The separation of life

Fri, Feb 20, 2009 @ 07:37

Earlier this week, my brother spoke about how important it is to properly separate life, work and school from each other, especially in terms of mental and physical space. I will say that in theory that is a good idea. It is the same principle that should dissuade you from lying down to watch movies or study because it will make it hard to sleep even if you really tired. Your body gets confused.

However, my brother is in a situation which permits this possible separation if he desires it and is disciplined enough to pull it off. I want to respond to this, first by posing some practical questions and then by talking about some quite common real life situations. Separation is still possible, but the lines do need to blur a bit.

Outside of being a student you start to run in to some obstacles for this separation. You would think it is easier, because you are back down to two things: work and life. No more classes, exams or homework. Unless you became a professor. But odds are your job is different now too. Maybe it is still quite possible to go out, do whatever it is that you do for work and come home to a totally separate environment. But for a large portion of knowledge workers anyway, that is not so easy.

Say you are home hanging out with a friend, watching the game (or whatever it is that normal people do). That is your “priority” at the moment, although I think preference might be more accurate. But maybe you are in a situation where the boss can’t wait. Maybe if the boss waits you don’t have a job anymore. There goes your afternoon. Perhaps that is a bit extreme, but with a lot of jobs these days you are never really not working, just taking longer pauses, at home. This may not be a good thing for our personal well-being, but it is an increasingly pervasive part of our society. So there can be a bit of a separation, but it is blurry.

An even greater blurring factor is when your family life goes from being your parents and siblings to being your spouse and children. Sure that email from your mom can wait, but if your son needs to be picked up from school, you need to address that. Even if you don’t do it yourself, you really can’t ignore it. Granted I’m not married and I don’t have any kids, but I have many friends who are, and some that do. It changes the way they live their lives. No longer would I just be able to stay at the office until I was finished everything that I needed or wanted to do. I would likely go home sooner, spend time with my family, and then perhaps work from home for a bit. Talk about blurring the lines there.

Some might say that my 12+ hour days at work are not good, and there is some truth to that, but at the end of my day, when I go home I’m not thinking about work. That is my rule at the moment. I don’t work from home as a matter of course. I can, have and will log in from home when the situation warrants in a crisis, but this is an outlier. If I want to do some work on the weekend, I will drive into the office. There is actually a story in this about desks and ergonomics, but I’ll save that one for now. So at the moment, I have a decent separation myself. I don’t necessarily have a good balance, but that too is a different matter.

As a final note, I don’t really agree with the point Adam makes about your bedroom being your sanctuary. That might be true if you live with roommates or in a dorm, but I have found, now that I live somewhere that isn’t just one big room, that if I keep my computer out of my bedroom, I am never in there. For me, it makes more sense to have a sanctuary outside of the bedroom. Because in reality being out of school doesn’t mean only having two components, there are still three, or perhaps three instead of four which wasn’t mentioned. Work, life, and sleep. Work stays in the office and sleep stays in the bedroom, everything else is life. And good luck with it because no two people are going to be able to balance it or separate it the same. All you can do is try.