Separating Work from Home

Automattic is a globally distributed company, which means that most of us work from home all over the world. Often times, folks ask me how I can separate my work life from my home life as if it were some sort of monumental task. Fortunately, that is not the case, and while not every trick may work for every person, here are a few tricks that help me separate my work life from my home life.

Separate Browsers: Use separate browsers for work and personal, not just separate browser windows, use completely separate applications. When I use Chrome, I’m at work. When I use Safari, I’m doing anything but work.

Different Devices: Use completely different devices for work and non-work. It’s nearly impossible for me to do my work from my iPad, but I can do almost anything else from it, so I spend most of my non-work time on the iPad.

No Unified Inboxes: Make your work email ignorable when you’re off work. Since I spend most of my non-work time on either my iPad or iPhone, I use the Gmail app, which despite modern conventions in email consumption, still (thankfully) does not offer unified inboxes (each account is separate). This allows me to easily ignore my work email if necessary. If the Gmail app ever offers a unified inbox (like almost every other email app), I’ll probably use separate email apps. Note that I do use Airmail on my computer with a unified inbox, since I’m typically working when on my computer, and it’s just easier that way.

Control Communication Sources: Don’t mix work communications with personal communications. We use Skype a lot at Automattic, so to me, Skype is work. Skype is a popular communication outlet for family and friends, but not mine. If my family or friends want to get in touch with me, they have plenty of other ways to reach me. Skype is not for them. Similarly, I never use my work email for personal things.

Know Your Boundaries: It’s okay to bring some work home, especially if it helps you to avoid dwelling on it all evening. Sometimes, frustrating things happen here at Automattic, like they do at any workplace. It could be a disagreement with a co-worker, a user who wants something that’s impossible, or even an ad network that thinks it’s totally ok to not pay us for their ad impressions for over three months. If I didn’t share these things with my wife, I’d just stay frustrated and dwell on them all evening. Some people say that you should never bring work home with you, but that’s usually the worst mistake you can make if you’re trying to free yourself from it.

So, that’s how I keep my work life from affecting my home life, even though I work at home. Do you work at home? If so, how do you keep the two lives separate?

3 responses

  1. Great article! As you know I’m all about setting and keeping a Work/Life balance and it’s something that I always have to work hard at.

    I also like to have some hard and fast personal rules like “no business email on my phone” or if I DO have it turned on, I keep the notifications turned off. That way it’s an actual effort on my part to go and look, rather than a disruption to my personal life for every P2 notification.

    And on that note, no digging through P2s/emails during “family time.” This can (and maybe should) be extended to stuff like social media, but that’s for another discussion. But try and disconnect when engaging however your family likes to engage, whether that’s at a meal, watching TV together, or playing a board game.

    Finally, when I’m off work, I’m Off. Work. I try not to just “go into the office for a half hour of so,” because as you said, it’s hard to know your boundaries. 30 minutes here or there are entirely too easy to turn in to a half day every Saturday. Just leave it be. We have great jobs Monday through Friday (or whichever days we work). We don’t need to make them 6 or 7 day a week jobs. There will always be plenty to do on Monday.

  2. Having a separate room that I use as my office (and that I only use as my office) has made all the difference for me. I still sometimes work from other rooms, but I never do anything in the office but work. Not everyone has the space, but if you do, I highly recommend it.

  3. A subset of your “different devices” is the “different user account”. At the end of the day, I log out of my work account on my laptop and into my personal account (without any of the work distractions/programs/logins activated). It helps me still use the tech, but not be tempted to just do one thing work-related.

    I do use Skype personally. However, I had the foresight (or genius?) to set up a new account for work-related chats. I think I did it more to prevent friends/family from distracting me during working hours – but it works in reverse too.

    Fantastic post. I know it’s something we all struggle with…nice to know I’m not alone. 🙂