Advertising

Last Updated on August 11, 2021

How to Compartmentalize to Live a Stress-Free and Successful Life

Advertising
How to Compartmentalize to Live a Stress-Free and Successful Life

Wouldn’t it be wonderful not to feel stressed and be present in each moment, so you can truly focus and deal with whatever life throws at you?

Being able to compartmentalize is one way to get to a place where you feel more in control of your life. It allows you to divide up the tasks, responsibilities and thoughts you have into different areas, so they don’t overlap and fight for your attention all the time.

You can then sort all of your inflight tasks and projects, and put them all into various virtual boxes allowing you to work on only one thing at a time.

Compartmentalizing helps stress management as it can reduce anxiety and tension. It’s an approach that is commonly used to avoid mental discomfort and helps with the conflicting views of those around us every day.,

To practice compartmentalizing, there are various techniques and approaches you can do this in your mind and practically through how you organize your life.

You can then build up rules, habits and approaches to reduce stress and become more in control.

1. Practice Compartmentalizing Through Visualization

Starting to visualize your journey towards a long term goal or vision helps you to begin compartmentalize.

One approach is to visualize yourself going on a journey in a car taking on board whats going to help you achieve your goals and not taking on board what isn’t serving you.

Let me explain:

Any issues or stress in your life as you come alongside them, move them into another car or house that’s not on your journey or isn’t on your journey yet.

For example, you have a big pitch coming up at work, but it’s weeks away, and it’s already causing you anxiety. Place it in a house that’s much further up the road as you shouldn’t be worrying about it yet. Then focus hard on the house telling yourself it’s okay to have it there and you will deal with it when you’re ready. You then continue on your journey.

Keep going on this journey, moving each dominant thought into another car or house until you feel you have a place for each of your main worries or thoughts. Anything that you don’t want on your journey at all, say no to it and remove it.

You’ll soon feel more in control and calmer the more you practice this approach.

Advertising

2. Focus on ONE Thing at a Time

This may sound obvious, but knowing you should focus on one thing at a time versus actually doing it are two very different things.

Multitasking doesn’t work and impacts your focus and productivity.

Pick one task. It doesn’t matter if it’s large or small, then set a timer which is a little promise to yourself that you won’t be distracted during this time. Entirely focus on that task until the timer is finished.

Use a Google timer, a stopwatch or an app. It doesn’t matter as long as it has an alarm once complete.

Practising this which is named Deep Work by Cal Newport in the book called Deep Work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. The more you practice this skill, the better you’ll become.

3. Recognize When You’re Going within Yourself

You may be working on a task at work when something triggers an adverse reaction in you like a comment from a work colleague, or you’re reminded of a particular situation that impacted your confidence in the past.

At this moment, don’t go within yourself.

Practice recognizing when this happens, so that you can accept it in that moment, then let it pass.

You can literally talk to yourself, ideally in your head if you’re not on your own saying, I recognize this, but now I’m moving on as it doesn’t serve me.

4. Write it Down

No matter how focused you’re and well practised with compartmentalization techniques, thoughts and ideas will still pop into your head.

To prevent these thoughts from repeating themselves, write them down by keeping a small note pad with you at all times.

Just a word or two is needed so not to distract you from what you’re currently working on. You can then move on with what you’re doing, knowing you’ve recognized this thought.

By doing this, you stop the repeating thought in your head by acknowledging it with the action of note-taking.

Advertising

5. Simplify What You’re Working on at Any One Time

At work or at home, some requests or projects can at times seem overwhelming.

When the ask is large or complex, it’s hard to know where to start. This feeling of being overwhelmed triggers stress, and you naturally start doubting yourself. You think how you can possibly get this done with everything else going on in your life.

How do you solve this?

You simplify everything. This doesn’t mean the request has just become simple and easy to do, but you break it down into more straightforward tasks by compartmentalizing them.

If a project has multiple tasks, group them into different compartments or areas to break it down and name these areas. Then pick an area and move through each task one by one. If a task is too hard or complex, break it down again into smaller tasks until you can do them.

Focus on one area at a time. You’ll never complete all your tasks in one go, so why worry about them? Each time you complete a task, you’re one step closer from completing them all.

6. Focus on What Only You Can Control

Distracting thoughts or the actions of those around can often throw you off course either physically or mentally.

Being able to compartmentalize allows you to focus on what you can control at that moment and not let others move you into a stressful place or distract you.

Any external triggers like a driver with road rage, a rude pedestrian or a rude comment from a work colleague, remind yourself you can control how you can react at that moment.

One technique to help with moving on is showing gratitude in these situations. Sounds unusual, but let me explain:

A rude pedestrian is crossing the road at the wrong time, which causes you to slam your breaks on and get stuck at a red light. Rather than let the stress build-up, simply say thank you for doing that as this has helped me improve my focus for the journey ahead. It may have even prevented something more serious from happening further on in your journey.

By merely saying thank you and seeing the positive in the situation, it immediately reduces your stress levels and allows the situation to pass by.

7. Group Everything You Do Under Your Goals

Like the visualization technique where you take yourself on a journey in your mind and grouping everything into compartments, you can do the same with your physical actions.

Advertising

For every action you plan to take, align it with a goal you’ve set for yourself whether that’s for work, personal or relationships. By doing this, you’re compartmentalizing in the physical world to allow you to stay focused and in control.

Compartmentalizing your goals also makes sure you’re working on what is bringing you the most value and getting you to your goals faster.

Now with this approach in place, if you’re tempted to work on something that doesn’t align with your goals, you can say no to it.

8.Create Time Barriers

Creating time barriers has multiple advantages to managing stress, your workload, and how productive you’re.

Designating time for yourself, when there are no work distractions, social media or any other type of distraction that might elevate stress levels is vital for managing life in general. Get this free guide End Distractions And Find Your Focus and learn how to do just that. With this guide, you’ll figure out how to create time barriers easily so you can always stay productive. Grab your free guide here.

Everyone will have different times of the day when you can do this, but for example, blocking out 6 am – 7 am every morning for exercise, reading time or meditation is a fantastic way to start the day.

To do this, you need to do two things:

Plan your week every week and place this me-time in your diary and ideally what you want to do during this time, so you don’t waste it. Then share with those you’re close too when you’re doing this and why. Be open about the why as they then can help you make sure you keep these times slots free.

9. Set Rules for Yourself

Look at the behaviors that could create stress, lack of focus or put yourself in situations that don’t serve you. Then create rules to either prevent you from acting this way or help you recognise the situations that make you behave this way.

Sounds like being back at school, but here are some examples:

You only work on a particular type of work between set hours as that’s when you’re most productive. Or between the hours of 9 am and 11 am on a Saturday, you do nothing but play with your children, no email, jobs around the house as the two don’t mix well.

Creating these rules for yourself quickly turn them into habits and then reminders are no longer needed.

10. Say Goodbye to Emails

Having 24/7 access to work emails can negatively impact your ability to compartmentalize. They’re a stress inducers and never let you truly relax and focus on your home life once away from work.

Advertising

The one sure way to fix this is once you’ve finished work is stop doing the Adhoc checks of your inbox. You may feel like you’re making it easier for yourself by checking email in the evenings, but the later in the evening you check, the longer it will take you to switch off and have a relaxing evening and peaceful sleep.

Set a deadline for when you’ll check your emails for the last time that day, ideally when you’re still at the office. You must make sure you have a few hours left in the evening, so you can say goodbye to emails until the next day!

You can also turn off notifications on your mobile to prevent the temptation to check your inbox. It only takes a few clicks to turn these on and off. If you can’t turn off notifications, then leave your mobile in a different room each evening, so you’re not tempted,

11. Recognize What’s Really Important vs What’s Urgent

Whether you love your job or hate it, work can spill into other aspects of your life at home and on holiday in some cases.

Even when you’re working, there is a constant stream of requests coming your way, and knowing the difference between what’s urgent and what’s important is critical when it comes to managing stress levels.

For example, emails are nearly always a request to respond with some information or perform some action or response. These are often treated as urgent because over the years, we’ve become accustomed to always responding to emails quickly.

For the majority of the time, emails may seem urgent, but few of them are important. Recognize what’s important versus urgent and then work on those important emails first as these will have a more significant impact.

When a request comes in, whether that an email or any other request for your time, ask yourself do I need to respond to this now. Can it wait, is it more important than what I’m doing at this moment?

You can also put yourself in the requester’s shoes and think if they don’t get a response for another day, will that make much of a difference?

The Bottom Line

To reduce stress and be more present with those you love, practicing these techniques is critical. The more you practice them, the quicker they become ingrained as habits, and your overwhelming feeling of control will increase.

Compartmentalizing is a well-practiced approach to manage what life throws at you in a more manageable way that works for you.

The more control and focus you can create in the present moment will result in not only less stress, but improved productivity and more quality time.

Be prepared to adapt these approaches for your own situation, but the principles and expected results should remain the same.

Advertising

More Productivity Tips

Featured photo credit: Jacky Chiu via unsplash.com

More by this author

Ben Willmott

Productivity and Project Management blogger for at work and at home

Can’t Focus? Find Out Why and How to Fix It How to Set OKRs to Keep Your Goals on Track How to Compartmentalize to Live a Stress-Free and Successful Life 5 Steps (And 4 Techniques) for Effective Problem Solving 8 Essential Project Management Skills for Productive Work

Trending in Focus

1 10 Reasons Why You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions) 2 How to Use the Prioritization Matrix When Every Task is #1 3 How to Become Indistractable: 4 Powerful Tactics to Help You Focus 4 How to Plan Your Day for a Healthy And Productive Life 5 How To Create A Daily Schedule To Organize Your Day

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on December 2, 2021

10 Reasons Why You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions)

Advertising
10 Reasons Why You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions)

What were you doing when this article caught your eye? Chances are, you were having trouble concentrating on another project.

Even before COVID-19, balancing your work, family, and social life made concentrating a challenge. These days, it can seem downright impossible.

Don’t let a little bad news—or good fun—break your focus. Here is a simple guide and tips to help you concentrate better.

Signs of Trouble Concentrating

Signs and symptoms of not concentrating vary from person to person. However, what we can experience are:

  • Have a struggling working memory. You don’t know what occurred not that long ago;
  • Trouble sitting still;
  • Not being able to think clearly;
  • You frequently lose things or can’t remember where things were placed;
  • Have an inability to make decisions or perform complicated tasks;
  • Unable to focus
  • Lacking physical or mental energy
  • Constantly and consistently making mistakes even if you don’t mean to.

When it comes to difficulty concentrating, you may notice these symptoms occur at various points for people. Some people need to be in certain settings for these symptoms to happen. For others, it can be during a certain time of day.

10 Most Common Causes of Trouble Concentrating

Here’re 12 most common reasons why you have trouble concentration, and the fixes for each of them.

1. Digital Distractions

Right now, do a little experiment. Pull up your browser history, hit Ctrl+H, and see where you’ve been all day. Frightening, right?

You jumped in and out of email. You bounced from social media to digital publication and back again. Oh, and look at those half-dozen retail sites you scrolled through looking for a new pair of shoes.

Then, there’s your smartphone. Every few seconds, you get a new notification from Twitter, Instagram, or CNN. Each time, your eyes dart from your computer screen to your phone. You’d hate to miss something, right?

The Fix: Schedule Your Day

While a little flexibility is important, you should set aside a period of time for tasks you know you’ll need to complete.

Schedule time to:

  • Read and respond to work emails
  • Make headway on your top two or three work projects
  • Engage in professional development
  • Do household chores
  • Help the kids with homework
  • Run that Zoom tutorial with your partner again

Leave short gaps in between as buffer times in case something goes over the intended time. Everyone needs to unwind with a good distraction now and again.

The key is controlling when you do so, rather than letting it control you.

2. Daydreams and Memories

Remember that little café where your spouse proposed to you 15 years ago? Wouldn’t your dining room look great with the same little tables and subway tile on the floor?

Everyone loses themselves in daydreams and memories sometimes. Your mind wanders to the future or the past because those places are more pleasant than what you’re handling at that time. This causes you to have trouble concentrating on what you need to focus on.

Advertising

Nonetheless, you have a deadline to meet, so how can you keep yourself focused when you have trouble concentrating?

The Fix: Stay in the Present

Daydreaming isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Imagination can provide a spark of creative genius or visualization of what you want in life. You just need to do it when it makes sense, not when you should be focusing on work.

Stay in the present by keeping your daily to-do list on your desk. When your mind starts to drift, pull yourself back to what’s right in front of you. Ground yourself by focusing on something real, like your breath, before turning your attention back to the task at hand.

With that said, make time to let your mind wander on occasion. Allow yourself the luxury of dreaming when it’s not pulling you away from something you need to get done.

3. Headaches

While you might be able to power through mild ones, a splitting migraine can destroy any hope you have of concentrating for a period of time.

Headaches and migraines are caused by a wide range of issues, including stress, sleep deprivation, diet, eyestrain, and medications[1]. Throw a global pandemic on top, and it’s no wonder your head is pounding.

The Fix: Use Your Head

Like that bottle of hand sanitizer, keep your headache and migraine medications on hand at all times. If getting to the pharmacy is a challenge these days, migraine services like Nurx can diagnose you and deliver medication to your door.

If your headache isn’t severe, try a medication-free approach. Some people find relief simply from drinking water, applying a cold compress, or inhaling essential oils.

4. Racing Thoughts

When is that project due? I’ve got to get something for Jane’s baby shower. I’m almost out of shampoo. I need those audit figures. What do I make for dinner tonight?

Does that scenario sound familiar? When you get busy, you suddenly remember five other items that you need to do or think about.

All of this can be so distracting that you’re unable to keep up and have difficulty concentrating.

The Fix: Meditate and Be Mindful

If you’re like most people, your mind is lost in thought 47% of the time, causing concentration problems. [2]

Meditation is a great way to clear the clutter, restore cognitive functioning, and focus on the present.

The good news is that meditating is easy.

Simply sit somewhere comfortable, take off your shoes, and set a timer for ten minutes. Then, just focus on your breathing.

Advertising

Don’t try to control it; simply notice your inhales and exhales, and let thoughts pass unjudged.

Mindfulness meditation, described above, is just one type. Mantra and movement meditations are also popular. Figure out what works for you, and keep those racing thoughts at bay.

5. Unresolved Issues and Arguments

Life is messy, and if you’re like me, one of the greatest concentration killers is unresolved disputes and arguments.

Maybe you argued with your partner last night. Perhaps you both went to bed angry, and it’s been bothering you all morning.

Or maybe you’re fed up with a co-worker who always talks louder than is necessary because they want everyone to hear about their latest date.

Your anger and annoyance might be well placed, but it doesn’t help to linger on these things. Your brain cells are better used for something else.

The Fix: Get Some Closure

Instead of leaving an argument up in the air, try to solve it. Stick to the point, stay calm, listen, and bring the disagreement to some sort of resolution.

If a co-worker does something to irritate you enough to interfere with your ability to concentrate, pull them aside and tell them. Be rational—not angry—and try to understand what might motivate their actions.

Otherwise, nothing is going to change, including the fact that you’re having difficulty concentrating.

6. Lack of Sleep

Sleep deprivation isn’t just a health issue. It also hinders your ability to concentrate during waking hours.

There are medical reasons for poor sleep too. Diabetes, sleep apnea, respiratory issues, cardiovascular disease, generalized anxiety disorder and neurological disorders.

For those, you need to seek medical advice and treatment.

But for most people, poor sleep is the result of mental health struggles and anxiety about all kinds of things. Finances, kids, parents, or maybe that job change you’ve been considering.

You have a lot on your mind, and this causes you to have trouble concentrating.

The Fix: Have Some Sweet Dreams

Losing as few as 16 minutes of sleep can throw you off your game the next day. Getting to sleep might be as easy as changing your mattress or your pillow, but the bigger culprit is your routine. Key steps include to help restore cognitive functioning are:

Advertising

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including on weekends.
  • Control your exposure to light at night, including smartphones and computer screens. Use that time to confront those weighty things on your mind by making a list of concerns or updating your to-do list.
  • Avoid overeating. Large meals close to bed can make you feel bloated and uncomfortable.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine. Both substances interrupt your natural sleep cycle.
  • When you do lie down, turn off the lights and close your eyes. Take some deep breaths, and drift into dreamland.

7. Lack of Exercise

Exercise lands at the bottom of the to-do list for many people. When they run out of time, they skip it. But they pay the price later in the form of their concentration.

Even moderate, regular physical activity benefits your physical health, improves your sleep, lessens anxiety, and increases mental acuity.

If you aren’t making time for exercise during the day, you’re hurting your ability to stay focused.

The Fix: Get Moving

Not everyone is an athlete, and not everyone wants to work out under the scrutiny of their fellow gym-goers. And that’s okay.

At the end of the day, what matters is sustainability.

Rather than launch into that soon-to-fail New Year’s resolution approach to exercise, start with literal small steps, like walking the dog or taking the stairs.

If it only takes you five minutes to eat that protein bar at your desk, use the rest of your lunch break to take a walk. Even if it’s around the block, you’ll come back feeling refreshed.

8. Boredom

If you’re bored with a work project, it’s easy to fall victim to even the smallest distraction. The same can happen when not enjoying what you’re doing too.

Boredom is the starting point that can spiral out of control easily. It leads to a lack of motivation, which leads to fatigue, which leads to scrolling through your Facebook feed for hours, killing your ability to focus.

Depression and boredom are tightly linked too so boredom could be a sign of something deeper.

The Fix: Get a Fresh Perspective

The pandemic has put a stranglehold on our social lives. Despite the restrictions on seeing other people and going out in public, you need to find a way to put the “social” back in your life.

Work-life balance is important, especially under these circumstances.

Even if you’re not comfortable with eating at a restaurant or visiting Grandma, there are things you can do. Zoom and Facetime are good options, but you might also think about having a couple of friends over on your patio while maintaining social distance.

Keep it short so no one even has to use your bathroom.

And about that boring work project? Tweak your attitude by thinking about how it will benefit your client.

Advertising

Find a way to make it fun, perhaps by discussing it with colleagues who make you laugh. You can check out more ways to make boring work interesting in the following video:

If all else fails, just muscle through it. Mark it off your list, and move on to something more engaging.

9. Excess Stress

The pandemic, politics, the economy, what’s happening in the news, your work, and more can be big points of stress. In some cases they are manageable.

But there are some days where you can’t help but worry and get stressed out about these things.

I understand that, however, it’s also a lifestyle choice for you to be getting stressed out about those things.

The Fix: Destressing

Stressing out over those things will not only cause a decrease in cognitive functioning and concentration but is also the starting point for other problems listed in this post.

To solve this, learning to destress in various ways will help out a lot. These methods include:

  • Making it a rule to stress out about things you can control rather than worry about what you can’t control.
  • Practice mindfulness or meditation
  • Give yourself a break
  • Talk to other people about your worries
  • Avoid using drugs and alcohol and instead, find some other way to unwind

10. Lack Of Nutrients Or Hunger

Finally, the last reason you can’t concentrate is maybe you’re not getting the right nutrients or not eating enough, to begin with.

Lack of nutrition is very common since people can get distracted by other things that they forget to eat. That or they only grab small snacks and aren’t getting the nutrients they need.

The Fix: Eat Better And Healthier

It’s vital that you’re eating properly and that you’re getting the right nutrients in your body. Vitamins like D3 and B12 help out a lot and can be taken as supplements.

In terms of actual foods, blueberries, green tea, avocadoes, fish, water, dark chocolate, flax seeds, and nuts are all proven to help with focus and concentration.

Beyond that, ensure you are eating enough at each meal and that you are eating consistently over the course of the day.

Though it’s not very common, you may also have trouble concentrating due to chronic conditions. Difficulty concentrating is a side effect of:

When Should You Seek Help?

Looking for help should be a priority if you:

  • Haven’t been diagnosed with any of the cognitive functioning disorders mentioned above and you’ve tried several of those methods mentioned above to fix difficulty concentrating;
  • Experienced loss of consciousness, severe chest pains, severe headaches, sudden and unexplained working memory loss;
  • Unusual feelings of tiredness;
  • Trouble sleeping;
  • Or seeing a decline in performance in work or school.

The Bottom Line

Concentration requires a lot of energy, motivation, and focus. That’s why most people have trouble concentrating. When there are all sorts of sounds, lights, and people competing for your attention, that combination can be elusive.

Advertising

Do your best to remove distractions, clear your mind, and take care of yourself. Those work projects will practically check themselves off once you get into a groove.

More to Help You Concentrate

Featured photo credit: Rabie Madaci via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Health Publishing: Headache: When to worry, what to do
[2] Columbia University: How Meditation Can Help You Focus
[3] Mayo Clinic: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Read Next