Do you integrate or segment?

Before technology was ubiquitous, before we had laptops, and smartphones, most people worked at work, and when they were at home, they really didn’t work much. But that’s gotten much harder over time.

Now, the reality is that we can work from pretty much wherever we are, as long as we’ve got an internet connection. And because we CAN, we do. There is an expectation, sometimes real, sometimes perceived, that because we can always be connected, that we should always be connected. That because we can send out an email, someone should be responding to that email.

The reality is that some people thrive in an environment where they are always connected to work. They don’t think of work and life as separate, but they think of work as part of life and vice versa. They are comfortable answering work emails on the weekend, and they are comfortable taking a personal call at work. We call these people integrators. Integrators have fully integrated work into their lives, and they don’t really see the dividing line.

On the other side of things, we have people who really like to separate their work-life from the rest of their life. When they’re at work, they’re working, fully focused. When they’re at home, they’re at home, not thinking about work. We call these people segmentors. Segmentors don’t want to think about work AT ALL when they aren’t at work. But when they are at work, they are working hard. They aren’t getting a haircut in the middle of a workday, but they aren’t answering work emails at the dinner table either. Another way to think of segmentors is as compartmentalizers.

Now, here’s where things get interesting. Approximately 70% of people identify as integrators. But only about half of those WANT to be integrators. They feel they would be happier as segmentors, but they don’t know how to make it work. They feel intense pressure to always be on call, to be connected, etc. Most of us are integrators not because that’s our natural tendency, but because we’ve let technology and the (possibly perceived) expectations of others dictate how we’re running our lives. Most segmentors are pretty happy as they are.

The really important thing to consider, no matter how you identify, is “do you want to be that way?”.

Knowing how you identify, and whether that’s what you want, will help you to build a system for maximal productivity.

If you are a segmentor, you know that you will be more productive when you schedule all your non-work tasks outside of work hours. It probably stresses you out to take a call from your doctor, or a friend, while you are at work. If that’s you, you can simply decide that you aren’t going to take those calls at work. You’ll take them on your lunch hour, in the evening, or after work. And because you’ve made this decision for yourself, you’ll be able to stop the guilt about not answering right away.

If you are an integrator who would rather be a segmentor, there’s hope! I know it seems like the decks are stacked against you, but you can, and should, start to set some boundaries around your work. Setting these boundaries will help you be more productive both at work and at home. Let your boss know that in an attempt to be more focused and productive, you’re rearranging your schedule a bit. You will plan to NOT answer email after you leave work for the day, but that if there is an emergency, of course you’ll pick up the phone. You can put in place boundaries around your vacations and can even start with baby steps by choosing vacations where you won’t have access to cell or internet service. You’ll probably find it easier to say you won’t be checking email if you actually CAN’T check email.

And if you are an integrator who is happy being an integrator, that’s great. But be mindful of context switching. Even though you are comfortable integrating your work-life with the rest of your life, make sure to batch-process similar items so that you can decrease the mental toll that context switching takes. If you’ve got a bunch of personal tasks that need to be done during business hours, no problem, but just schedule them together.

Knowing the difference between an integrator and a segmentor (and which you are) can help you schedule your work in a way that is consistent with your values, AND lets you get more done at the times that work best for you.

For information about the original research behind these concepts, click here and here.

Originally published at on May 23, 2019.



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