Keep your personal computer personal (while working from home)

We’ve been in lockdown for a while now and we’re starting to notice some unexpected side effects of working from home. Many people, like myself, use their personal computers for more than just work as it fills a much broader function in one’s life.

However, when using it for both work and personal life things can get messy. Are your work files, applications and notifications demanding too much of your attention when you’re trying to relax? Are your personal projects, games and other entertainment channels interfering with a fully productive day at the (home) office? Or perhaps your kids are home using your laptop for schoolwork and have made a virtual mess?

Luckily there’s an easy fix, whether you’re on a Windows or macOS machine a few simple tips can really help out. We’re going to be adhering to the “out of sight, out of mind” idiom. This won’t save any hard drive space, but it will create a clean break between what is personal and what is work.

Although this is nothing complicated it seems few of my colleagues or friends have applied this simple lifehack. It’s just a little bit of work if you’re already setup, but well worth it!

Create a new (work) user

In order to get rid of everything on your desktop, start menu and all that stuff that automatically runs when we first login, we will create a new user profile. This is a clean slate where we can add what we need to do our work. It gives us the opportunity to install only what we need and dedicate all the real estate to work. Download and document folders are empty as they are unique for each user, which means you won’t have to dive through all your personal files to find what you need anymore.

You can still access all applications on your computer in the new user profile, you don’t have to reinstall anything, just create a desktop or start menu shortcut and rid yourself of anything you won’t use (this is something I always recommend). Settings for most applications will also be stored separately for each user, which can be a big bonus in some cases.

Here are instructions on how to do it for your operating system:

Windows 10
macOS (Mojave, Catalina)

Browser profiles

These days browsers such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox use account profiles to save bookmarks, login details, settings, add-ons and themes that can be accessed and synced to any device with the same browser by simply logging in.

You don’t have to worry about having to log in and out of personal and work-related websites and services, let the browser profile handle that for you. If you have a separate user account on the computer, you don’t even need to worry about changing browser profile as that is saved with each user!

You can create a new profile, using your work email if that’s a possibility, to keep all work-related websites, accounts and bookmarks isolated. Once again, this will help separate pleasure and business. It’s also an extra security measure to keep your passwords and information separate. Once you return to the office, you’ll be able to login to your work profile and continue to reap the rewards.

Find the official instructions for both browsers here:

Firefox
Chrome (Google account)

Bonus – automatically backup your work files

For those of you that can use DropBox, Google Drive, OneDrive or other cloud-based file storage solutions, you might consider automatically syncing your document folder, so you always have your work backed up. Make sure to check with your IT department whether this is OK first!

At the end of the workday, all you need to do is switch user and enjoy your personal computer with everything as it should be! It’s worth mentioning that you don’t have to do everything, just what suits your workflow. And if you’re starting to head back into the office, this will make it easier to transition back and make sure all your files and important information comes back with you.

So, what have we accomplished by doing all this?

  • Clean desktop and digital work environment
  • Ability to hide programs and applications that you won’t need or are distracting
  • No undesired notifications, auto starting applications and content
  • Dedicated storage for your files by separating work and personal files
  • Dedicated browser profile with only work-related pages, history, content and credentials
  • Applications used both personally and for work have can have independent settings
  • You will be able to have a different puppy background for work and personal desktop
  • (Bonus: Backed up all your work automatically!)

Blog post by Phil Gullberg 

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Great tips. Thanks for sharing.