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This is related to a previous question, but I'm hoping to get more thoughts and throw in more context for my question.

I have one primary computer. It's got my big monitor and my nice keyboard, etc. I use this computer to do productive things (personal finances, church work, research, development, and so on), and I also use it for video games, Netflix, and other entertainment.

A struggle I've noticed recently is that once I've got various programs open for the "Play" context, it's very difficult for me to re-route my brain to the "Work" context when I'm sitting in the same chair, looking at the same screen, and typing on the same keyboard.

There are a number of factors that I think can help, but I haven't done much experimenting.

So here's the question:

When using the same desk and computer for both productivity and leisure activities, what changes would help switch between tasks?

I'm especially interested in answers relating to:

  • Software
  • Desktop environment (on screen)
  • Desktop environment (actual desk)
  • Web Browser
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Have you considered altering the room environment as well? Maybe you turn on a desk lamp while working, close the door, pull the shades, play a particular type of music. – JeffO Jan 4 '14 at 15:17

There are multiple approaches you can follow here depending on how far you are willing to go to make sure you dont succumb to procrastination. These primarily focus on the problem of context switches. You can try the following to control contexts and context switches better:

  • Multiple operating systems: Use two separate installations of the same or different operating systems with each dedicated to one specific context and having only relevant applications installed. This works best for some types of programmers and developers who may work on a Linux distro, but boot into their Windows configuration when wanting to switch to "play" mode.

  • Multiple desktops: Some operating systems can be configured to have multiple separate (un-mirrored) desktops. You can configure each of these to display the relevant documents and applications for a specific context making sure that there is no overlap.

  • Multiple themes with switching: This is possible in only very specific configurations requiring special setup which may turn out to be very complex for most users. However, this will have the least amount of overheads involved once et up. The basic idea is to have two different themes on your OS each of which suggests a different context. You can switch between the different themes to switch contexts.

  • Multiple User Accounts: Again, same idea. Use separate accounts for separate contexts, with each having access to different set of applications and documents.

  • Application Specific Locks: Set up locking mechanisms for the various applications that you may use such as browsers and email clients so that they may close or become unusable after some time period. Browser locks covered in many many posts before.

Also, each of these can be configured in such a way that the switch may happen automatically after a fixed interval of time, or may have to be done manually.

In summary, the idea is to train yourself to associate whatever configurations you use with the distinct contexts that you need. Once done, then to setup a switching mechanism that works for you.

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These are very good suggestions. With regard to multiple themes and application locks, do you know of specific tools to recommend? I'm primarily interested in Windows and Linux software. – asfallows Jan 2 '14 at 18:33
Windows users can use Dexpot ( for multiple desktops. – user3224 Jan 2 '14 at 20:10
@asfallows I cant seem to find any theme switchers for Ubuntu at the moment. I think I will write up a script for it sometime next week. I cannot comment on Windows as I dont use it. – AsheeshR Jan 4 '14 at 14:01
This is a good list of suggestions. I have two different Windows accounts at home for this reason – Fiona - Jan 7 '14 at 15:34

In the same situation, I simply have 2 accounts, one for entertainment and one for work; I use windows 7 or Ubuntu so it's easy to apply. My "brain switch" is - with my surprise - the desktop background, so I set a very light desktop for entertainment and a very dark desktop for work. My 2 cents

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