Extract your whole self from work

On attaining an immaculate separation of work and personal life

Extract your whole self from work

Regardless of how much of your self you trundle to work – taking your “whole” self to work is the concept du jour – have you ever struggled to take that percentage of your self you’ve devoted out of work at the end of the day? Ideally there’s a neat dividing line between those worky tasks, those clawing deadlines, that stream of workplace consciousness in the form of Slack messages and emails. But unless you’ve consciously drawn that line, ideally with an indelible black Sharpie left over from a workshop, it might feel like work never really ends, even when you’re not at the computer, because it has become a majority stakeholder of your concentration.

I present to you some practical ideas for drawing that line. 💐

Wear different clothes 👔

The contemporary trend is towards more casual clothing at work, which actually fuzzies what once would once have been a clean sartorial split between work and life. The removal of a neck tie, for example, clearly signaled the end of the work slog for the day. Remote working (and the habits that come with it) is also flipping this paradigm: being caught out working in your pyjamas no longer guarantees opprobrium.

That doesn’t mean you can’t create your own fashion frontier between the work you and the you you. Wear different clothes for work, even if you work remotely. Maybe even get a little fancy with a collar, buttoned up as far as you dare. Maybe even flip the concept of casual Friday on its head and instigate formal Fridays. (Could the necktie ever make a comeback‽) Then, come the end of the work day, embrace your inner banana and peel off that work layer.

Use a different computer 🧑‍💻

Once your job is done for the day: Close that work laptop, put it away in its sleeve, put the sleeve in a box, and put the box under a bed. In another room.

Only then (and only if it would make you happy and productive to do so) might you slip out your personal laptop, which must include no work tethers: no email, calendar, messaging or project management apps. Avoid using this personal computer to toil away at something different, merely recreating your own kind of work outside of work. And do ask yourself: “I just spent all day on one computer – should I be in any great hurry to sit down in front of another?” Whatever you use the personal computer for, the important thing is this: work cannot get you here, on this entirely separate terminal.

Make the vibe of the computers as different as possible. If your work laptop is a metallic grey PC with a HAL-like front camera that stares at you, unblinkingly and insistently, all day – the personal computer ought to be a rose-pink-coloured MacBook Air plastered with stickers.

There is no phone ☎️

I’ve worked in client service before, and understand the need to be close to a phone for a job. But unless you are engaged in a type of job like that (and even if you are, perhaps a separate phone is the way), don’t take the decision to invite work into your personal phone lightly.

No work-messaging capability should exist on your own phone, if you are to maintain a work-personal membrane around your phone – a layer so impermeable that from your workplace’s perspective, your phone doesn’t even exist.

There is no phone.

Whoa, dude. There is no spoon. 

Separate the subject matter ✂️

It depends on the nature of your work as to whether this is achievable, but: it can help tremendously if your professional life is already wildly different to your personal one, inviting no overlap in the Venn diagram of your work and personal conversations. If your partner, children or friends can’t explain what you do at work – because it’s too technical, abstract or boring – you may already have accomplished this.

I recently mentioned to my wife Vic, who loves podcasts, that I listened to a great podcast on personal information management (“PKM” for people who swing in those circles).

“Great, send me the link!” Vic scoffed.

Vic does not want the link. Nor would she ever devote listening time to such a topic. My work is far too amorphous and dull to Vic for her to devote precious mind energy to. This is actually a harmonious separation of interests, acting as a natural deterrent for shop talk in the home.

Work in another city 🏢

Is there a purer separation of concerns than raw geography? A literal border. If you’re a commuter, you have the opportunity to call one city the home city and one the work city. You can scale this down based on proximity: the work suburb and the home suburb; the work street and the home street. Never stray into a zone designated for work after hours, lest you experience the same kind of paradox a time traveller contends with if they encounter themself.

Caution: If you need to go to the work city for something else, like buying specialised water filter O-rings, or picking up an orange retrodoodle puppy (who looks like Clifford with a perm) from the airport, that border may dissolve into abstraction.

There are some brave (crazy? but rich?) souls out there flipping this work separation idea on its head and juggling multiple remote jobs at the same time – and not disclosing this to their employers. It’s called “overemployment” – read about it in newsletter #28.

Create an alternative persona just for work 🎭

There may be no need to remove your self from work if that self was only ever a stylised version in the first place. Pen a jazzy nickname, learn a few random jokes, adopt some new catchphrases, start watching sports even if you don’t watch sports, wear a shirt you’d never normally wear, and gradually, or perhaps even suddenly, you’ll come across as someone different. Plus, this way you can claim to have taken your whole self to work – just an entirely separate one.

Just to be clear: As a person with a jazzy nickname at work (“Dice”), I would like to make it clear to past, current or future colleagues that I am not currently adhering to this particular strategy. Honest.

Don’t work 🥳

Entirely avoid having to distinguish between work and play. Just don’t have a job! Remove half of that equation. All time is party time, whatever that means for you.

Potential downside: Financial ruin. 🤷‍♀️

Separation: achieved 🍌

You’ll know you’re achieving a classic and dependable separation of the work and personal spheres when you no longer need an internal monologue to challenge their intersection. No more “I just need to stop thinking about this project!” The distinct outline of these two worlds requires no further interrogation. They are as separate as the banana from its skin: closely aligned, but never intermingled.