How to compartmentalize to get more done

The ability to compartmentalize is not something to be envious of, and certainly not a skill to be gained. Compartmentalizing is basically an internal process of putting your feelings toward someone, or some experience, in a metaphorical box, and putting them on a shelf in the back of your mind to be forgotten, or stirred up when something reminds you they’re there. It’s a defense mechanism for some of us who are better at just “moving on” from things, rather than dealing with them head on, or coming to terms with and accepting them.

For me, I personally compartmentalize people. As a person with high expectations for myself and others, I find it difficult to accept when I’ve been hurt by people. So, when this happens, I store these feelings away, and move on with my life. It’s definitely not easy to do, especially when it’s time to compartmentalize someone who we’re very attached to, but many of us are capable of doing it. For those who aren’t compartmentalizers, take my word for it when I say, it hurts, and it’s somewhat self-destructive.

I first learned I was capable of compartmentalizing my feelings when I’d realized how someone used to make me feel, and my best friend reminded me of how relevant that person used to be in my life. We then had this joke where occasionally, she’d remind me he existed, and “push the box off the shelf.” I’d be flooded with feelings for a few days, and then push them to the back of my mind, or “store them back in the box, on the shelf.”

The next time I encountered this was when I was severing a relationship with my former best friend. I carried on seeing her every day, as if we’d never been friends. At the time it was easy, but sometimes thoughts creep into my mind now that it could have turned out differently for us, had I not immediately pushed her out entirely.

I’ve since compartmentalized a handful of people who have caused me pain, and it’s gotten easier to write people off as I’ve gotten older. But like I said, it’s a defense mechanism. When it’s hard to accept being hurt by others, people look for ways to cope, and this is how some people, like myself, go about it. It’s self-destructive in a way; when you are reminded of these people and experiences, there is a brief wave of emotion as you remember the good and bad about them. It’s followed by pain in the memory you’ve put aside, and then fear because you haven’t let yourself come to terms with the experience. Finally, when you’ve gathered yourself, you put those feelings and experiences back where they were, and move on with your day.

We aren’t cold, and we aren’t emotionless. We’re afraid of being broken by another person. It’s not easy, but we do it.

How to compartmentalize to get more done

How Productive People Compartmentalize Time to Get the Most 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.

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.

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 develop the skill of compartmentalization

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

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. 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.

Understand that sometimes there’s nothing you can do about an issue

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.

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

Ask yourself the question “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.

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.

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.

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.

Comparmentalization saves you stress

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

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.

Compartmentalize your life to be fully present in the moment

by Barry J. Jacobs, AARP, February 4, 2020 | Comments: 0

How to compartmentalize to get more done

Zak Kendal/Getty Images

During my caregiving years, I’d find myself sitting in meetings at work fretting about how my mother was getting along with yet another new aide in her apartment. But when I would visit her after 5 p.m., I’d then be distracted by concerns about my overdue work projects. I never seemed to be able to be fully present where I was at any given instance — to achieve what the recently deceased spiritual teacher Ram Dass summed up in three simple words as “Be here now.” Instead, my mind was always a jumble of preoccupations about competing responsibilities that prevented me from bringing focused concentration and my best performance to any of them.

Some of this surely reflects my natural dreaminess and distractibility. But much of it has to do with the urgency and demands of family caregiving itself. As family caregiver advocate Carol Levine put it, caregivers are “always on call” — that is, thoughts about their care recipient are never far from mind no matter what they’re doing. Caregivers are on the train to work kicking themselves for forgetting to pick up medications the night before. They’re rushing back from lunch with office mates to make a quick call to check on their loved one. Their attention is drifting during conversations with clients because of fears of impending family losses.

Working caregivers can’t clone themselves to be in two places at once. Instead, they need to learn to compartmentalize the working and caregiving sides of their brains to keep the internal chatter of one from intruding upon the other. That isn’t easy. Our minds tend to scamper from one worry to the next. But unless they can shut out caregiving concerns for a little while at work and working concerns while caregiving, then they will never be able to excel in either role.

How can working caregivers become effective compartmentalizers and immerse themselves more completely in the different moments of their lives? Here are some ideas.

Learn to shift your mind-set

We put on uniforms when we are assuming our duties as a military officer, fireman or retail store greeter. The uniforms aren’t just a signal to others of our official positions but a trigger for a shift in our own mind-sets. We become the roles externally and internally when we change garb.

I’m not suggesting that family caregivers have an official uniform. (What would it be, though? Nurses scrubs and running shoes?) But working caregivers can more effectively leave work at work and step fully into caregiving through some symbolic act — for example, removing a tie, throwing on jeans or letting their hair down. This is not just a matter of creating more physical comfort but of ushering themselves psychologically into their family roles.

There are many other ways of demarcating work from caregiving to trigger an internal shift: Leave briefcases and tools at the office or work site. Turn off cellphones. Don’t bring projects home. Also, consider bringing closure to a workday by writing a to-do list for the next day and leaving it in your cubicle or locker before heading out.

Practice mindfulness

Being fully present in caregiving or any endeavor is not a simple choice; it’s the result of practice. Many such practices are now lumped under the common heading of “mindfulness” — that is, increasing present awareness rather than being preoccupied with worries about the future or regrets about the past.

A mindfulness practice that can be adopted by working caregivers is called “5 Senses.” Caregivers can pause in their many duties to note, one sense at a time, what they are hearing, seeing, tasting, feeling and smelling. Even if thoughts about work or other worries pop into their heads, they can bring their focus back to the sensing. This exercise tends to briefly ground caregivers in their immediate environment and takes them out of their zig-zagging thoughts.

Take an observer’s stance

In a similar way to noting their senses, working caregivers can intentionally observe and perhaps record their care receivers’ behaviors and symptoms. This can help them prepare for a medical visit, say, at which they will be asked how their loved ones are responding to treatments. But it is also an exercise that forces caregivers to be present and attentive. Does that mean they’ll never think of work again while caregiving or vice versa? Not likely. But they will be striving to be where — and, more importantly, who — they need to be at any given time.

Barry J. Jacobs, a clinical psychologist, family therapist and healthcare consultant, is the co-author of Love and Meaning After 50: The 10 Challenges to Great Relationships — and How to Overcome Them and AARP Meditations for Caregivers (Da Capo, 2016). Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

How to compartmentalize to get more done

Do you often feel pulled in many directions? This is my constant state of mind.

  • I’m the Co-Founder of Successful Culture International which keeps my calendar full with client engagements and strategic planning.
  • I’m the Co-Founder and lead facilitator of Women’s CEO Roundtable, and facilitate a monthly CEO educational cohort.
  • I facilitate my monthly CEO meeting as the Regional Chair for Women Presidents Organization.
  • I write 6 times a month for Inc. Magazine.
  • I’m a (highly selective) keynote speaker.

Then there is the rest of my life. I am never without a to-do list. I don’t know the definition of “done.”

Compartmentalizing is one of the most important strategies for setting healthy boundaries. It allows us to establish mental barriers between one priority and another so that we can direct all of our energy into what’s right in front of us.

Here are 5 strategies to effective compartmentalization:

  1. Stick with “I love what I do, I’m great at it, and it’s the best use of my time.”Clearing your plate of everything you shouldn’t be doing is the first step to making room for what you should be doing. If an activity doesn’t meet these 3 criteria, there is someone better to do this.

In the last 2 months, I’ve helped 2 CEO clients secure great operations assistants to automate processes, streamline operations, and take everything off of my client’s plates that they don’t want to do. Their productivity is through the roof.
Align your activities to your goals. Even if you love it, you’re great at it, and it seems to be a good use of your time, does it align with your goals? Every activity must align to our desired outcome.

One of my CEO clients considered generating a report to show customers the ROI they were getting by using their products/services. This is a great idea! However, it’s not what the CEO should be doing. It must be delegated to someone in his marketing division, with final approval for release coming from him.
Regardless of “the list,” focus on only one thing. Your list likely has many competing priorities. However, prioritization is a pyramid. In any given moment, we are focused on only one thing.

If you can’t complete your obligations in a single focus session, it’s ok. Estimate how much time each obligation will require, and create chunks of time to complete it. This is great for large projects, such as writing a book, or working on a client deliverable. Some deadlines will be self-imposed (a book); others will be imposed on you (client deliverable or taxes). Work your way back, and block the time out.

A friend was going through a divorce, and felt overwhelmed at the amount of paperwork and accounting required to move through the process. We branded the process “Get D” and she carved out a specific block of time a few times a week to address it. On the other days, she didn’t think about it. This stopped the overwhelm and the feeling that the process was consuming her life.

You can apply this process to any potentially overwhelming task, if you started with the desired outcome and work backwards.

Delineate emotional and logical reactions because they drive different outcomes. Finally, be aware of the emotional reactions your obligations trigger, and plan accordingly. A client recently has dealt with several emotionally charged circumstances in their company. In each one, I walked him through how to process the event from a business perspective, rather than reacting emotionally,

Emotional reactions are like dominoes. They set off chain reactions that are difficult to stop once in motion, and lead to completely separate set of circumstances. This is why high emotional intelligence is a key component of leadership success. Leadership is a mine field for emotionally charged circumstances. The ability to calmly and rationally navigate them, and keep your eye on the desired outcome, sets apart the good from the great.

Compartmentalizing applies to all aspects of our lives. With 24/7 digital access, it’s never been more important to establish structured boundaries and honor them. My weekday mornings from 5:00 – 7:00 are my time. I’m at the gym, engaged in my health and wellness. I don’t check emails. I don’t answer texts. I have a firm barrier around this time block.

When we don’t compartmentalize and establish boundaries, resentment grows, and that’s never a good place to be. The good news is that you can begin compartmentalization at any time. Own your list! Take back control! Good luck!


Compartmentalization is a ‘divide and conquer’ process for separating thoughts that will conflict with one another. This may happen when they are different beliefs or even when there are conflicting values.


A person who is very religious and also a scientist holds the opposing beliefs in different cognitive compartments, such that when they are in church, they can have blind faith, whist when they are in the laboratory, they question everything.

There is sometimes honor amongst thieves, where together they act as honest people. Thieves also may be very honest in their family lives.

My son is an angel in school and a demon at home.


Compartmentalizing is building walls to prevent inner conflict. To some extent, we all compartmentalize our lives, living different value sets in the different groups to which we belong. Thus we may be ruthless at work but loving at home. We rationalize this by explaining that ‘that’s just the way it is’.

To help someone become more integrated as a person, one therapeutic technique is to take two chairs and have the person alternate between the two seats as they have a conversation with themselves, seeking to understand the other ‘persona’ and hence build passageways between them and become better friends with themselves (or at least gain greater acceptance and understanding). In time, the walls may crumble.

Where there are split personalities and there is a desire to extinguish one of them, then take the person to a higher level where they can see the common intent of both sides of the wall and how one side has mistakenly adopted the wrong path.

To get someone to do something that they would not normally do, help them build a new compartment in which to do it. Make as much different in this compartment as possible, including location, clothing, language, etc.

It’s important to create guidelines and establish distinctions when you need to get more done.

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How to compartmentalize to get more done

Image credit: Maskot | Getty Images

April 7, 2020 4 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

We are facing some troublesome challenges today. The economic effect of COVID-19 is being felt on all fronts. It could be directly affecting you, your business or your family, and the uncertainty is scary. You might be lucky to have been moved to remote work, but that presents its own difficulties.

Compartmentalizing might provide a solution to that stress. This is the process of singling out an issue and applying all your energy and attention to it. In the psychology world, compartmentalizing is considered a defense or coping mechanism, but when used correctly can be an effective way of solving problems. Here are a few ways compartmentalizing can help you.

1. Removing distractions.

The biggest obstacle of productivity is the constant presence of distractions. It’s easy for us to divert our attention to our cell phone or social media accounts and waste precious time. When you sit down to get some work done, set your phone on Do Not Disturb. Close any unnecessary tabs on your computer that can get in the way. The more you do to focus on the task at hand, the more efficient you will be and the faster you can get it done.

Your environment plays a big part in your productivity as well. Determine how your workspace should be set up in order to avoid distractions. This might be solved by working behind closed doors. Soft instrumental music and a tidy workspace can prevent your mind from wandering, dramatically improving your focus on the important tasks at hand.

2. Scheduling your day.

A daily schedule can help bring order to your life and ensure that you’re devoting plenty of time to the most important things. Plan out your day so you can focus on what needs to be done by the end of it. Having those things on your schedule makes sure that you’re giving time to the most pressing tasks that day. Using a productivity app helps you visualize your day more effectively. These apps also give you statistical feedback on how you are spending your time, which can help you make adjustments for the following day.

As part of your routine, you can dedicate a time specifically for planning. Maybe take your Friday afternoon to review the upcoming week and organize it as necessary. This includes adding information and ranking your tasks by order of importance. Getting this all done at once removes the need to stress over your calendar at the end of each day.

3. Make time to clear your mind.

While getting work done is necessary, it is equally important to make sure you are making time for family and scheduling much-needed breaks.

Without supervision in your home, it’s up to you not only to be productive, but to also make sure you are taking care of yourself. Scheduling a half-hour to go on a walk or 15 minutes to take a coffee break helps you block off the time you need for yourself. Consider trying meditation in the morning or setting aside an afternoon to read a book. These productive yet relaxing activities can help you unwind and relieve stress.

4. Leave work at work.

Some days, it’s hard not to think about work when you’re at home. As an entrepreneur myself, my work is frequently on my mind. Leaving work at work, and the stress it often brings, helps me to be more present with my family. It’s very important to me that they get the best version of myself. Worrying about work when I’m at home can actually do more harm than good.

Separating the professional and personal becomes especially difficult when you are working from home. Compartmentalizing projects can help you get one thing done and then focus on the next. After completing an assignment, make the conscious decision to move forward.

It’s time to focus on yourself. If one of these suggestions doesn’t work for you, try something else. The way you work best will be different than the way I do. While compartmentalizing may not be for everyone, trying different methods of success will eventually get you to where you want to go.

Your boxes and arrows are killing ideas

How to compartmentalize to get more done

Jasper Blokland

Feb 2, 2018 · 5 min read

Ideas are awesome. Teams and colleagues generally love bouncing them off each other. Good ones, great ones, bad ones, mediocre ones. As far as team processes go, ideation is generally a creative, quick and painless one that attracts high-energy, outgoing and entrepreneurial people. (Yes, even in corporates.)

But an idea has a long way to go before it becomes a mature product. Product/market fit is still vague. Technical feasibility has not yet been estimated. User testing? We didn’t quite get there yet. Meanwhile, our idea has already been sold to “important stakeholders” or “senior management”.

So, t e ch team. We did our part. We’ve thought up a solution which has management buy-in. When will it be delivered?

This is where ideation meets corporate compartmentalization. The urge to wall off tasks and responsibilities. To box people in. Jay Malone at Invision knows what happens next:

“It’s nearly impossible — and in the best case scenario extremely inefficient — for 1 team to research and validate problem solutions, and then have another team design and build those solutions.”

Compartmentalization kills velocity and creativity

How to compartmentalize to get more done

We humans compartmentalize all the time. We put conflicting beliefs in seperate boxes of our brain. It helps us cope with the complexities of life. It’s how we can be an asshole at work (“I need to be, I’m the boss”) while teaching our kids to be kind and polite to all people.

In corporate life, I see compartmentalization as the need for organisations to draw boxes and arrows. Artificial boxes that contain tasks and responsibilities. That are meant to tackle complexity. To help people inside the box feel a purpose; a clear role. To give managers a sense of control. To help teams respect each other’s contribution to the bigger (company) picture. And to structure work.

Here’s a few examples of compartmentalization I have tangled with over the years.

Example 1: organizational compartments

How to compartmentalize to get more done

Boxes, no arrows. The traditional corporate organization. Every department is responsible for a piece of the product puzzle (and to bring their expertise to the table on request). Each department has organized their workflow from their own perspective. It’s clear who can do what, but it’s hard to get continuous commitment from everyone.

Example 2: compartments by discipline

How to compartmentalize to get more done

Boxes and arrows. Different teams are responsible for a specific phase of product development. One team is responsible for setting up and validating the proposition, the business case, etc. A UX team picks up the design work and the development team builds the product. Every team can have a “Product Owner” but no-one actually owns the product. They all “own” a small part of a lot of products. Or nothing at all.

Example 3: technical compartments

How to compartmentalize to get more done

A more detailed split of the BUILD-box from example 2. The development team delivers the code, testers set-up test cases and validate the code before handing it over to a seperate team that takes care of the release. Processes gone mad…

Drawing boxes and arrows is (generally) a well-meant effort to structure work.

The problem is that more compartments means more handovers between people, thereby killing velocity and creativity in product development teams. The result:

  • Compartmentalization leads to contracting. These can be implicit contracts (“UX is responsible for the design, this will probably include user validation”) or, worse, explicit contracts (SLA’s for answering emails or deploying code to DTAP) between teams or departments.
  • Contracts will be broken and blame will be assigned. Especially when there’s a lack of shared goals or KPI’s.
  • Compartmentalization slows decision making. Individuals (or teams) feel they “own” a proposition and are therefore “in charge”. This is extremely troublesome if there’s more than one self-proclaimed owner.
  • I’ve also seen this happen the other way around: Nobody takes a decision because no one feels ownership. No one has the responsibility for the entire product and no one might actually take it. Someone always drops the ball.
  • Compartmentalization leads to an implicit (or fake) sense of hierarchy. If things are designed in arrows and boxes, those at the start of the process will feel like their input decides the next teams’ starting point.
  • Compartmentalization leads to conflicting goals. Ideation teams want to deliver as many new propositions and validate as many new ideas as possible, while the tech team might need to work on technical debt.
  • Compartmentalization limits teams from seeing the big picture. This leads to suboptimal work.
  • Finally, boxes and arrows kill bottom-up innovation. Being responsible for a small subset of tasks can lead to task oriented behaviour. If you ask people to do a job they will just do it. If you ask them to solve a problem they will go above and beyond.

Moving beyond boxes and arrows

Every company I’ve worked for was aware of their compartments and spent a lot of time and money to reorganize their workflow. Agile transformations, Lean process improvements, CI/CD programs; you name it. They tried to simplify complexity, but in the end it always resulted in drawing boxes and arrows all over again (but in a different way).

So, how to move beyond them? I’m far from an expert on the subject, but I do believe there’s a set of principles companies should follow. Call it Scrum, Agile, Lean or simply common sense:

  • Slash and simplify strategy, goals, KPI’s/OKR’s. Corporate departments or teams don’t need to set up their “own” strategy. In the end they all serve the same purpose.
  • Put your product front and central. Organize your teams around your product. Sales, marketing, support, tech, UX, etc. are all part of the same product team. They are united by a common goal and shared KPI/OKR.
  • Question every compartment and every handover. How can this task be done by the same team? Every process improvement should lead to less boxes and less arrows. Fight the natural urge to compartmentalize and allow things to get messy once in a while.
  • Inspect and adapt. Treat your organizational design like you would treat your product. Try something out, validate and improve.

Most importantly, break out of your own box and be inclusive. Make sure that everyone can contribute to the product roadmap. If you have a good idea you should not just be able to put it out there, you should be able to actually help it grow.

How to compartmentalize to get more doneWelcome to my two-part article series on compartmentalization as it relates to narcissism in relationships. This article, Part 1, will describe the psychological mechanism of compartmentalization and how narcissists use it to juggle multiple relationships and situations without having his/her worlds collide. I believe that an understanding of this narcissistic tactic is vital to our recovery because, as you’ll see, it explains everything – and I mean everything – that we experience. Once we “get it” about compartmentalization, then – and only then – can we truly begin to connect all of the suspicious dots within our relationship in a meaningful way.

Invariably, online definitions describe compartmentalization as a defense mechanism that a person uses to keep certain beliefs and relationships separated from one another so that they don’t conflict. For those who are particularly good at it, like narcissists and sociopaths, it means being able to get away with just about anything including keeping one lover from ever finding out about another or from lies ever becoming truly tangled. Compartmentalization is what narcissists do before, during, and after a Discard. Compartmentalizing is how the narcissist keeps partners (or only certain partners) from ever meeting his friends and family members. Compartmentalization is the perfect explanation for how the narcissist can just leave you without giving a fuck…why your history with a narcissist means absolutely nothing…why he appears to simply vanish during a silent treatment and why he’s so adept using the Cell Phone Game to keep you at arms length even when you think you are “together”.

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Imagine the narcissist’s twisted head as being like a building that contains a whole bunch of empty rooms – or compartments – to which he is the only key holder. Over time, the narcissist fills these compartments, each with a single scenario from his life and each scenario having little or no knowledge about the existence of the other compartments. By carefully keeping tabs on the contents of each compartment and by controlling all levels of communications and interaction, the narcissist keeps the potential for conflict and confrontation to a bare minimum as he moves from one to the other. The biggest benefit, of course, to compartmentalization is that the narcissist can behave one way while visiting one compartment and behave completely differently when visiting another. And since the narcissist is a pretender extraordinaire and master chameleon, the fact that he’s has to basically lie through his teeth during each visit isn’t even an issue. In fact, that’s the easiest part of the strategy!

In another article series on this site called A Sociopath Exposes the Narcissist, I use actual pieces of blog posts written by a very popular online sociopath to prove my point about how a narcissist thinks. To prove my point about compartmentalizing, I’ll use yet another blurb from that same blog:

For me, my Game Theory is not only one fashion of handling life, it’s also the concept of compartmentalization. As many people have commented, trying to keep everything in order (in regards to the lies, half-truths, manipulations, “games,” etc.) would be exceedingly difficult (for a sociopath/narcissist). And it would be, if the sociopath’s mind operated as a normal person’s. Everything in my mind is organized sort of like folders (compartments) and folder groups that you might find in, say, Windows Explorer; everything has its place. When a situation presents itself or I am with a certain friend or friend(s), I simply “open” up that folder and behave accordingly. When one’s mind is organized in such a way that no thought co-mingles with others, you don’t have the problem of “remembering all of the lies,” because you have everything you need neatly stored away, waiting to be accessed at the right time. This same concept of compartmentalization applies in all walks of (my) life, whether it be love, friendships, work, etc. Another benefit to compartmentalizing is that it enables oneself to keep track of “friend circles”, thus ensuring that none of these circles cross in any way; this can allow for you to more easily adapt to any number of given situations per friend circle. For example, for each different personality, I just find another lover (in addition to or instead of one you may already have). I find myself involved in many different circles, but almost as a ghost; I can walk in and out of these circles almost unnoticed and never be missed.

To imagine life as a narcissist, we must imagine ourselves moving in and out of these compartments whenever it served a beneficial purpose. A narcissist might have separate compartments for you, his other girlfriend(s), his work relationships, his family life, his guy friends, his time at the gym or in the band or at the bar or home alone at his apartment. Then, when it’s convenient, he just moves in and out of the little rooms like a snake, carefully closing the door behind him when he arrives and also locking it tight when he leaves. He might be giving you the silent treatment while hanging out in the compartment next door and you won’t even know it. Or he can be having a regular sex life with three different women who all think that they’re his only girlfriend. When a person is a pathological liar and has no empathy, sympathy, guilt, or remorse, compartmentalization is the way to go!

The fact that a narcissist is capable of having a long-term relationship with one person while carrying on a similar affair with one (or more) other persons is a constant source of angst for all of us. And I believe it’s not the cheating itself that is the biggest issue but rather the narcissist’s lack of conscience/emotion that appears to go with it. How does he do it without feeling a single thing? When confronted with an affair, my ex was able to fake remorse for only a day or two before he threw up his hands in exasperation and screamed “Get over it! I just didn’t think it was any big deal!” Excuse me? No big deal? This way of thinking, of course, isn’t normal because even an asshole knows that cheating is hurtful. But the narcissist, in his non-emphatic way of thinking, doesn’t see it that way. So, as hurtful as my ex’s response was to me, he was actually telling me a snippet of truth but at the time, I sure didn’t see it that way either and it caused me great distress.

In Part 2 of this article series I’ll go into depth about the lack of emotion and empathy in the narcissistic personality and how it works in perfect sync with the art of compartmentalizing.

Our good friend and neighbor died a few weeks before Thanksgiving. Because holding a service would be unsafe, her husband had the hearse that picked her body up from the hospital drive through the neighborhood (it’s a big loop on a point), followed by her family in several cars. All of us went outside and stood on the road to pay respects as the procession went by. A few days later, she was cremated.

Another neighbor friend, an avid biker, died about ten days ago. Tomorrow, about a dozen neighbors plan to ride their bicycles along one of his favorite routes to mark his departure.
posted by carmicha at 10:16 PM on December 19, 2020 [5 favorites]

If there were a grave, I would visit it. Making a donation towards the family’s funeral expenses if you think they need it, or towards a cause the departed person cared about/was affected by might feel like a way to observe their passing too.

Another thing you might do is have a little memorial service for one. Set up a photo of the one you lost, and light a candle, and then sit quietly and remember all the things you knew and loved about them.
posted by orange swan at 9:50 AM on December 20 [2 favorites]

My mother died half a world away at a time I wasn’t medically able to travel, this was 2 years ago though before Covid. On the day of her funeral it was night here, my husband & I went out to a park & released a sky lantern in memory of her.

Maybe get in contact with people that knew them & talk about them. Sharing memories is, I think not only a great act of remembrance for someone that has passed, but a good way to help heal. If doing it in a large zoom event isn’t your style, then one on one phone calls might work as you don’t have the awkwardness of the camera to worry about.
posted by wwax at 9:56 AM on December 20 [2 favorites]

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How to compartmentalize to get more done

I have to be honest: Yesterday was not a great day for this work-from-home mom. My youngest daughter stayed home sick from preschool, which meant I had a tiny, grouchy royal ensconced in the bedroom next to my office. In between Skype meetings with clients and loads of laundry, I catered to Her Majesty’s constant, unhappy demands for water, coloring books, juice, a story, her ponies, and everything else she “needed.” Her elder sister came home from school just in time to start a fight at the same moment I logged into an important meeting with my accountant — and I lost focus, trying to remember how I ever thought I could balance these two worlds under the same roof.

But then I thought of everybody else across the country doing the same thing. If they could do it, then I certainly could, too — right? The number of people working from home has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade, and even significantly more in the last few years. In 2018, a survey found more than a third of the U.S. workforce (35%) were working as freelancers or running their own businesses from home.

The benefits of working from home are tremendous. You get to devise your own schedule, choose your wardrobe, pick your projects (or clients), and even work while you’re traveling, if you wish. But though the advantages can be amazing, this doesn’t mean it comes without challenges. Not by a long shot. And some of those hurdles can be pretty difficult to climb over.

On the plus side, you can overcome any of these challenges by learning how to effectively compartmentalize your life while working from home. It takes some practice, but if you can get your brain to turn certain things off, it can help you maintain a healthy balance between your work and home lives.

Juggling kids and work

School, sports, scouts, teacher conferences, oh my! All the things we have to do as parents are overwhelming — and that’s not even considering the additional responsibilities that come with our jobs. Add a full-time gig into the mix, and life gets downright chaotic. I can help if you train yourself to focus hard when it’s time to work and then definitively turn off work when it’s time for family.

  • Use a calendar consistently to make certain nothing accidentally falls off the radar.
  • Set primary office hours for the times when kids are in school or at extracurricular events. For a little more flexibility, see if you can establish a carpool with other parents.
  • Have a contingency plan for the days when the kids are home from school sick (i.e., build some flexi-hours into your calendar each week, so you can shuffle things around if the unexpected happens).
  • Set alarms so you know when it’s time to switch gears.

It’s important to keep this in mind: One reason you became a solopreneur was to have the flexibility to do All The Things. The problem is, that’s often easier said than done. Tools like online schedulers, alarms, and spreadsheets can make it easier for you to compartmentalize.

Maintaining work-life balance

Establishing that balance is tricky for anyone who works and is a parent. For work-from-home parents, though, there are additional challenges, since life tends to bring lots of interruptions. Since you aren’t physically removed from a situation like you would be at a traditional office, you might have to improvise if you want to get anything done.

  • Commit yourself to household chores in your “off work” hours — and stick to the to-do list!
  • Find ways you can multitask, such as folding laundry while you’re on the phone with a client or preparing lunch while you dictate notes to transcribe later.
  • Set up a separate space for work and keep it off-limits to the rest of your family. Set rules dictating that, when you’re in that space, you’re not to be disturbed for anything that’s not an emergency. (Then help them understand why “Ashley took my toy” isn’t an emergency).
  • Set hours during which the kids know they’ll get your undivided attention. If they’re younger, show them what the clock will look like when that time starts. Plan to do something extra-fun or special at least a couple of times a week during that time frame.

Importantly, be sure to let go of the guilt. No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. There will be days you’ll either drop the ball on a project or forget you have a soccer game to attend. We can’t change our mistakes, but what we can do is learn from them, apologize, and try to make up for them.

Taking care of yourself

As a parent, you’re probably no stranger to sleep deprivation. If you’re working for yourself and not getting enough sleep, you can really do yourself harm if you don’t reverse the trend. Since a lack of sleep can lead to depression, anxiety, migraines, and a host of other health problems, you need to make time for yourself to stay healthy. Set your quitting hours and hold as firmly to them as you can. If you find you like to work at night, but it gets your brain spun up and you can’t turn it off easily to go to sleep, find other hours to work.

Also, be sure to work in healthy meals and exercise. Always give yourself a lunch break, or at least something healthy you can eat during a working lunch. Exercise daily if possible (or a minimum of a few times a week). Look at exercise as a way to clear your head. When you’re finished, you might even find you’ve unexpectedly found a solution to a problem you’ve been facing.

Techniques for compartmentalization

An article published in Forbes shares some techniques for successful compartmentalization. While it was published in 2012, the advice is still very relevant even as we approach 2020.

  • If an issue emerges, forget about everything else for a while and dedicate your entire focus to it.
  • Apply that “extreme focus” to that compartment only for a short period.
  • Move the needle a little with each step toward a solution. Take baby steps.
  • Once you’ve resolved an issue or completed a task, move on to the next compartment.
  • Keep your priorities clear. Say “No” to anything not worthy of its own compartment.

It’s not easy for people who are their children’s primary caregivers to juggle working from home while managing family life. But by training your brain’s attention to focus where it needs to be — and using organizational techniques to anchor it in the right place at the right time — your personal and professional lives can be a lot easier to balance.

Keep in mind, there will be some spillage between compartments from time to time, and that’s OK, too. Successful compartmentalization takes steady practice, but in time it’ll help you to get what you need to get done.