C-Suite Advisory

The Power of Brain Compartmentalization: 4 Steps to Work and Live Smarter

Dealing with the high volume of challenges in today’s interconnected life can be overwhelming. It’s likely you know at least a few people who can’t seem to manage multiple problems at the same time. For them, a single problem is more than enough – and always seems to be of colossal importance — which can create lot of drama for anyone in close proximity.

But you may also know that rare individual who is constantly juggling a great many significant problems and challenges — and despite that, remain cool and calm. How do they do it? By practicing brain compartmentalization.

The ability to compartmentalize — to manage a large number of issues simultaneously without letting the craziness of it all render us inefficient and unproductive — is a vital skill for the modern world. The good news is that with commitment, focus and self-awareness, it can be learned, practiced, and perfected.

Here are 4 powerful strategies for developing your ability to compartmentalize:

  1. Never catastrophize.
    Catastrophizing is constantly worrying about what could happen. When you’re worried this problem could happen, this tragic event might happen, and even then, this terrible result could occur, whether or not it’s likely. I can speak from experience here. When I went through my challenges battling government regulators after the 2008 Financial Crisis, I was constantly catastrophizing about our investment firm and myself. I was battling the inexhaustible resources of the U.S. Government on a mission to show America they were punishing all the wrong Wall Streeters.

    My mind raced with a hundred scenarios no matter where or what I was doing — from grabbing a rare, quiet moment on a walk with a friend to resting my head on the pillow at night. There was no respite. It was exhausting. But most of the things we worry about never happen. When you commit to pushing those thoughts of catastrophe into “compartments,” you can be productive and focus on the positive. It’s an amazingly powerful mindset shift.

  2. Learn how to focus
    During the financial meltdown in 2008, the leaders who could compartmentalize had the best chance of success. They could take a break, address problems — and people – one by one, and methodically work to save their company. While most people do not have the ability to partition all the drama away and then focus on what is in front of them at that moment, good or bad, the learned ability to focus is critical.

    Sometime in the very near future, an employee, a coworker, a friend, a child or a loved one is going to ask you: ‘Do you have a minute?’ This time, take a breath. Focus on them. Then, say yes — because the most important person is the one in front of you right now. Resolve to not be the boss, or parent, who checks emails while the people most important to your need your attention. Set aside time to focus on the person asking for your attention, and then focus on emails later. You’ve just resolved to compartmentalize — and it’s likely the outcome of both interactions will be far more positive.

  3. Actuallyproduce — don’t just think about it.
    Having too much swarming through our minds, good and bad, can certainly cause paralysis by analysis. You may know someone who somehow, despite their clear intelligence and abilities, just doesn’t seem to get much done. The trap is the inability to stop pondering — and just commit to actions that achieve forward progress.

    While certain fields require a lot of strategizing — in sales, for instance, there’s a tendency to spend the entire day planning presentations, analyzing markets, and shuffling papers. But it’s far more effective to compartmentalize all of that academic and logistical information to the left side of our brain and simply pick up the phone to make an outgoing call. The rare days when we really do partition our brain and set aside our frequent thoughts of fear, rejection and failure to the side, we may be stunned by our level of productivity and success. The motto should always be: Think less, produce more. Write the letter, make the call, walk into the business, ask for the order. You’re not going to stop thinking. Action won’t make you less intelligent. It will, however, make you far more effective.

  4. Keep practicing
    Of course, as with everything, practicing is easier said than done. But as with any skill, brain compartmentalization definitely gets better with practice. As you increase your ability, you’ll also increase your capacity for handling complexity. It’s also often said that the more successful you become, the more problems you inherit along with that success. Practice doesn’t just stop when you’ve attained the skill. It should continue constantly, so you can continue to attain success.

    Surviving and thriving in our chaotic, multi-tasking, take-no-prisoners worlds of business and relationships takes more than just the skill to endure. Brain compartmentalization enables us to work and live better. It becomes a way of setting aside worries, doubts and fears — and letting confidence and security dominate the situation. We’ve likely all given into negative thoughts, whatever they are, and regretted the emails, calls, and conversations that were the result. Staying focused on the positive and productive enables us to get a better handle on our work and our lives — and join the ranks of those who keep it together, flow through challenges, achieve true success, and never let anyone see us sweat.


Written by Jeffrey A. Martinovich.

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Jeffrey A. Martinovich
Jeffrey A. Martinovich is a First Gulf War Veteran, MBA, and CEO of JAM Accelerator, LLC, a business consulting and incubation firm. Previously, Jeff was Founder and CEO of MICG Investment Management, a billion-dollar wealth management firm. After the 2008 Financial Crisis, Jeff rejected three government plea offers, resulting in a 14-year prison sentence. Yet the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed twice, two U.S. District Court Judges were removed, and after nearly 7 years, he was released to home confinement in May 2020 to begin rebuilding his life. His book is Just One More: The Wisdom of Bob Vukovich.


Jeffrey A. Martinovich is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.