This article first appeared on my Medium blog
Many years ago, I was convinced I could separate my work life from my home life. I tried to keep my work life completed segregated from my personal life so much I was afraid to put anything remotely personal into my work diary or on to my todo list. I believed my work tasks should be the only tasks on my to do list and my personal life tasks could be kept in my head. The only thing remotely linked to my personal life in my diary at work were the dates of my holidays. I never put personal errands into my todo list, I never even put doctor or dentist appointments in there either. I really did believe my work life should be completely annexed from anything personal.
As I matured over the years, I realised in the real world all tasks are equal. Whether you need to buy batteries for your TV remote control at home, or prepare a presentation for you next big marketing meeting. Both tasks are important in their own context. If I am sitting at home on a Friday night watching an episode of Midsomer Murders after a long, hard week of meetings and appointments, I do not want to discover, as I sit down on the sofa with a big bag of chocolates, that the TV remote control does not work. Likewise, I do not want to turn up to the important marketing meeting on Friday morning only to remember I was supposed to have prepared a presentation. Each of those tasks in the wrong context may not be important, but in their right context are the only tasks that are important. For example at 10:30am on a Monday morning while I am sitting in the office, batteries for my TV remote control are not important, likewise at 9:00pm on a Friday night, preparation for a presentation next week is not important either. They only become important in the right context.
When we obsess over trying to separate our work lives from our personal lives we drive a wedge through our overall productivity. All the tasks we want to accomplish or must accomplish are important. If we only make a list of our work commitments, our personal commitments fall by the wayside and vice versa. Once I realised that all my tasks, whether they were work related or personal, were equally important and I began putting an equal priority to all tasks, I found myself being less stressed and had that wonderful feeling of being in control of all parts of my life. Of course, some tasks are more time sensitive than others, but in terms of importance, if a task is on my task list, then it is as important as all the other tasks on my list.
There will be times when things at home are more important that things at work. For example if you are having your kitchen renovated and you have workmen in your home for a week, then the work being carried out in your kitchen is going the have a rather high priority. You will want to check that the work is being carried out to your specifications and you are going to want to make sure there is little or not overspend. Or if you have a new addition to your family, the new baby is going to be taking on a very high priority in your life as you adapt to having a little one in your home. At that time, and in that context, your personal life is going to be more important than your work life.
In my work, consulting with clients on productivity, I see so many people trying desperately to keep their work life out of their personal life. They are the most stressed people I come across. If they just stopped for a moment and looked at what was causing their stress they would see the error of their ways. Once I show them that by trying to keep these two parts of their lives separate they are causing themselves additional, unnecessary stress, they often see the error and correct the situation.
If you keep a task list manager, you can keep your work tasks and your personal tasks separated in different folders, but when any tasks is due, it will show up in your today list. Or if you are following the Getting Things Done method, you will be able to deal with all tasks, work or personal, equally by checking the list that you are able to work on at that particular moment.
There will often be times when you could be on the train going to visit your in-laws and you have an idea for a slide for that marketing presentation. If you have a good task list manager you can simply pull out your phone, type the idea into your inbox and close your app. It would take 30 seconds at the most, but the idea has been captured and you can then relax and get on with the pleasure of visiting your in-laws. Likewise, you could be at work and you have around fifteen minutes before your next meeting. Why not go online and order those winter boots you have been meaning to order for a few weeks now? There’s nothing to feel guilty about and it would only take you around five minutes to do. If the marketing meeting presentation is important, then set aside some time on a Sunday evening to do some work on it. You only need an hour or so. If the presentation is important enough, then do it. You can always finish an hour or two early one Friday in the future to make up the time if you really want to.
You really should not be pressuring yourself unnecessarily. All tasks, whether they are personal or work are equal. If they need doing today, they need doing today. Modern technology has allowed us to be able to connect to work from home and home from work. We should not be afraid of taking advantage of that by obsessively trying to keep each part of over life separate.
Carl Pullein is the author of Your Digital Life: Everything you need to know to get your life organised and put technology to work for you, a book about how to get yourself organised in the twenty-first century