How to set boundaries with your work – using software

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There is a popular The American story of a Dutch boy who holds the whole ocean back by sticking his finger in a leaky dike and just… standing there. This act, which hardly anyone in the Netherlands has ever heard of, supposedly saved a nation from being subsumed by water. It is fiction, of course, and of a peculiarly American genre. In reality, as the Dutch know well, people cannot hold back the ocean, only infrastructure can.

Speaking of which, if you live in the United States, chances are that work is becoming more and more of a part of your life. Whether it’s answering emails at midnight, working just over five hours every day, or checking Slack while watching Netflix “just in case,” work can easily flood every corner of your timetable.

You could just try to quit, all of a sudden, but we both know that won’t work. The ocean is constantly threatening to flood you, and no amount of finger in the seawall will hold it back – you need infrastructure.

Ideally, this would be a corporate culture that rejects working outside working hours or legislation that prohibits working without pay (which happens to be legislation the Dutch are studying). software you use to better respect your time. Here’s how.

Keep business apps away from your personal devices

Some people have to track work messages outside of working hours and are paid accordingly. If you are not one of those people and following up on such messages is not part of your job description, you should quit.

It’s so easy, when a notification comes in, to quickly respond to it and then respond to a few other things while you’re in the app anyway, and wow how an hour has already passed, I was going for a walk tonight, well. The easiest way to stop this cycle is to not see any notifications in the first place. The easiest way to do this is to not have those apps on the devices you watch outside of work hours.

Team chat apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams are obvious candidates here, as is your company email account. Uninstall these apps from your personal phone, tablet and computer. Only watch these apps on a work-provided machine during working hours.

Better yet: spend your free time away from devices or, failing that, on devices that can not run work tools. I’m a huge fan of e-book readers and game consoles for this reason: fun is all they are capable of. Spend more time on these and less on the kind of rectangle that may appeal to you at work.

Use different accounts for work and personal things

Of course, there are reasons why you might want business apps on your personal devices. Some jobs don’t provide work devices, and some people can’t afford multiple devices just to separate work and the rest of their lives. However, you can still take action. Here are some ideas.

  1. Set up Work and Play profiles on your computer. Both Windows and macOS allow you to create multiple user accounts, as anyone who grew up with siblings in a one-computer family will remember. Dig through these parameters (here for Windowsand here for macOS) and create separate accounts for work and hobbies, keeping hobbies and personal things in one account and professional things in the other. This can make a computer feel like two different devices and also has the added benefit of reducing distractions during working hours.
  2. Use different browsers to work and play. Most business apps live in the browser these days, so just consider switching browsers when you’re done with your work day. For example, I like to use Safari on my Mac for my personal work and Chrome for my work. You can use a different combination of browsers, or you can just use Chrome’s profile feature the same way.
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