As a small business owner, it's an everyday thing to have a plate overflowing with tasks to complete: emails, client meetings, management concerns and more. If you aren't careful, your to-do list can have you rushing from one thing to another, creating a scenario where you are always busy but never really get anything done. The ability to compartmentalize frees you from this rat race so you can focus on the most important tasks before you without internal or external interruption.

What Is Compartmentalization?

While compartmentalization is sometimes defined as a defense mechanism in the realm of psychology, that's not what it means in the business setting. In business, compartmentalization is the ability to focus on one thing at a time without allowing other things to intrude.

It's essentially being organized with healthy boundaries so that when you are at home, you can truly enjoy being at home, and when you are at work, you can truly enjoy being at work. It also means that when you are working on the upcoming board agenda, you aren't also checking your email and Facebook at the same time.

Utilizing Compartmentalized Thinking

The ability to compartmentalize hinges on your thinking and the recognition that you can only truly focus on one thing at a time. Instead of thinking that you need to do everything all the time, you only think about and do whatever your top priority is in this moment. You are able to discern the urgent from the important in order to tackle things sequentially, avoiding thought storms that only serve to impede your progress.

One way of getting used to compartmentalized thinking is by practicing something like Belinda Ellsworth's Power Hour, where you intentionally focus on one income-producing activity at a time for 15 minutes.

Learning to Compartmentalize

Growing in the ability to compartmentalize depends on the ability to have healthy emotional boundaries with yourself and others. It means that when you are at work, you're not worrying about the pile of dishes waiting for you at home, and when you are at home, you're not worrying about the pricing strategy for your new product line. These tips will have you on your way:

  • Put your phone on silent so you can focus without distraction.
  • Give yourself permission to be unreachable when you focus.
  • Schedule a set time to check email and social media and don't do it any other time.
  • Set auto-replies on your email and texts so people know when they'll likely hear from you.
  • Focus in 15-minute chunks without distraction.
  • Use a timer to help you stay on track.
  • Use productivity apps to keep track of what's most important.
  • Keep separate spaces for working and playing. 
  • Communicate your boundaries with co-workers and employees.
  • Take regular time off and do not allow work interruptions.
  • When your mind wanders, redirect it to the task in front of you.
  • Organize your tasks around your top priority and delegate the rest. 
  • Complete your top priority when you feel your best. 

When you learn to compartmentalize effectively, you are likely to start getting the most important things done more efficiently without letting busywork distract you as much as it once did. You'll probably experience more peace at home and at work without feeling like a tidal wave of responsibilities is about to take you under.

Find Help With Compartmentalization Skills

Learning to compartmentalize can be challenging if you are used to trying to juggle everything at once. Consider working with a business or career coach in order to learn new skills for healthy compartmentalization, like brain dumps, prioritization lists, vision boards, celebration boards, planner systems and more. A good business coach can also provide practice for saying "no," as well as help you think through why you so often say "yes" to outside distractions.