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5 Work-Life Mistakes Everyone is Making

Here are five mistakes people make when it comes to setting work-life boundaries, and how to fix them.

Woman working on her laptop with daughter


The average American work week has crept up to 47 hours, and, surprise!—we have a culture of burn out. Some of it’s our own fault (see my article on smartphone obsession), 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. And our productivity and creativity dip. The only way to fight back is with firm boundaries. For this week’s Healthy Habits, here are five mistakes people make when it comes to setting work-life boundaries, and how to fix them.

  1. No exit strategy. Lingering 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 “one more 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 “just 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, just 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 separate visually from the rest of your 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, workers in the U.S. earn an average of 21 days of PTO each year but use 77 percent of that time, forfeiting 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!  

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. Her latest book is Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.  

Kathryn Drury Wagner

Spirituality & Health’s Wellbeing Editor, Kathryn Drury Wagner, is based in Savannah. She’s been a contributor to the magazine for many years, and she loves sharing ways to build a healthy, mindful, and sustainable lifestyle. 

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