I’m wearing my technology hat today, with a productivity column inspired by some weekend discussions.
If you conduct your work and home lives from the same computer, it’s hard to keep them apart. Your home office or studio, carefully landscaped free of distractions, hides its biggest time-sinks on the same screen as your work. It’s hard not to “pop into” Facebook, hard not to pay bills or label vacation photos, when work grows dull — but even a small distraction can cost you a half-hour of good focus.
Of course you could deactivate your Internet, but then you lose a vital research tool and regular backups to cloud storage. And the family photos are still unlabeled.
To promote concentration and avoid distraction, divide the computer like your life, using multiple logins.
All computers have at least one login, also known as an account. It is the name and password you enter to see your desktop and your stuff, and often again to install new software. Most people only have one per computer, but you can have more than one login, as many as you like. All logins share the same physical computer, the same storage and disk drives. Each one keeps its own bookmarks, its own stored passwords, its own data and photos, and each can even link to separate cloud storage accounts.
It’s as if you could push a button in your home office, replace one desk for another, and then get the first desk back when you were done.
Two years ago I set up my computer this way: in one login goes everything to do with home and family life, from photos and media to bills and taxes. In another, go all social accounts. In a third, everything to do with work. It took me an evening to set up, transferring files between logins, and a day or two to get the new login passwords memorized. (It also helps to use different wallpaper images on each login, to give you a sense of being “at work” or “at home.”)
Because of this setup, my work login is a virtual office with thick walls. No alerts, no reminders, no messages. I can leave today’s work in place at the end of the day, and find it tomorrow morning exactly as I left it. If I need to pay bills or respond to a message, I switch logins; if those tasks are left undone, they’re in different logins the next morning, not staring me in the face. I can’t take “a quick break just to check,” that will turn into a big break and frustrate me. Either I work, or I really stop working and spend time on something else.
Of course, you must respect that space to create it: don’t shop on your work login, don’t read personal email on the way to sending out a professional query.
Some people use multiple desktop spaces under one login for the same effect, but I prefer logins to extended desktops, because they let you keep your data and bookmarks wholly separate. And, you can always use multiple desktop spaces under multiple logins.
Another great use for a separate login is collaboration. When my father wrote his memoirs, I set him up a Dropbox account and put the memoirs in there. I created a login for his book on my computer, and linked it to his Dropbox account. When he had a word-processing problem or wanted an edit, I could look at his latest version with no special effort, and he got my changes automatically.
So, if you would like to make your computing life both more comfortable and more efficient, try something already built into your computer — multiple logins.