Today, as a wrapped up the morning's work and was contemplating a topic for the blog, I had the idea to talk about the separation of my work and personal email accounts. I thought this might be helpful for others contemplating a similar separation.
First off, I work from my home office, which means the basement of my house (affectionately called The Dungeon). I use an Apple Powerbook G4 Titanium for my work, and to deal with work email. I also use the same Powerbook for my personal stuff and email. For email I use Microsoft Entourage X (the spiritual descendant of both Claris Em@ler and Outlook Express 5 — the same team built all three of them).
About two years ago I had no separation whatsoever between my personal and work email accounts. They all dropped into the same inbox, though they were color coded. Once and a while I would accidentally send emails from my personal account to work clients and vice versa, and in general there was alot of email residing in that one inbox.
As you might imagine, this was a complex situation.
Not sure where the idea to separate email accounts came from — I believe it was due to the email complexity I dealt with daily. Whatever the case, I decided to completely separate my work and personal accounts.
Now, because I use Entourage, I had the option of multiple "Identities' available to me. Identities are great, because I can create separate work and personal identities, and switch between them relatively quickly. Each Identity takes over Entourage completely when activated, so there is no mixing of accounts, emails, folders, rules or preferences. Each identity is a virtual space unto itself.
So now, I start in the morning in my personal 'Mike Rohde' identity, check email and reply to whomever I like, etc. When I begin work, I switch to my 'MakaluMedia' identity, where manage my daily work emails.
The biggest advantages of this split personality system are:
1. Work and personal emails stay separate from each other. There is no mixing of emails at the inbox, therefore, I can't accidentally send work emails via my personal account, or vice-versa.
2. My focus on either work or personal emails is better, because they reside in their own "space" rather than a common inbox. This not only assures that the appropriate work/personal emails get my attention, but also eliminates the temptation to deal with or be distracted by personal emails at work (a BIG advantage).
3. My email client is faster, because emails are separated into their own files and folders. Searches also are more targeted, because, for instance, there is no wading through personal emails in a work-specific email search.
4. Each identity can have its own retrieval schedule, which is especially useful for work. Because I work with many European colleagues and clients (7 hours ahead), I need my schedule to check frequently in the mornings, but like to check less frequently in the afternoons when I've set aside "focus" time. Meanwhile. my personal identity can check frequently when it is active, without regard to European time.
Now, there are a few drawbacks, but they're minor. Checking work emails in the evening or on the weekend (which I must do now and then, to make sure things are running smoothly) is more of a hassle, as a manual identity switch is required. Often I'll use web-based email to solve this.
However, in one way this is an advantage, as it discourages checking of work email on personal time, just as separate identities discourage checking of personal email on work time. Of course this is really a discipline issue, but keeping separate identities does help make it clearer mentally for me.
Some email clients may not offer an 'identity' feature, though for instance Apple Mail uses separate inboxes for accounts and there is even a shareware app called MailSwitch, which pretty closely mimics the Entourage Identity feature.
Overall, I'm very pleased with my separated email and with Entourage, though now and then I'll think back to the days when my mail was all mooshed together, and shudder. :-)