How to set work-life boundaries

The average American work week has crept up to 47 hours, and it should surprise no one to learn that we have a culture of burn out. Some of it’s our own fault, while some is institutionalized; we have, for example, no federal laws requiring sick leave. Unchecked, work can snowplow over our basic human needs for connection, time with family and proper amounts of rest and physical activity.

And so, we suffer. Our productivity and creativity dip. The only way to fight back is with firm boundaries. Here are five mistakes people make when it comes to setting work-life boundaries, and how to fix them:

1. No exit strategy

Do you linger at work because you feel guilty leaving, or get sucked into a task? Set an alarm for 15 to 30 minutes before the end of your work day. When it goes off, prep up for tomorrow’s success by preparing a to-do list. Then tidy up your desk and power down electronics, instead of trying to cram in that one last e-mail.

2. Email interruptus

According to time management expert Randy Dean, the usual worker pops into their email inbox at least 20 times a day and reads an email three to seven times before taking any action on it. Instead of this dysfunctional behavior, begin the workday with a task list and some work, then open the email. Set blocks of time when you’ll read and respond to email, and don’t simply check a few emails during family time, before bed or first thing in the morning ­– that boosts anxiety levels.

3. Ho-hum Commute

Americans spend, on average, over four hours a week commuting. Steal that filler time back: boost creativity and fight the risk of dementia by taking a new route, doing a brain teaser or puzzle, reading or listening to a great book or practicing a new language.

4. Blurred Home and Work Spaces

Mindfully differentiate any work areas of your home from the rest of your living space. For example, use a fun wallpaper behind your desk to make that area visually separate from the rest of the room. At the end of the day, close up shop. Shut the Murphy-style desk. Clear up the dining room table if you’re working there, rather than leaving work files and a laptop out in plain sight.

5. MIA Vacations

According to Project Time Off, while workers in the United States earn an average of 21 days of paid time off per year, they only use 77 percent of that time, sacrificing 4.9 days. Feel guilty taking a break? Look at it this way: that’s $52.4 billion in benefits we’re leaving on the table. Plus, study after study shows workers who take real vacations are happier, sleep better, are more productive in the long run and have fewer stress-related health issues. They’re even less likely to die from heart attacks. Time to book that vacation!


“5 Work-Life Mistakes Everyone Is Makingby Kathryn Drury Wagner was originally published on Spirituality & Health.

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