Setting aside time out of your busy schedule to focus on writing can be difficult. Many of us are juggling full-time commitments, family life, school, and personal relationships. As a result, it can be challenging to find time to sit down, turn off all of your devices, and separate yourself from the rest of the world to write. However, as I’ve discovered, learning how to compartmentalize can help.
Simply put, compartmentalizing is to “separate into isolated compartments or categories.” Compartmentalizing means to keep the various areas and activities of your life separate from each other.
It is important to note that compartmentalization is a learned skill. You must practice it consciously. If you are someone many others rely on, it will take extra focus for you to master this skill, because you will have to learn to not be available at all times.
The good news, however, is that practicing this skill will also help to create boundaries you may have not been successful in creating before. These boundaries will not only allow you to take time to write or to spend time doing other activities for yourself, but they will also help to create a healthier balance between the many areas you are managing in your daily life.
In terms of your daily routine, compartmentalization means maintaining each activity as independent of the others with minimal crossover. If you own a business or work full time or part time, then during work hours, you only focus on work. If you are married or have a significant other, when you are with that person, you only focus on your relationship.
To compartmentalize as a writer, this means when you have determined the hours of the day you will spend writing, you only focus on writing during that time. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t have to be a fantasy. With hard work and by setting attainable goals, this can be your reality.
The first step in compartmentalization is creating a list of everything you do on an average day. This list should include any commitments you have, such as classes, meetings, prescheduled activities, and obligatory events.
Make a timeline based on your list, including the times you wake up and go to bed, eat your meals, exercise, and spend time with family and friends. Essentially, being able to compartmentalize is also a lesson in time management.
Now, looking at the timeline you created, how much time is left for you? Without being able to view your timeline, I would guess there isn’t much. This was probably your suspicion, but it has likely now been confirmed. There really are not enough hours in the day.
Or are there?
With some adjustments and tweaking, there can be.
The next step is to re-evaluate your timeline. Identify the activities on your timeline that you cannot change. For example, you mostly likely can’t change the hours you spend dedicated to your livelihood. Also, you shouldn’t take time from basic human necessities like sleeping, eating, and exercising, but you can get wiser about how your time is divided.
This evaluation might not work on a daily scale, so it might make more sense for you to evaluate on a weekly or monthly scale. How many hours per week do you spend socializing? How many hours per week do you spend talking on the phone, texting, watching TV, or surfing the web? How many hours per month do you spend cleaning and doing chores? Where can you get some of that time back?
Because there are activities in our lives that need to remain as is, you will most likely need to think about how your time is divided between other activities. In doing this, think about what is really important to you and where your limitations lie. Socializing and enjoying entertainment, while fun, could be an area that you have wiggle room to add time back into your schedule.
If you find you are spending quite a bit of time cleaning your home and doing chores, you might want to think about streamlining your routine, enlisting help, or hiring someone.
Take your time and be careful with what you choose to cut back. The decisions you make to regain time will not only make a change for yourself, but it will also impact those around you.
For example, if you decide to reduce the amount of time you spend talking and texting with family and friends, it may affect your relationships. Your loved ones will learn to understand, but the initial transition could come with some growing pains.
Once you have figured out which areas you can cut back, you must decide where in your schedule and how often you can set aside time to solely focus on writing. Is it feasible to incorporate writing time daily, or is it more realistic to write every two or three days, or perhaps every weekend?
Be creative with this by considering how the time can be allocated. You do not have to set aside one block of time for each day; you can divide the time. For instance, it might make more sense to set aside time in the morning and in the evening on the same day, but also take into account the amount of time it takes you to really dive into your writing and get locked in. Adding buffer time will help you feel less constrained and more comfortable, and it will allow you to go through your writing process and fully formulate your ideas before jumping in.
I add half an hour of buffer time to my writing start time. With that half hour, I create an outline of what I will be writing about and collect the potential resources I would like to reference. I also add 15 minutes to half an hour of buffer time at the end of my writing time to proofread, depending on the length of the work.
Once you know when you are going to set aside time to write, you need to prepare your plan of action. To compartmentalize successfully, you must think about how you are going to separate the other activities in your life from your writing time.
This is where you need to determine how easily you are distracted. If your phone rings, do you have to answer it? Think about the space where you typically write and if it is easily accessible to others. This process will help you to figure out what boundaries you need to set with others and within your environment.
You might decide you are too distracted by your phone, which means you should turn it off when writing. Maybe you need to find another place to write because you are experiencing constant interruptions from others.
Your plan of action should be ironclad. But before implementation, make sure you let the people around you in on your plan so they respect the time you have set aside for yourself to focus on writing.
You might be disappointed by some of the reactions you receive. Some might not understand the importance or they might be concerned you will not be able to spend time with them. Do not let that discourage you from spending time in a way that is enriching and gives you self-fulfillment. In time, as others see the enjoyment you get from writing or how you are growing in your writing career, their perceptions will change.
The hardest part of compartmentalization is committing to it in every aspect of your life. This will allow you to focus on each area of your life, one at a time. In doing so, you will find that you become more organized. When a personal text comes in during your workday, you do not instantly answer it. When you are enjoying dinner with your family, you do not take work calls. And when you are writing, your mind is not on another topic unrelated to what you are writing about.
You must train your mind to block out the distractions, stressors, and triggers that derail you. For some people, meditation can help. Others need to put up barriers to help stop distractions from reaching them.
Try different techniques to figure out what works best for you. When I am writing, I only respond to personal messages when I am taking a break. I keep my phone nearby, but I discipline myself not to look at it. I write in a quiet place, and do not have the TV or music on because they distract me. Before I start writing, I have a general sense of what I am going to write about so I can be as productive as possible with my time. Moreover, I do not check email, answer calls, or go on social media when I am writing. The time I set aside for writing is strictly for writing, and everything else can wait.
This is how I compartmentalize so I can be fully engaged in writing during the time I have allotted for it.
If it does not come naturally to you to separate yourself from the outside world to focus on writing, I urge you to take small steps toward this every time you sit down to write. For example, close the door or turn off background noise. By making one change at a time, compartmentalizing your writing time will come easier to you over time.
However, remember to be forgiving with yourself, as it is not easy to change behaviors for the long term. It takes dedication and persistence to make these changes, and it is a process that can take some time.
Compartmentalizing can help you organize your time so you are able to focus on writing, without distractions. Once you have evaluated how you spend your time, you will discover there are opportunities to gain some of that time back. You can then dedicate this time to writing by creating a plan of action and implementing it, bringing you a step closer to achieving your goals.
Although practicing compartmentalization can be challenging if you find it difficult to separate the different areas of your life, taking small steps and setting boundaries will eventually make this easier. In turn, you will be able to focus on what is a personal or professional passion of yours — writing.
Jennifer Manghisi is a senior strategy, business improvement and transformation professional currently working at Columbia University in New York City. She is originally from Long Island, NY. She received a Bachelor of Science from Bentley University in Business Management and a Master of Science from Columbia University in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution. Writing is one of her passions and she enjoys freelance blogging and writing projects. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.