Introduction: COVID & The Narrowing Gap

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the narrowing of the gap between my personal life and professional life. It’s been a year since we’ve been thrown into a narrow world between these two facets of our lives thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has forced employers to fast track a remote work plan and forced employees to learn how to both live and work within the same space. Although there have been massive vaccine rollouts over the past few months, with more and more states opening up eligibility for all their citizens, we’re still quite away from returning to “normal”. Even then, when we’re all happily vaccinated, and we can go out in public without the worry of forgetting our masks back at home, what’s “normal” then might not be what was normal before the pandemic, this includes the number of companies who have considered or are considering to make remote work go full time, thus narrowing the gap further.

Remote work isn’t a new concept, and plenty of people have been happily working from home for years before COVID-19 made its unwelcomed appearance in our world. Even now those of us who were not remote workers prior to March 2020 (in the United States) have settled into our remote working routines, but as those routines grow more and more settled the gap between our personal and professional lives grows narrower and more galvanized. I personally believe that we should do our best to put some space between these two aspects of our lives and “widen the gap”, especially as we move into a post-pandemic world with far more people working from home than before. I’ll be exploring what we can do to widen that gap just a little bit to give our brains a little space.

Dedicated Spaces

Dedicated spaces are the most obvious solution to this problem. Much like how an office is a dedicated space for the work needed to be done for, well work. If you have the means of dividing up your workspace in your house or apartment you should consider creating strict boundaries on what is and what isn’t used for work. Our brains take in environmental queues from all around us, some that we might not even consciously notice. Each of these queues changes how we behave and interact with our environment, which is why it’s best to keep where you work and where you relax separated.

I personally am fortunate enough to have enough room in our house to dedicate to my own personal office, and so does my partner (we joke that we don’t live in a house, but a coworking space). I use my home office for all my professional work, and for “logical” work when it comes to side projects (e.g. editing audio or editing a story). Meanwhile, I use our living room for relaxing and for creative work (e.g. writing this blogpost). My brain associates the two rooms with different kinds of “modes” which allows me to focus on different kinds of tasks better than in the other. I get more into detail with how I use my spaces in this episode of The Productivity Lab.

I also know of people taking this to the next level where not only do they have a dedicated office, but they also have two or more desks in their office, one for work and one for personal projects. I personally love this idea, but unfortunately do not have the space to make this happen. Plus there’s the added cost of having to buy two of everything, so your home office expenses double.

Dedicated Hours

If you can’t dedicate your space to work, the next best thing you can do is dedicate time. Time, unlike space, has the special property that we all experience the same number of hours within the day[1]Disregarding relativistic effects.. So while not everyone can afford a house with enough rooms to dedicate to different types of activities, we can at least split up our hours throughout the day. In a sense, we already do this when we sign in and sign out at work, but to keep the gap from narrowing it’s good to set up strict rules and routines to go about it. These can consist of having a shutdown/sign-off ritual of closing your work laptop and hiding it in a closet, or making a promise to yourself that you’ll never check work email on your phone after hours unless absolutely necessary, or having a strict sign in and sign out times. Personally, I do not work past 4 pm most days, I sign into work as soon as I get up (since I’m a morning person, it’s best to get all my work done before lunch).

Dedicated Devices

This one is fairly straightforward: use one device for work, and use another for your personal life. In my experience, most employers tend to do this already by providing their employees a work laptop, but not all have the budget to do so, the same goes with phones. If you use the same device for work and personal use it could be worth investing in a second one just to get that separation, and if you are unable to do that consider creating different accounts for work and personal (you can even go as far as creating another account for side projects if say your personal account also has easy access to your game library).

Dedicated Digital Spaces

Our digital spaces are just as important as our physical spaces and should be treated just like them. As I mentioned in the previous section, you can create different user accounts on your PC to give some separation between what mindset you should be in, this can also be true with having separate accounts or even applications for what you do at work and what you do for yourself. This could mean using different email clients, such as Outlook for work and Gmail for yourself, or task managers like Microsoft To Do for work and Todoist for your personal life and side projects, or not allowing yourself to log into any personal accounts on your work PC / phone and not allowing yourself to log into any work accounts on your personal PC / phone.

Dedicating different digital spaces is the easier and cheapest solution you can use to widen that gap and is something that I have personally made the effort to do as of late. I even use a different browser for work stuff than personal.

Conclusion: Dedication is Key

The biggest theme of this post is dedication, from space (physical and digital), to time, and even our devices. With a strong dedication to different tasks and mindsets and where they belong, we can leverage our brain’s triggers to different queues to our advantage and remove the clouding our minds with both work and personal tasks and thoughts. The world after this pandemic will be a familiar yet different one, as more employees work from home, and with that, we must be mindful of the habits we’re developing now to ensure the sanity of our future selves. So take note of where you’re working, when you’re working, and what is used to get things done and see how you can use it to your advantage to stop the narrowing of the gap.


1 Disregarding relativistic effects.