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How to Keep Work From Taking Over Your Entire Life

Just another thing hanging over your head.”  This common expression now comes in poster form.  Or should I say, art form.  Here’s the image making the rounds on Pinterest: Picture a massive white canvass, 6 feet tall, framed in gold, hanging over a modern navy bed in a light-filled bedroom.  In the middle of the blank canvass are these words, written in a crisp italic font: Just another thing hanging over your head.

The first time I saw it I laughed, the second time I thought, it’s funny; that’s depressing and it’s terrible karma.

It’s bad enough going to bed with something metaphorically hanging over your head.  Putting a poster over your bed to remind you of it is insane. 

But then we humans never have been a logical bunch.  We look forward to the weekend, then spend it worrying about work.  We shell out big money for vacations, then check our phones on the beach.

In the last decade the line between work and leisure has evaporated.  My youngest daughter who did part of her college coursework online says,  “An online class is like having constantly having an unread email.  There’s always something you’re supposed to be doing.” 

Here are 6 things I’ve been doing to stop work from bleeding into every minute of my life:

  1. Stick to a start and end time each day
    If you show up on time for flights, and you meet deadlines, you’re already effectively managing your time.  Letting work time bleed into personal time simply because you can means you’re never off.  Treating the beginning and end of the workday with the same finality you do deadlines increases your urgency when you’re “on.”  If you hit your end time 3 or 4 days a week, you’ll be surprised at the change in your evening.
  2. Keep your commitments to yourself
    For years I routinely canceled my own doctor and dentist appointments to accommodate work.  Clients need to move the meeting?  No prob. I can push that mammogram back six months, it’s not like it’s my health or anything.  Commitments to yourself should have the same priority of your commitments to others.
  3. Never check email first thing in the morning – This is so important it’s the title of a best-selling book by Julie Morgenstern.  Starting your day with email, means you’re letting other people set your priorities.  Instead, read something inspirational – my daughter and I like The Daily Stoic – and make a list of what you want to accomplish. Don’t check your email until your priorities are set.
  4. Travel on work time, not personal time
    When you routinely wake up at 4 a.m. to catch flights, it’s only a matter of time before you resent your job, your boss, your clients, or the family you’re supporting.  I used to travel on my own time, very early and very late.  Now, I travel during the workday.  To be clear, I work on the flight, in the lounge, etc. But I no longer arrive exhausted,
  5. Give yourself a Sabbath
    Humans need a day to reset.  It’s no coincidence; most religious traditions have a Sabbath.  I used to pack my weekends with chores and projects.  Now I try to get everything done on Saturday, and use Sunday to do purely enjoyable things and recharge.

Work can be great, just don’t do it so much it takes over the other good stuff.