The word "compartmentalize" means to separate into distinct parts. I am intrigued with the fact that the word "mental" is in the word. For me, it illustrates the need to separate mentally what we are doing. One of the tricks I am learning is to separate tasks and do one at a time. As a recovering multitasker that isn't easy, but I am beginning to see the benefits of doing one thing at a time.
I remember being told that it is impossible to do two cognitive things at one time. A cognitive activity is defined as a conscious intellectual activity. Although for years I have prided myself on being able to do two or more things at once, I am beginning to understand that when multitasking my attention is divided, so I am not doing the quality work I would like. I also discovered that it often takes longer to do more than one thing at a time because of the fact that my attention is divided. The secret to getting things done and getting them done well is to compartmentalize and focus on one thing at a time.
I now divide my day into tasks. I map out what I will be doing from hour to hour. Instead of starting the day with a list of things to do and thinking that I will just work on all of it as I go along, I break my day down into tasks. I will spend an hour on project A, fifteen minutes making telephone calls, and another block of time on e-mail. By compartmentalizing my day, I actually can get more done faster with fewer mistakes and less frustration. It all boils down to focus.
I remember starting a project in the morning only to have that same project on my desk at the end of the day. I allowed myself to be distracted by all of the other tasks that needed attention. Now I realize that, if I focus on one thing at a time, I can get the task at hand done, and be ready for the next one. I am not saying this is easy, because life doesn't always fit into nice, neat compartments. However, by creating this structure, it even makes it easier to deal with those unexpected events life throws my way.
The trick with compartmentalizing is to discover what works best for you. Scheduling my time in one-hour increments works best for me. If the project I am working on doesn't take an hour, I have then created free time to do something else or begin the next project. I have also learned to be flexible and allow for unexpected events. I even build in extra time just for that possibility. It may seem very structured, but there is a lot of freedom in the structure. Instead of trying to do everything at once, I focus on getting one thing done at a time, and I actually accomplish more by the end of the day