I Want My Private Life Back

Yes, breaking down of boundaries between one's personal and professional lives work for some people. But Paul Michelman talks about why that doesn't work for him

Posted on Conversation Starter: July 29, 2008 1:07 PM

All the terrific discussion about my recent post on the collision of things personal and professional on Facebook got me thinking about a much larger issue: the collision of things personal and professional in life.

On several fronts I feel like I'm being encouraged to give up on the idea that I can live two distinct existences—one focused on home and the other focused on work. No, it's by no means a new trend, but I do think that it's accelerating.

The integration of work "friends" and friend "friends" on Facebook is just one tiny example. That BlackBerry I'm about to check is another. Just as importantly, several management thought leaders I deeply respect have been weighing in with their support for letting traditional barriers fall.

My friend Stew Friedman, for example, wrote a terrifically successful book this year based on the premise that compartmentalizing our lives between home and work creates false barriers that detract from our ability to lead happy and productive lives. Stew believes we need to embrace a much more integrated view of our existence. His aim is for us to actually spend more time focusing on non-work aspects of our lives. An admirable goal and one I embrace wholeheartedly.

Stew's philosophy has clearly proven effective for a great many people. So what's my hesitation? Well, it's the coming down of the walls. There's a part of me that remains stuck in the belief that clear and absolute dividers can serve a useful purpose. That's why I find Tammy Erickson's recent column questioning the need for weekends to be so discomforting.

Tammy's notion is that the M-F, 9-5, three-weeks-of-carefully-planned-vacation work-a-day life is an anachronism in today's information economy. Most of our work, she notes, can be done anywhere, anytime. Why force people to toil within meaningless barriers of time and space? Tammy presents this idea in the name of freedom—we should have more flexibility in how we get our work done and how we choose to live our lives.

It's an excellent point based on a smart, rational view of today's world, but I'm not sure I could handle it. I need a little artifice, a definition of what is "their time" and what is mine. I rely on it for my sanity, and I expect many others do too.

Why am I clinging to such a backward view of work and life? Frankly, I'm getting burned out. I work seven days a week. Not all day, every day; most Saturdays and Sundays it's only an hour or two. No one forces me to do this, but somehow it just sort of happened. It began when we launched this website and started collaborating with contributors and readers in every time zone on earth, many of whom had also decided that the game was on for work whenever they wanted it to be.

Would the sky fall if I left some things unattended until Monday? No. But who I am to stop while the rest of the business world goes on? More to the point, when you combine an obsessive compulsive personality like mine with constant access to work, you get, well, my situation.

So what am I going to do about it? Clearly, reorganizing my Facebook page isn't going to quite cut it. Indeed, Facebook now seems to be little more than an unfortunate whipping boy for my real problem: I no longer know how to silo myself from work.

So, gang, has anyone cracked this nut? How do you draw firm lines to give yourself true time off when, no matter what you do, the world keeps spinning, the conversation keeps going, and the work keeps piling up?

Needless to say, I'll be checking this discussion 24/7.