Compartmentalisation is an aspect which, whether we like it or not, applies to everything regarding our day to day lives. Given the fact that we are now connected to the whole wide world 24/7, it has become more important than ever to set boundaries and also respect them, which is, of course, no easy task. The obvious downside of not compartmentalizing and creating boundaries is that it inevitably leads to an ever-growing feeling of resentment over time. Sticking to your list is of the utmost importance.
Psychologically, compartmentalisation is seen as a defence or coping mechanism of the mind in order to protect itself which does not make it for a good read. In layman terms, our brains try to deal with various conflicting ideas at the same time. To put things into perspective, here a few examples: a person who lives the office in the evening and doesn’t want to think about work for the rest of the night because he wishes to enjoy some quality family time at game, a doctor who is religious and had to separate his or her beliefs in order to practice medicine at the highest standard or in even more extreme cases (because those exist too) soldiers who need to detach themselves from the traumatic events they have encountered in order for them to continue to operate in future battles.
In terms of coping strategies and exercises, they are mostly effective for a short period of time with both positive and negative aspects. It is beneficial for a person to compartmentalise, but you do not want to overdo it. To put things into perspective, the soldiers that have been mentioned above that are repressing their combat experiences, the moment they return to their normal lives back home, they experience numerous flashback episodes that are putting a huge strain on their mental health, especially in the cases of soldiers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Shell Shock as it was once known right after World War I.
As with every existing idea or suggestion, there are arguments and counter-arguments for carrying through with something or not. There is sufficient scientific data that leads to the idea of the multiple benefits of de-compartmentalisation. The theory in which people leave their personal lives in front of the office door sounds pretty amazing, in any way you like at it. However, in real life this actually means not bringing our entire personality and mentality to work. To be honest, a clear-cut delimitation between personal and professional is almost impossible for our minds to execute. Furthermore, social media is not helping anyone remaining 100% professional given the fact that most of us are connected on Facebook and/or Instagram with our colleagues.
Recent research has revealed a fact that always seemed as an added bonus at the office and that is to have workplace friendships, due to the simple fact that it leads to a significant increase in engagement, satisfaction and productivity. In 2014 survey where 716 working Americans were part of it, 71% of them loved their job given the fact that they had friends in the workforce, whilst only 24% of people surveyed enjoyed their job without having any friends.
To strengthen this point, in the New York Times bestseller ‘Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements’ the author has said the following after analysing data gathered from Gallup studies from 150 countries: “Those who [have a best friend at work] are seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher-quality work, have higher well-being, and are less likely to get injured on the job.”
Somehow, unsurprisingly, women have the ‘upper-hand’ in this matter, with 63% of office friendship being female-female. Furthermore, men also have fewer close friends outside of the office than women.
Learning to Compartmentalise
As stated above, compartmentalising requires isolating separate tasks in order for you to focus on each one exclusively.
The process of keeping work responsibilities and your personal life separate is definitely challenging, simply because this separation includes thoughts as well as actions. If, for example, you’re reading a bedtime story to your children in bed whilst also mentally composing an email for a client, you are creating a tremendous amount of stress and you will fail to offer your family the attention they deserve.
Compartmentalisation skills can be strengthened through the establishment of a time period that acts as a buffer between home and work life. If you commute, try to switch off by rewinding everything you did that day, plan ahead for the next day and realise that the work day is over. If home and family issues are the ones interfering with your work, use the same technique during the morning commute.
Even after you’ve established a strong mental separation between home and work, you can easily get distracted by the mere temptation of multitasking.
As compelling as multitasking is, it isn’t always the most effective way of operating. Some studies even have suggested that productivity falls up to 40% just by switching tasks.
If you’ve always been used to juggle numerous tasks at once, it can be fairly difficult to break that habit all of the sudden and change the way you work. Due to the fact that modern technology is one of the main factors of wanting to multitask, simply start by avoiding any type of screens you have while away from work.
One of the major distracting factors are social media apps like Facebook and Twitter. It would be wise to either turn off their notifications or installing apps that automatically block their activity during working hours.
Know and Understand Your Work
As vital as compartmentalisation is, there will be times when you will have to accept that you will need to multitask or that you cannot ignore external distractions. Usually, this is the case when there are major developments either positive or negative in one aspect of life or another. If you manage to compartmentalise even 25% of your time, there will be a noticeable improvement in your work-life balance.
Just as the saying goes: ‘One thing at a time’, can be extremely useful even though it’s an old as time cliché.
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