Should You Separate Personal and Professional Tasks?

Build a better planner by separating concerns.

Your trusted system needs to cover every aspect of your life. If it can’t handle everything you throw at it, you won’t trust it to handle anything.

Many people will get by just fine with a single system that will track all of their tasks, goals, projects, calendar, and notes. But for a lot of people, having everything in a single system like that can be distracting. For some, it might even be illegal, or at least a bad idea.

Designing your system to keep personal and professional tasks separate can actually give you a better system overall.

Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / blacksalmon

There are several benefits that could come from having separate systems for tracking personal and professional tasks:

  • Compliance with work data rules. This is huge. If you’re not allowed to use a personal device at work or put work-related information into random cloud services, don’t. Full stop. You may see some short-term wins by using the services you’re familiar with, absolutely. If, however, a third-party service is compromised, you’ll have several uncomfortable conversations about how company secrets got leaked as a result of your decision to go rogue.
  • Keep work from intruding on home life. One of the most common pieces of advice for maintaining work/life balance is to not bring work home with you. Keeping separate personal and professional planning systems helps you set better boundaries. When you pull up your errands list in OmniFocus on the week-end, you won’t be accidentally reminded of that big project at work. When it’s time to disconnect, let yourself disconnect.
  • Try different systems. The right system for you will depend on how complex or straightforward your needs are. Use a Franklin Planner at work and Reminders at home. Or track work with a simple Ivy Lee list and run the rest of your life out of OmniFocus. What works best for one system won’t be ideal for the other. That’s okay! They don’t need to be run the same. Experiment, adapt, and see which is your favorite.

Have clear rules for what goes where. With a bifurcated system, it becomes increasingly important to make sure tasks and notes get collected in the right place. Professional inputs go in the professional system, personal inputs go in the personal system. If you mix and match, not only will you never find anything, but you’re violating the separation of concerns you set up in the first place!

You might be tempted to just throw everything into a single system at work. This has its risks, though. First, you’re giving up a certain amount of privacy (your employer probably has the right and capability to access any account or device you’re using). More importantly, if and when you change jobs, you just left your entire personal planning system behind—at a time you may need it most!

If you’re able to keep personal and professional information in the same system (under your control), you should still try to find ways to focus on work. Keep work items on their own lists or create a custom perspective in OmniFocus. Be able to focus on the task at hand.

The line between personal and professional can be blurry, and your systems will need to interact to reflect that. This usually means a bit of double-entry. On your personal calendar, block out the hours you need to be at work. On your work calendar, block out that dentist appointment you need to duck out for. This will help you protect your margin and keep you from getting double-booked.

Keeping separate systems for personal and professional tasks can help you create clear boundaries and use the best tools for the job at hand. Together, you can track every aspect of your life with the right information right where you need it.

Question: Do you separate your personal and professional tasks? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. For more information, see my comments policy.