BlackBerry Passport photo

BlackBerry Passport, my primary always-connected device.

The always-connected nature of a lot of modern technology has changed the way we work. It’s also changed the way we live our lives outside of work hours. Often for many of us, the two blend together.

Living in that reality, here are a few ways that I try to keep some separation between work and home life. The obligatory caveat is that these ideas work for me. They might not work for everyone. They might be more hassle than they are worth or they might not fit within your workflow. Technology is rarely one-size-fits-all. If you have other ideas, let me know in the comments.

Evaluating Urgency

If I am awake, I will probably see your email within a few minutes. There are exceptions, like when I’m at church or on a date night, but I do generally see messages quickly. For me, working with technology that sometimes needs quick action, that’s important. Seeing messages does not need to take up a lot of time, though. Rarely are these messages truly urgent. I can read it and judge whether I need to stop what I’m doing to respond right now. Most of the time, I can comfortably say there is no rush and I can deal with in normal work time.

On a related note, I do not keep my phone in my bedroom. I have stuck to this since getting married 3.5 years ago and quickly found it to be healthier. I used to wake up in the middle of the night and check that flashing red light – why not if I was awake anyway? That habit stretched out how long I stay awake and if there is something that you need to work on, I started planning how to deal with it. Considering my clients have all been in the same time zone, at least for now, I have no worry about something urgent happening while I sleep.

Emails

I have 6 emails that I check regularly, along with a few that forward to these: my day job, Alliteration Applications, personal, MennoNerds podcasting and website hosting, MennoNerds general (shared with other admins), and shared with my wife Emily. Even as a student, I had two separate emails – a student email from the school and a personal email – and I did not overlap their uses the same way many others did. I check all of these emails in one place still – desktop Outlook at a computer or on my BlackBerry’s Hub – but keeping them separately allows me to sort and prioritize them differently.

One part of how evaluating urgency can work well for me is that I have a clear priority list. When dealing with non-urgent messages, I start with the most important email accounts and work to the less important ones. Some days I have caught up in all 6 email accounts with an hour; other days I don’t make it past my day job and Alliteration Applications.

Beyond that, I keep my inboxes clean. If I am done with a message, I either file it or delete/archive it. If I find myself repeatedly deleting emails from the same subscription without bothering to read, I unsubscribe rather than deleting it everyday. Because of that persistence in unsubscribing to irrelevant content, I only have 1 daily subscription, 3 weekly subscriptions, then several less common ones. I know there have been many great tools developed like the Clutter box in Outlook.com and Office365 emails. If that’s what works for you, great. For me, I would never look in the Clutter box, and in that case, why not just stop bringing them in to take up space?

I apply the same logic with other accounts like Skype and OneDrive. If you have access to business versions of these kinds of apps, I would recommend using them for that business rather than blending into your personal consumer versions.

Browsers

It’s a hassle to always be switching between work and personal accounts. At one point in my current day job, I had access to about 15 Google accounts. I would find myself regularly in situations like posting something to YouTube as MennoNerds, then I would need to access a work account for something else, then after work I would want to use my personal email/YouTube to watch some of my favourite shows. That’s Google, which has the easiest quick-switching between accounts, and it was still enough to feel like it was bogging me down and making it much more likely I would accidentally post something in the wrong place. Many other services such as Microsoft and Twitter are more hassle to switch between.

This is a relatively new practice for me, but I’ve begun to differentiate different browsers for different purposes. It started as I did more with SharePoint and found there were benefits to using Internet Explorer. That turned into doing more work in IE/Edge and more personal and Alliteration Applications in Chrome. But there are other great browsers out there, too, namely Firefox and Opera. I’m considering taking this a step farther to essentially have one browser for work, one for Alliteration Applications, one for personal, and one for MennoNerds.

The big downside of this is clicking on links. If I get a work email with a link, I may want to open it in Edge. If I get a personal email with a link, I may want to open in Chrome. I can only set one default browser. In some cases it doesn’t matter, mainly if there’s no account switching required, but other times it does and I would need to copy the link into the appropriate browser instead.