Separating Work & Life

This is something we know, we hear about, we’re reminded about, but we rarely do. After all, contrary to stereotype, we’re the hard working millennial who don’t know how to quit.

One of the many parts of preventing chronic burn out is to properly separate work and life, with no exceptions. For me personally, I found the most impactful method to separating the two was by untethering my devices from each other and silencing almost all notifications.

I’m not going to go into the obvious here, but reading work emails during dinner, takes you away from life around you. Getting a text message notification from a friend while you’re in the middle of writing an email to your manager takes you away from work. Each app on your respective device is prying for your attention with notifications of messages, new posts, upgrades, releases, etc. It’s distracting and disruptive, it weighs on you mentally to respond sooner than later or take action.

After reading the article linked to above, I realized yes, I must have something like chronic burn out. I needed to start behaviors to correct the course I’ve been on for a decade now. The biggest impact for me was having two devices, for two different purposes: one for work, one for life. With little to no conflicting overlap. This physically forces me to ‘quit’ when I don’t know how to myself.

To separate like this, I needed to think of “work” as more than my 9-5, I need to think of work as my “career” since in our generation, building our personal “brand” and a social presence (like this blog post, or contributing to open source) is part of the expectations in our careers. I’ve also bundled in household “admin” tasks like bills and research (for things like purchasing appliances) into “work”. It’s admin work and it’s actually ‘work’, to do it effectively you need concentration and alone time (things life doesn’t usually offer).

Separating devices was a bit of a hurtle to undo as over the last 5 or so years, Apple has designed their ecosystem to be seamless between devices. Everything on all devices. This was a selling feature and I ate this up with a spoon and loved it! SMS Text messages on my macbook? Sold! Check out the homepage of any modern app, their first selling feature is it works both on smart watches and desktop. This was and is such a mistake, and only now am I realizing how problematic and damaging this meshing of work and life is.

To stop this, I first made a clear list of what goes where:

Laptop (career)

  • Things (todos)
  • Bear (notes)
  • Slack
  • Email
  • Documents
  • Firefox
  • Other work Apps

Phone (life)

  • Reminders (hubbydo, grocery lists)
  • Notes.app (life notes)
  • Messages / Texts
  • Photos
  • Safari
  • Email
  • Slack

Each device gets it’s a seperate app for the same thing. I used to belive in having “everything in one place”, but having two Todo list apps, one for each device, has been a game changer.

I then visited each devices iCloud settings I disabled almost all of the device sync settings (Contacts being the one exception).

I took this steps further by disabling all notifications for both devices, turning each apps notifications to “none”. I then did a second pass, turning on things that were truly actionable or urgent: Calendar events (for important calendars only), Phone Calls from family members, Slack messages on desktop. That’s it. No pings for new emails, no pings for updates, releases, new features, new posts, no text messages during work. Everything besides direct real-time requests that require immediate action, is silent and asynchronous. I check my emails when I want to, not when my devices tells me to.

This is contrary to what these devices offer us, but this is how life was only like a decade ago, and honestly, it’s so much better. This makes these rules in my life so much more manageable:

  • When I’m working, I’m working.
  • When I’m “offline”, I’m living my life.
  • The only notification I receive are related to what I’m currently doing, and are actually critically important, and actually require immediate action.

Since implementing this, my phone is now terribly boring, I rarely pick it up – but now I’m not thinking about work first thing in the morning during breakfast like I used to. I’m not brushing my teeth at night mentally preparing my next-steps for an email I just received. This change makes me feel so much more energized and refreshment for my work day, and allows me to be more present and enjoy small things in life a little more.

This isn’t a miracle ‘fix all’ post that suggests if you do this all problems disappear – this is just something that worked for me and has me feeling healthier, balanced, and more productive at work.


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