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Last Updated on February 17, 2021

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

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.

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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.

To train up your focus muscle, join the free Fast-Track Class – Overcoming Distractions. In this 30-minute session, you’ll learn how to work even when you’re surrounded by distractions. Join the free session today!

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.

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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.

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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. 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.

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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.

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Featured photo credit: Jacky Chiu via unsplash.com

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Ben Willmott

Productivity and Project Management blogger for at work and at home

Why You Can’t Focus and 20 Things You Can Do to Fix It How to Compartmentalize to Live a Stress-Free and Successful Life 5 Steps (And 4 Techniques) for Effective Problem Solving How to Set OKRs to Keep Your Goals on Track 8 Essential Project Management Skills for Productive Work

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity)

What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity)

On August 6, 1991, the world changed forever when the internet became publicly available. Less than 30 years later, our lives have been irrevocably transformed. We can now learn, explore, and communicate 24/7, which is both amazing and, as we all know, hazardous to our productivity[1]. This is why the question, “What is block scheduling?” has become important.

To be clear, the internet isn’t life’s only distraction, and while productivity has become a huge buzzword in recent years, it’s simply a measure of progress: Are you doing what matters most? Actively moving toward your goals?

Author Neil Pasricha writes in Harvard Business Review[2]:

“As our world gets busier and our phones get beepier, the scarcest resource for all of us is becoming attention and creative output. And if you’re not taking time to put something new and beautiful out in the world, then your value is diminishing fast.”

Most entrepreneurs relate deeply to this sentiment. Pasricha solved his own productivity challenges by instituting “untouchable days” that shield him from texts, phone calls, meetings, alerts, or appointments of any kind. He says these focused sessions have enabled him to produce his most creative and rewarding work.

I love Pasricha’s approach, but it’s not always realistic for me. As the founder and CEO of JotForm, I need to weigh in on a variety of daily decisions, from hiring to product roadmaps to financial planning. I suspect other founders feel the same way. Yet, I do believe in the power of focused work, which is also why I recommend block scheduling.

What Is Block Scheduling?

Entrepreneurs often flaunt their multitasking as a badge of honor. After all, starting a business is a tug-of-war between competing priorities.

However, while multitasking might feel efficient, research shows that shifting between tasks can slash productivity by up to 40%. Task-switching leaves what Dr. Sophie Leroy calls “attention residue,”[3] which means we’re still thinking about a previous activity while we start the next one[4].

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Here’s where block scheduling can shine. What is block scheduling, exactly?

We usually become familiar with the concept of block scheduling in high school. You likely received a schedule with a certain number of classes per day, all blocked according to class time, each school year. This is basic block scheduling.

Also called time blocking, block scheduling is the practice of allocating large chunks of time to related tasks. For example, you might designate Mondays for meetings and Tuesdays for strategy. Teachers often use block scheduling when creating lesson plans. There are many different approaches, which we’ll get to shortly.

First, here’s why it matters. Business is essentially problem-solving. Creating strategies, writing code, developing products, and all the myriad activities that entrepreneurs tackle demand focus and minimal distractions. They’re also inherently human tasks that won’t easily be replaced by AI, which means your business depends on your ability to go deep.

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World, said in a 2017 interview:

“Focus is now the lifeblood of this economy.”

Entrepreneurs use their minds to launch ideas and create value, so the ability to concentrate is “almost like a superpower”[5].

Block scheduling can also help you to produce higher quality work in less time. Parkinson’s Law holds that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,”[6], which is why setting time limits can deflate a ballooning task.

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How to Use Time Blocking to Boost Productivity

We all have different rhythms and responsibilities. Personalization is the key to successful time blocking, and it will require some trial and error. Here’s how to get started.

What is time blocking?

    1. Assess Your Calendar

    Evaluating your current schedule can be surprisingly difficult because few of us can accurately estimate how much time a task requires. If it feels easier, track how you actually spend your time for a full week. Note each activity—even 10 minutes of email and 15 minutes of social media scrolling between meetings.

    Once you know how you’ve been spending your time, it’ll be easier to know what to keep and what to throw out when you begin to make your new schedule.

    2. Look for Patterns

    After you’ve documented a full week, group tasks into categories. For example, you can include the following categories:

    • Administrative
    • Meetings
    • Creative work
    • Email
    • Personal time.

    You can also label tasks based on how you feel while doing them, or how they influence your energy levels on a scale from 1-10. Do whatever makes sense for you.

    3. Arrange Your Time Blocks

    Experiment with different block scheduling patterns. For example, one morning may look like this:

    • 8-9am: Respond to emails
    • 9-10am: Write up marketing proposal
    • 10-11am: Brainstorm and plan for Client A’s project
    • 11am-12pm: Meet with Client A to discuss ideas

    However, you may find that you’re more creative immediately after waking up. In that case, you’d want to move “brainstorming and planning” to an earlier slot. If responding to emails is best for when you’re feeling a little lethargic after lunch, put it there.

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    Read your emotions and abilities throughout the day to tap into what is going to work best for you.

    Ultimately, the goal is to avoid switching mental gears throughout the day, week, and maybe even the month. I realize this isn’t easy, especially for entrepreneurs, but it can be incredibly valuable.

    Spending a full day on projects you dislike, such as administrative work or meetings, might feel daunting, but blocking them into a single day can make the rest of your week infinitely more productive and more enjoyable. You’re free to tackle all the entrepreneurial challenges that get your blood flowing.

    4. Create Day Themes

    If you’re someone who has to focus on many things during a single day or week, you may find it more beneficial to create themes for each day instead of blocking up your day into individual tasks. For example, you can set Mondays as Brainstorming/Planning days, Tuesdays as Administrative days, etc.

    If you take this route, I suggest always scheduling in at least one Family day. It will ensure you make time for the important people in your life and give your brain time to rest.

    Benefits of Block Scheduling

    Once you’ve answered “What is block scheduling?” and know how to use it correctly, you’ll find that you receive many benefits. Here are just a few.

    Battle Procrastination

    If you have your schedule set and know you only have an hour to get a particular task done, it will be significantly easier to avoid procrastinating.

    For more on how to stop procrastinating, check out this article.

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    Create Realistic Time Estimates

    Once you’ve been working with time blocking for a while, you’ll learn which activities take the most/least time. You may have to adjust your schedule during the first month or so to get it right, but be patient. You’ll continue to learn to realistically estimate how much time a particular task will take.

    Develop More Focus and Attention

    When your schedule doesn’t leave much room for scrolling through social media or chatting with coworkers, you’ll find your brain is more devoted to paying attention to the task at hand. You’ll respond to the limits you set for yourself and will focus to get things done.

    Final Thoughts

    Most founders crave freedom. Yet, school schedules, jobs, and social norms condition us to work with a traditional schedule and reactive mindset. Before we know it, we’ve re-created a working schedule that traces back to the 19th century, even in our own companies. Block scheduling is not only a tool to maximize productivity; it’s a way to reclaim your time[7].

    In my 14 years at JotForm, I’ve realized that business growth means doing more of what makes the biggest impact. I don’t always succeed, but I try to focus my time and energy where it matters, and I know that busyness is not synonymous with productivity.

    If you feel the same way, give time blocking a try. Share your experiments in scheduling with colleagues and family members so they understand the changes and can support you.

    Finally, don’t worry about getting it right immediately. You may need to get under the hood of your calendar and tinker around a bit. Find what works for you, then protect your new schedule at all costs.

    More Tips on Time Management

    Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

    Reference

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