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Compartmentalizing at Work 

Thank heaven 2021 is finally here. Last year was an especially tough one. 

We’ve made it to this point, a little weary, but still functioning. We’ve been forced to radically change our way of life due to the unexpected arrival of the highly contagious coronavirus.

Last year the economy cratered, jobs disappeared, restaurants and schools closed, travel was limited, and what used to be a peaceful home life suddenly became chaotic. And, hardest for many of us, we’ve had to give up some much-prized personal freedom and independence in order to cope and cooperate with the authorities.

Even those who have received shots of vaccine will still need to continue to wear masks, wash hands frequently, socially distance and meet in smaller groups for a while—possibly as long as a year. That’s a tall order for us social beings in the oil industry.

But learning to compartmentalize in business can help stabilize our lives and relieve stress, even as we continue to be concerned about the future. 

If we learn to temporarily isolate our most troubling personal thoughts and emotions and laser-focus on the pressing work problems currently in front of us, we will solve them more quickly and effectively. The most successful business executives have practiced this for years. Firefighters and Navy Seals are trained in this; otherwise, their missions would fail.

Compartmentalizing at work, of course, is easier to talk about than to do, but the benefits can be rewarding. When we leave for our workplace or retreat to a designated area of our home to work remotely, we need to focus on the highest-priority business decisions and opportunities presented to us.

We should try to keep our own personal concerns and problems with our kids, spouses, older relatives, neighbors or coworkers from entering our minds; those worries can be handled more effectively later when we are not as distracted and more personally available. 

This isn’t easy; it takes concentration, and not all of us will be able to compartmentalize completely. But to the extent that we can do it, the quality of our work will rise to a higher level.

Consciously reversing compartmentalization at quitting time is also important. Let’s learn to leave work problems at work, turning full attention to our family when we are at home or out of our work space. We should show that same courtesy to others with whom we interact in our neighborhoods and communities; they will appreciate it.

The internet is full of discussions for and against different kinds of psychological and emotional compartmentalization. Don’t be misled by comments that don’t relate to getting work done more efficiently in the business world.

Compartmentalizing at work is a desirable managerial trait that, when combined with an ability to multi-task in real time, is highly prized in business. Anyone who aspires to an upper-level managerial position will need to develop this quality. If we haven’t already done so, now is the time to start.  

Jack Goodhue, management coach, can be reached at

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