Based on anecdotal evidence I’ve gathered from face-to-face discussions and on online forums, it seems that the majority of people prefer to stick to a single task management app (Toodledo, Marvin, Todoist, Trello, Any.do, etc.) to manage the tasks and habits related to both their personal and professional lives. Though there are certainly some benefits to keeping everything together in one app, I prefer to dedicate a different task management app to each: one task management app for my personal life and another different task management app for my professional life. I will make the case for this preference in this article.
Let’s start with the pros and cons of using separate apps to manage your personal and professional tasks.
It will help you achieve better work-life balance. Though technological advances continue to make many of our lives easier, such as telecommuting programs, the increasingly blurry distinction between our personal and professional lives has created an expectation of constant accessibility. You may have to be on-call for after your work shift ends but your employer provides you with compensation for this increased availability. You are, however, likely not compensated for the time and energy you spend thinking about work while you are not at the office. The problem also exists in the other direction: your employer expects you to be on your A-game while at work, so you shouldn’t be distracted by your personal to-do list while you’re on the clock. If you’re self-employed, then the need to compartmentalize the different areas of your life is even more important, as you are the only person who can put in place measures to achieve better work-life balance.
You will feel less overwhelmed and stressed. It is unhealthy to regularly think about work while at home and vice versa. Seeing a combined list of all of the tasks you need to accomplish, in both your personal and professional lives, can be quite overwhelming and can easily generate stress. Any additional solutions that help you separate the two main spheres of your life can help reduce these feelings. This approach will not entirely eliminate feelings of being overwhelmed and stress but it will help contain them to each sphere of your life, giving you some reprieve during different periods.
I will help you achieve better focus and productivity in both spheres. Thoughts about projects, deadlines and tasks about one sphere can seep into the other and reduce your overall effectiveness. A common problem when facing an overwhelming to-do list is to stress about some of its items during times when we can do nothing about them. Another common response to giant to-do lists is to resist adding new tasks due to a desire to complete the already present tasks on the list before piling on more work. This can be extremely counterproductive to our long-term goals and health: your decision not to add a recurrent task to remind yourself to floss could be quite costly for your physical health in the long-term. On the work side, a combined personal-professional to-do list may also make you reluctant to take on a new project or assignment at work due to your perceived notion that you are already too busy due to all of the spring cleaning tasks you see coming up on your task management app.
It can help increase your productivity at work without intruding into your private life. Having a dedicated app to manage your professional work tasks allows you to give viewing or editing permissions to your boss or colleagues without having to worry about them seeing private information that could be found within your personal tasks. Similarly, it can be beneficial for couples or families to give each other viewing or editing permissions over each other’s apps but some employers frown on employees allowing their family members to see confidential work information, such as client names and undisclosed projects.
It helps promote different modes of thinking. This two-app approach helps to promote clearer thinking patterns for our personal and professional lives. Our task management apps tend to “shape” how we think about our lives in a very broad sense; using different apps helps train our mind to switch between “work” and “personal” modes. This ability can be beneficial to both spheres of our lives. A good example is a young parent who is in a junior position at their workplace: their personal matters requires them to make top-level executive decisions for their entire family unit, whereas their position at work calls for them to focus on executing tasks and to only think about executive decisions in terms of occasionally providing suggestions or feedback about major decisions to their bosses. A blurry distinction between how this person thinks about both worlds could lead, for example, to them overstepping boundaries at work and acting in an insubordinate fashion. In their personal lives, this blurriness could lead to them having difficulties cooperating with their partner to reach decisions or to fail in properly disciplining their child due to their hesitation in behaving authoritatively, given that they have been habituated to not act with authority at work.
It will allow you to use more specialized task management apps. Some apps are simply better for personal tasks whereas others are better suited for our professional lives. Nowadays, many task management apps have a “business” version of their software, which typically add team communication features, improved project management features and various administrative settings (a few examples: Todoist Business, Trello Business Class and Wunderlist for Business). Attempting to find an app which work for both worlds deprives us of the features found in specialized work or personal task management apps. Adapting an app to make it work for both spheres can also lead us to make compromises with regards to certain features and thus further reduce our overall effectiveness in one or both spheres of our lives.
It will help prevent common issues that occur when using multiple profiles within an app. Many people prefer to use a single app and to have different profiles: one for work and one for home. Having two different apps helps prevents you from accidentally inputting tasks into the wrong account / profile. These types of accidents could lead to a large variety of issues due to not seeing the task while at work or while not at work, from missed opportunities to make progress on tasks during idle periods at work, all the way to failing to complete important personal tasks, such as filing your taxes on time.
Requires more time and dedication to your overall task management. This approach requires you to learn how to use and stay up to date on two sets of applications, which can be time consuming and also frustrating if you would rather minimize the amount of time you spend in task management apps.
It can be expensive. In order to make the most of this approach, you may find yourself having to pay a subscription fee for one or even two apps.
How to get the most out of this approach
Some people find it sufficient to simply create two profiles within their preferred task management app (one for home and another one for work) and there are also certain task management apps which control how tasks are displayed depending on context (such as the date, time of the day or based on geographic location). Despite these workarounds, at the moment, on balance, the benefits of using separate apps seem too great to me to consider keeping both spheres of my life integrated into a single task management application. I have found that by applying the following recommendations to my two-app approach, I can achieve even greater overall efficiency and obtain the same benefits found by using two profiles and/or using “context” settings. Here are my recommendations:
Ensure that you can access both apps from work and from home. This gives you the flexibility to occasionally work or consult both sets of tasks. I find that the best way to ensure availability to both apps while avoiding the dangers of cross-contamination into either spheres of my life is to increase the friction of looking into the “wrong” app (i.e., going in my professional app while at home and going in my personal app while at work) and to reduce the friction of looking into the “correct” app (work app while at work, personal app when not at work). The auto-sign in features on your various devices can help reinforce the borders between your professional and personal lives while also ensuring that, if needed, at all times, you can tend to emergencies or important matters from each sphere. For example, I can access my professional task management app from my home PC but I have auto sign-in disabled on the web client for this app on that device, which adds friction and ensures that I only go into that app if I really need to do so; prior to adjusting this setting, I would frequently find myself instinctively logging into the app repeatedly during my evenings and weekends.
Ensure that both apps be accessible online and on mobile. You will not always have access to all of your devices (sometimes intentionally, if you are trying to reduce distractions) and you might not always have access to the internet (most apps will then sync with your account once your device gains attention to the web again).
Try to get your employer to pay for the subscription costs of your professional task management app. Work-related software and applications are business expenses. The subscription costs of task management apps are almost always outweighed by the benefits they provide in increased productivity. For those interested in getting their employer to pay for their professional task management app subscription, I would suggest that they gather before/after data about the increased productivity they attained with the free or trial version of the app, in order to make the case that further improvements in productivity could be expected by having access to the app’s paid features. There are also subjective benefits provided by task management apps which could be brought up when you meet with management or the HR department, such as reduced stress.
Regularly backup your data in both apps. Almost all good task management apps allow you to import and export your data. It is essential that you do so periodically in order to save valuable historical data about your tasks and habits, as well as information on the status and progress of various projects. Furthermore, regularly backing up your data increases your ability to smoothly migrate to another productivity app without being at the mercy of software companies who can cease operations at any moment, remove import/export functions at their discretion or move certain features of the app behind a paywall.