of you. Nothing gets past your barriers.

In psychology, compartmentalization is a defence mechanism our brains use to shut out traumatic events. We close down all thoughts about the traumatic event. This can lead to serious mental-health problems such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) if not dealt with properly.

However, compartmentalization can be used in positive ways to help us become more productive and allow us to focus on the things that are important to us.

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Robin Sharma, the renowned leadership coach, calls it his Tight Bubble of Total Focus Strategy. This is where he shuts out all distractions, turns off his phone and goes to a quiet place where no one will disturb him and does the work he wants to focus on. He allows nothing to come between himself and the work he is working on and prides himself on being almost uncontactable.

Others call it deep work. When I want to focus on a specific piece of work, I turn everything off, turn on my favourite music podcast The Anjunadeep Edition (soft, eclectic electronic music) and focus on the content I intend to work on. It works, and it allows me to get massive amounts of content produced every week.

The main point about compartmentalization is that no matter what else is going on in your life — you could be going through a difficult time in your relationships, your business could be sinking into bankruptcy or you just had a fight with your colleague; you can shut those things out of your mind and focus totally on the work that needs doing.

Your mind sees things as separate rooms with closable doors, so you can enter a mental room, close the door and have complete focus on whatever it is you want to focus on. Your mind does not wander.

Being able to achieve this state can seriously boost your productivity. You get a lot more quality work done and you find you have a lot more time to do the things you want to do. It is a skill worth mastering for the benefits it will bring you.

How to Compartmentalize to Get More Done in Less Time

Now that you know the benefits of comparmentalization, how do you practice this? Here’re 5 steps to follow:

1. Use Your Calendar

The simplest way to develop this skill is to use your calendar.

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Your calendar is the most powerful tool you have in your productivity toolbox. It allows you to block time out, and it can focus you on the work that needs doing.

My calendar allows me to block time out so I can remove everything else out of my mind to focus on one thing. When I have scheduled time for writing, I know what I want to write about and I sit down and my mind completely focuses on the writing.

Nothing comes between me, my thoughts and the keyboard. I am in my writing compartment and that is where I want to be.

2. Block out Any Distractions

Anything going on around me, such as a problem with a student, a difficulty with an area of my business or an argument with my wife is blocked out.

One of the ways to do this is to understand there are times when there is nothing you can do about an issue or an area of your life.

For example, if I have a student with a problem, unless I am able to communicate with that student at that specific time, there is nothing I can do about it.

If I can help the student, I would schedule a meeting with the student to help them. But between now and the scheduled meeting there is nothing I can do. So, I block it out.

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The meeting is scheduled on my calendar and I will be there. Until then, there is nothing I can do about it.

Learn how to do this here: Get What Matters Done by Scheduling Time Blocks

3. Ask Yourself: “Is There Anything I Can Do About it Right Now?”

This is a very powerful way to help you compartmentalize these issues.

If there is, focus all your attention on it to the exclusion of everything else until you have a workable solution. If not, then block it out, schedule time when you can do something about it and move on to the next piece of work you need to work on.

Being able to compartmentalize helps with productivity in another way. It reduces the amount of time you spend worrying.

Worrying about something is a huge waste of energy that never solves anything. Being able to block out issues you cannot deal with stops you from worrying about things and allows you to focus on the things you can do something about.

4. Reframe the Problem as a Question

Reframing the problem as a question such as “what do I have to do to solve this problem?” takes your mind away from a worried state into a solution state, where you begin searching for solutions.

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One of the reasons David Allen’s Getting Things Done book has endured is because it focuses on contexts. This is a form of compartmentalization where you only do work you can work on.

For instance, if a piece of work needs a computer, you would only look at the work when you were in front of a computer. If you were driving, you cannot do that work, so you would not be looking at it.

5. Choose ONE Thing to Focus on

To get better at compartmentalizing, look around your environment and seek out places where you can do specific types of work.

Taking your dog for a walk could be the time you focus solely on solving project problems, commuting to and from work could be the time you spend reading and developing your skills and the time between 10 am and 12 pm could be the time you spend on the phone sorting out client issues.

Once you make the decision about when and where you will do the different types of work, make it stick. Schedule it.

Once it becomes a habit, you are well on your way to using the power of compartmentalization to become more productive.

The Bottom Line

Compartmentalization saves you stress. It is a skill that gives you time to deal with issues and work to the exclusion of all other distractions.

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This means you get more work done in less time and this allows you to spend more time with the people you want to spend more time with, doing the things you want to spend more time doing.

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Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

More by this author

Carl Pullein

Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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Last Updated on June 22, 2021

How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

Every one of my team members has a bucket load of tasks that they need to deal with every working day. On top of that, most of their tasks are either creative tasks or problem-solving tasks. Each one of them has had to learn how to prioritize tasks in order to get everything done.

Despite having many tasks to handle, our team is able to stay focused and creative and work towards our goals consistently in a set amount of time.

I’m going to reveal to you how I helped my team get more things done in less time through the power of correct prioritization. A few minutes spent reading this article could literally save you thousands of hours in the long run. So, let’s get started with my method on how to prioritize things:

How to Prioritize With the Scales Method

One of our new editors came to me the other day and told me how she was struggling to keep up with the many tasks she needed to handle and the deadlines she constantly needed to stick to.

At the end of each day, she felt like she had done a lot of things but often failed to come up with creative ideas and to get articles successfully published. From what she told me, it was obvious that she felt overwhelmed and was growing increasingly frustrated about failing to achieve her targets despite putting in extra hours most days. All of this was making it impossible for her to develop a good work life balance in the long term.

After she listened to my advice about utilizing the Scales Method, she immediately experienced a dramatic rise in productivity, which looked like this:

  • She could produce three times more creative ideas for blog articles.
  • She could publish all her articles on time.
  • And she could finish all her work on time every day (no more overtime!).

If you’re curious how she did it, read on for the step-by-step guide:

1. Set Aside 10 Minutes for Planning

When it comes to tackling productivity issues, it makes sense to plan before taking action. However, don’t become so involved in planning that you become trapped in it and never move beyond first base.

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My recommendation is to give yourself a specific time period for planning, but keep it short. 10 or 15 minutes should be adequate to think about your plan.

Use this time to:

  • Look at the big picture.
  • Think about the current goal and target that you need/want to achieve.
  • Lay out all the tasks you need to do.

2. Align Your Tasks With Your Goal

This is the core component that makes the Scales Method effective as you learn how to prioritize.

It works like this:

Take a look at all the tasks you’re doing, and review the importance of each of them. Specifically, measure a task’s importance by its cost and benefit.

By cost, I am referring to the effort needed per task (including time, money, and other resources). The benefit is how closely the task can contribute to your goal.

    To make this easier for you, I’ve listed below four combinations that will enable you to quickly and easily determine the priority of each of your tasks:

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    Low Cost + High Benefit

    Do these tasks first because they’re the simplest ones to complete, but they’ll help you get closer to your goal.

    Approving artwork created for a sales brochure would likely fit this category. You could easily decide on whether you liked the artwork/layout, but your decision to approve it would trigger the production of the leaflet and the subsequent sales benefits of sending it out to potential customers.

    High Cost + High Benefit

    Break the high cost task down into smaller ones. In other words, break the big task into mini ones that take less than an hour to complete, and then re-evaluate these small tasks and set their correct priority level.

    Imagine if you were asked to write a product launch plan for a new, diary-free, protein powder supplement. Instead of trying to write the plan in one sitting, aim to write the different sections at different times (e.g. spend 30 minutes writing the introduction, one hour writing the body text, and 30 minutes writing the conclusion).

    Low Cost + Low Benefit

    When learning how to prioritize time and tasks, this particular combination should be your lowest priority. Either give yourself 10-15 minutes to handle this task, or put these kinds of tasks in between valuable tasks as a useful break.

    These are probably necessary tasks (e.g. routine tasks like checking emails), but they don’t contribute much towards reaching your desired goal. Keep them way down your priority list.

    High Cost + Low Benefit

    Review if these tasks are really necessary. Think of ways to reduce the cost if you decide that the completion of the task is required.

    For instance, can any tools or systems help to speed up doing the task? In this category, you’re likely to find things like checking and updating sales contacts spreadsheets. This can be a fiddly and time-consuming thing to do without making mistakes. However, there are plenty of apps out there that can make this process instant and seamless.

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    Now, coming back to the editor who I referred to earlier, let’s take a look at her typical daily task list:

      After listening to my advice, she broke down the high cost + high benefit task into smaller ones. Her tasks then looked like this (in order of priority):

        And for the task about promoting articles to different platforms, after reviewing its benefits, we decided to focus on the most effective platform only, thereby significantly lowering the associated time cost.

        Once you’ve effectively analyzed the cost and benefits of your daily tasks, you can dive into this Full Life Planner to make sure you complete everything on your list in the best way possible.

        Bonus Tip: Tackling Tasks With Deadlines

        Once you’ve evaluated your tasks, you’ll know the importance of each of them. This will immediately give you a crystal-clear picture on how to prioritize based on which tasks would help you to achieve more (in terms of setting goals). Sometimes, however, you won’t be able to decide every task’s priority because there’ll be due dates set by external parties, such as managers and agencies.

        In cases like these, I suggest that, after considering the importance and values of your current tasks, align the list in a way that helps you meet deadlines and adjust the priorities accordingly.

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        For example, let’s dip into the editor’s world again.

        Some of the articles she edited needed to be published by specific dates, so these are urgent and important tasks. The Scales Method allows for this, and in this case, her amended task list would look something like this:

          Hopefully, you can now see how easy it is to evaluate the importance of tasks and how to prioritize them into a workable order.

          The Bottom Line

          The Scales Method is different from anything else you’ve tried. By adopting the Scales Method, you’ll begin to correctly prioritize your work and boost your productivity by up to 10 times!

          Unlike other methods that don’t really explain how to decide the importance of a task, my method will help you break down each of your tasks into two parts: cost and benefit. My method will also help you to take follow-up action based on different cost and benefit combinations, which can boost your career development overall.

          Start right now by spending 10 minutes to evaluate your common daily tasks and how they align with your goal(s). Once you have this information, it’ll be very easy to put your tasks into a priority list. All that remains is that you kick off your next working day by following your new master list.

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          Featured photo credit: Scott Graham via unsplash.com

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