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,
What Is Compartmentalization?
Compartmentalization is a psychological defense mechanism. Basically, your brain is already trained to compartmentalize. It the “fight” mechanism that your brain adopts in case of stress and anxiety. Whenever two clashing emotions or thoughts come face to face, your brain pushes them away and puts them in two different places. Your mind keeps contradicting thoughts away to keep you at peace. This is exactly what compartmentalization is.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Featured photo credit: Jacky Chiu via unsplash.com
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