January 26, 2017

The most recent Happier podcast episode struck a chord with me.  There was a discussion about Compartmentalizers vs Integrators, with emphasis on how people choose to handle work, and I realized I am a total compartmentalizer, perhaps to the extreme.

Integrators tend to be very casual about the passage of time at work.  They are happy to take long lunches, but also to stay until 8 pm.  I work next to a classic integrator.  She keeps extremely long hours (and is an AMAZING physician) but will have no problem with a long social conversation between patients or during admin time (which is not something we have in abundance!).  I fear sometimes that she thinks I am a lazy millennial, which I am not*.

Compartmentalizers are — well, pretty much the exact opposite.  When they are at work, they are quite focused and long random breaks make them twitchy.  The goal of every day is to get as much @*&! done as possible and then to get out and not think about any of it.  In my case, I am a natural compartmentalizer with a firm end-point**.  While this doesn’t mean I don’t file the occasional camp application form during a break***, I am pretty much all business during the day.  Sometimes this means I struggle with fitting in “non-urgent but important” tasks, like teaching or quality improvement projects.  I try to counteract this by setting fairly concrete goals so that these tasks do take on more of an urgent and defined quality.

My compartmentalization tendency is probably also one major reason why I hate call so much.

Now that I think about it, I wonder if I would have been a happier shift worker.  Probably not, since I am terrible at night and really do love my field, but areas like the emergency department or NICU likely would lend themselves more to the natural compartmentalizer, since they are typically either ON or OFF.

I don’t think this tendency is something I can really alter, or necessarily should.  I think that instead, it’s nice to have the awareness so that I can better understand how others may see things.  I also think I should honor my preferences when I can, such as avoiding work email at times when I want to be fully ‘off’.

* Not lazy, and not even really a millennial by most definitions since I was born in 1980

** Though really, I probably could have more flexibility there if I wanted.  So maybe I have to admit to myself that the firm endpoint is there partially by choice

*** How is it camp signup season already!?!?


Last week’s run report:

Monday: Nada, out late at concert Sunday night

Tuesday:  6 mi with 22 minutes at tempo.  Total 9:52/mi, tempo portion at 8:32 – 8:45/mi, 73F

Wednesday:  5.5 mi recovery, 10:52/mi, 72F, quick leg workout

Thursday: REST

Friday:  5 mi with hill sprints at end, total 10:09/mi, 66F, quick core workout

Saturday: REST

Sunday:  9 mi long, 10:04/mi average, HOT 77F start, 79F at the finish

total = 25.5 mi


  • Reply leebecknell March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I think, from your description, I’m an integrator.

  • Reply Laura Vanderkam March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I think people may have different tendencies (one reason some people are taken with the "split shift" idea and others think it sounds like the worst idea ever). The problem is that a lot of people — working moms especially — have hard stops on their days. So even if people might prefer to spend time socializing with colleagues and then stay late — which can be good for people’s careers! — it’s the first thing that gets stomped out. Not necessarily by preference, but because it’s the way the childcare situation works.

  • Reply xykademiqz March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I have a complete inability to switch off work and work all the time and everywhere. However, I don’t actually mind it for the most part, because what I really protect are the blocks of time in which I can do intellectually nontivial work (write grant proposals and papers, do calculations or coding); being able to do a little bit of work that doesn’t require much brain power or large blocks of time (posting HW assignments, writing up HW solutions, travel arrangement or reimbursement, writing letters of recommendation, and mountains of email) makes a huge difference in my overall workload management and job satisfaction. I am also a passionate split-shift worker. My husband is a compartmentalizer, but he also has much, much less work than I do overall, so he can actually pull it off. I don’t know how much of my MO is due to natural tendencies and how much is in response to the staggering workload; if I compartmentalized within the daycare work hours constraints, I would never get everything done that I usually need to do, unless I were away from home for close to 12 hours a day on the weekdays, which is way longer than I’d like or also unfeasible due to childcare limitations.

  • Reply Solitary Diner March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I’m definitely a bit of an integrator, as I’m happy to chat with people at work and to take longer breaks when I can. Having some quality down time at work makes the stressful days a lot easier for me to manage. BUT, I am definitely not an integrator when it comes to home call. I would far rather do infrequent in-house call and get it over with than do weeks of home call during which I never really get to shut off completely. And no wine. No wine is also a horrible downside to home call.

  • Reply susanruns March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    In a world where people seem to be working all the time, I really like shift work. (Minus the nights, weekends, and holidays downside to it…) It was so nice to leave work and be done – my boyfriend will work 10-12 hours and then come home and do more work…..and more work on the weekend to "get ready for Monday." Now that I’m back in school, I always feel like I have something lingering over me even if I’ve put in a lot of work for the day – looking forward to going back to shift work!

  • Reply Cindy March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I am so a Compartmentalizer, morning person, introvert. My law partner is definitely an integrator, night person extrovert. We sometimes get on each others nerves, especially when I’m ready to leave and he wants to spend an hour working on something me with me. We’ve worked together for 13 years and I totally get how you can feel like you are not working "enough" when you are around someone who seems to work 24/7, but at the end of the day it is not a race and I find I get less burnt out than he does and we seem to get the same amount of work done.

  • Reply Ginny March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    Oh my gosh this is so interesting! I am 100% a compartmentalizer. I had commented on Laura’s blog in reference to your post the other day- & before I even read her comment here I thought this explains why I hate the split shift! Also explains why I hated working at home when I did it for 2 years- too integrated. Now that I think about it I am like this in other areas of my life too. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Erica March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I listened to that podcast, too, and my first thought is that I’m definitely an integrator! The fact that I’m sitting here reading blogs and shopping for maternity clothes during a 15 minute incubation in the lab, and that I’m fine answering emails or working on papers in the evening show that (however, that is not my normal schedule – only when necessary do I work at home). That being said, I do strive to leave the lab at 4:55 on the nose (it’s the best time to avoid the traffic)! Maybe I’m the lazy millenial 😉

  • Reply Erica March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I posted but then my browser timed out, so I’m not sure if this will be here twice (so pardon me!)

    I listened to that episode of Happier, too, and I am definitely an Integrator. As I sit here reading blogs and shopping for maternity clothes during an incubation in the lab, I clearly don’t feel the need to work work work when I’m at work all the time. I don’t normally work at home, but I will if there is a big deadline (since I also have a strong preference to leave work and be home by 5;30 for dinner and family time, that has to happen sometimes). All this being said, when I leave the lab, I don’t think about it until the next day. I don’t sit up musing about scientific problems like some of my colleagues (I seriously have colleagues who send emails out in the middle of the night about ideas they had in their sleep. That will never be me!).

  • Reply Ana March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    super interesting. I am, unfortunately, a compartmentalizer. Unfortunately because it doesn’t seem to be the norm in my profession. I much prefer to work during the work day and relax afterwards. I have a hard time relaxing/enjoying anything when I know work is looming for me, even if its nothing super stressful in itself. I have only recently let myself off the hook for hating the "split shift" work routine. I just HATE IT and it ruins my entire evening. I’d rather wake up early and work, find a few hours set aside (compartmentalized!) on the weekend, and mostly be very efficient and focused during the work day (with a few short breaks, of course!).

  • Reply Chelsea March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    Going on a totally different tangent, I was wondering if you identify yourself as being Gen X-er or a Millenial? I know my parents identify 100% as Baby Boomers, but I was 12 or so when Curt Cobain died so I’m not really a Gen X-er, and I was 18 before I had a personal computer with internet and 23 before I had a cell phone so I don’t feel like I’m really a Millenial either. Just curious on the viewpoint of another early 80s baby.

  • Reply OrganisingQueen March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I listened to that episode on the way home from work tonight (it’s 9 pm here now) and I’m for sure a compartmentaliser.

    I really like work to stay at work unless something super urgent is happening and I need to keep track of it while out of office (I’m in insurance so it’s not life or death, as I keep reminding myself).

    I wonder to what extent MBTI profiles also play into it? I’m a high J and it feels like J types like a hard end of work.

    I do personal things at work now and again but I am super focussed when I’m there.

    There’s a benefit to the integrator at times. I’ve started working from home one day a week, completely unofficially but I’m probably double as productive as I am in the office, so there’s that. And at home, I start late, go fetch kids, take walks, do errands, and I work til 6 or 7 pm. Because the commute is cut out, I can get sooo much more done.

    Thanks for a fun post!

  • Reply Vicky March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    This is awesome!! Thank you Sarah for this. I am totally a compartmentalizer, type A personality OCD person, all those traits all at once, not so good. I am also pretty anxious too. Funny thing is after I read this I realized that I tend to surround myself with Integrators A LOT. My husband is certainly one and my closest co-workers/residents/ fellows in the past were too. Maybe unconsciously I am trying to balance it out? I would love more posts like this!!

  • Reply Omdg March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I’m totally an integrator who was forced to be a compartmentalizer by having a kid. I wish I had time to socialize more!

  • Reply Gwinne March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    This feels a bit like a false dichotomy. I like firm boundaries insofar as any sort of multitasking stresses me out. But when I work from home my breaks are domestic in nature. At the office I work nonstop on things that can’t be done remotely…

  • Reply Sarah March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I JUST listened to that episode, and I am definitely a compartmentalizer. But here I sit on the couch hanging out with my kids and reading blogs, and making my word count for today on my novel, so maybe my compartments are slipping. I liked Gretchen’s caveat that we shouldn’t think of work as something we have to get through to get to the good stuff.

  • Reply chasingmeg March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I think I’m a bit integrator by nature. Then working extreme law firm hours made me MORE of an intergrator, as I had so little control of my workload/deadlines (so even if I was all business all day I could still be there all night). Now I’m a reforming integrator because I’m a PT working Mum. I also work from home a lot of the time at the moment and get SO much more done.

  • Reply runnerunderpressure March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    Oh gosh, I’m such an integrator and my husband (going into EM) is SUCH a compartmentalizer. I’m not much for the socialization component of the workday but I hate to leave before everything feels tucked in. Will, on the other hand, is out of there mentally and physically when his shift ends. I’m so jealous of it sometimes and working on finding a middle ground for myself.

  • Reply Lily March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I think sometimes these categories are due to the nature of the work and workplace, rather than personality type, but it is an interesting category to think about. I am an Integrator who is learning how to compartmentalize. I really believe that a lot of the reason (some) people feel time-poor is the lack of boundaries. For example, at my workplace there’s a lovely culture of chatting, and time-out for birthday cakes, and a really supportive culture around the need to duck out for kids’ events or medical appointments etc etc which is SO important – but there’s also a culture of complaining about long work hours, given we occasionally have weekend events or a looming deadline means some evening work is unavoidable. I’m sure if most of the staff actually tracked their time they would see that they’re not working long hours at all, just that those hours are more integrated than compartmentalized. I’ve been working a combination of part-time and freelance work along with study for the past few years, where anything can be done from anywhere and at any time…but it has lead to some bad habits. I’m trying to get better at scheduling things in, and then getting it done at the scheduled time – and enjoying guilt-free free time more instead of always feeling like i should be working.

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