Andreas Happe: Work/Life Balance, pt. 2: Separation and Blurry Lines

October 28, 2023 in Life

While the initial experiment focused upon productivity, the main goal of this series is to improve my work/life balance. Getting more productive should just allow me to switch from work to leisure earlier.

Currently I have access to my university office, so I have a nice geographical separation between Work/“The Office” and “Everything Else”. So basically I want to keep work at the Office and leisure (mostly) outside of it: getting out of the office to recover while keeping distractions out of the office to let me get out of it faster. This is primarily about the office space, my coworkers are actually part of my recovery activities such as climbing. If I wouldn’t have access to the university office anymore I would have to get some shared office space.

Work Hardware

My initial plan was to separate my work computer from my personal one. Well, that’s a lie. I do own a single laptop (Lenovo P14s) which I use for work, university, and leisure. As long as I am using a single laptop, I will take my work wherever I may go. I experimented with using separate computer accounts for the different areas but this was not doable for me. And as data (files, logs, etc.) have been accumulating on the laptop fro years, cleaning those up would be tedious or even unfeasible.

As I am lucky to be well-earning, I took the bullet and bought a small form-format PC (Beelink GTR7) for home. I’ve set up Linux on it but mostly am using it for Netflix, Spotify, Steam and web-browsing. The computer is more than capable for that and having a dedicated gaming computer removes some distracting stuff from my laptop. I might actually switch to an immutable Linux distribution for minimizing potential administration overhead.

Still when traveling abroad I have my laptop with the full university/work/leisure environment, feels like a good compromise. When visiting my parents, I might actually pack my mini computer instead of the laptop as I am using a dedicated screen/keyboard/mouse there anyways.

The separation isn’t as clean as I made it sound. Especially with Cloud-Services it’s easy to “just do some work things” from home during the weekend. I try to refrain from that but haven’t been perfect. I did work on some academic papers using overleaf and on some work reports using office365/microsoft word online.. but those occurrences feel like the exception and not my normal week-end plans. So that’s a win in my book.

Flexibility through Overlay Networks (VPNs)

This is a bit of an blurry area. Oftentimes I have a long-running task at work, e.g., a machine-learning job or a network scan, that I need to periodically monitor so that I can terminate those if needed. These times are very bad for my productivity: as I need to glance at the progress, my work concentration severely suffers.

My solution is using a self-hosted VPN (wireguard) into which I have put my home computer as well as my work laptop. This allows me to check on my work from home. Doesn’t this beat the purpose of this “separation” experiment? Strictly speaking: yes. But it feels beneficial to be able to just get home and read a book while sometimes glancing at the progress instead of sitting in the office and doing exactly the same while being stressed-out that I should do some work.

I thought about reusing the VPN through putting file-sharing services such as NextCloud into it. That would make sharing data between the laptop and the home computer easier. But finally I choose not to do this: it would introduce more computer-administration work (which I try to minimize) and would blurry the line between work/home boundaries too much in my opinion. Will re-evaluate later.

The Story of my Kindle

I read a lot as it helps me to recover. I often took my Kindle to work, esp. for dealing with those pauses imposed upon me by long-running tasks. But similar to watching Youtube at work, having the option to read a couple of pages of some trash Sci-Fi novel was often too tempting and crashed my productivity. Given my setup with the VPN network, I am now keeping the Kindle at home (and removed reading apps from my mobile phone). This makes me more productive at work and allows me to get home quicker where I can read in a more relaxing setting. Still, this change took some time to get used to.

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