Should I separate personal and professional?

Question: I’ve recently implemented GTD in my life and it has helped immensely, but I can’t bring myself to mix work and personal lists. My question is…is it really necessary to mix personal and work lists? I don’t want to think of work while I’m outside of work! (And I don’t, for the record, as a rule.)

Coach Julie Ireland: This question comes up frequently during coaching sessions, so you’re not alone! We don’t necessarily recommend trying to keep a clear point of demarcation between our personal lives and work lives because for most people, that line isn’t feasible — e.g., when we’re at work, we’re thinking about our kids; and when we’re at home, we’re thinking about the meeting we’re going to the next day. As David Allen has stated many times, it’s more about “what’s next?” Having said that, due to certain companies’ security regulations, some people are simply not permitted to keep anything personal on their work computers, so they are forced to maintain dual systems.

The bottom line is that how you want to work/use your lists truly is a personal preference, and it has to resonate with you. For example, I learned a long time ago that my preference is to keep 2 @computer lists — @computer-work, and @computer-Julie. I found that during the day, when I’m at work, I don’t really want to sort through my personal stuff while I’m in “work” mode. My @computer-Julie list is really more for fun activities that I prefer to do in the evenings, after “work” hours, so it’s helpful for me to keep the lists separate.

There really isn’t a right or wrong here. I recommend giving yourself permission to implement GTD into your life in ways that work best for YOU.

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  1. Thank you – this is very insightful, Julie. I’m curious: do you use a computer program such as a spreadsheet to sort your different “@” categories? I’m using a google docs document to implement my system. Since I am using a word processor, I am not currently using sorting capability. Also, does the community know if there is such a thing as a Microsoft Excel template for GTD out there? Perhaps this is a good reason for me to join GTD Connect… Thank you.

  2. Hi Joe. Julie uses Lotus Notes with eProductivity to manage her project and action lists.

    A spreadsheet can work for your lists. Some people create separate worksheets for each list and others simply create one worksheet, for Next Actions, and use a column for the context/category to sort by that category. The forum members might have some good ideas for you too:

    Hope that helps!

  3. Hi,
    You could try Toodledo, it’s free and can do the separation that you want by adding the computer separation, @context.
    Am using that for years. Work also on phone and tablets, excel k ent sync.

    Excel can work but this is so much easier.

  4. I’ve found keeping separate rewarding with one major challenge, which is that crossing context needs a custom solution. For example:
    I have a First Aid certificate. My new work needs a backup First Aid officer and I’m the man for the job. They just need a scan of it for their records. BUT every day I get home, get the kids fed and into bed then relax with Mrs Adam.
    The next day I rush off in the morning with no First Aid certificate.

    My solution was to have scraps of paper ONLY for these things:
    1. work-needs-X-from-home
    2. vice versa

    Only the context-crossers get special paper scrap treatment, every work thing is in the work collection and every home thing is on its little home list, but the emissaries from one to the other are written, acted on, then ceremonially scrunched up and chucked away!

  5. What about when your company already uses a Project/Task Managing Service for work? We use Active collab and I am trying to use Todoist along with it by treating AC as a HUB but all my work and personal tasks go into Todoist. At first it was nice to have but it started feeling really overwhelming once a project or task would change or move around because then it was no longer just changing it on 1 program but now I have to constantly monitor both Task managers and AC is more conducive to teams but it doesn’t work well with GTD for my work and personal tasks as a whole.

    I am starting to think it would be better if I just leave all my work tasks in Ac and personal in Todoist? I don’t know either way it seems I am stuck using to task managers…:/

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