There are two kinds of people: Those who work to live and those who live to work.

If you work to live, that means you go to a job so you can pay for the things that bring you satisfaction and fulfillment, such as hobbies or going out with friends.  If you live to work, that means you go to a job because you find satisfaction and fulfillment in what you do.  Living to work generally has a negative connotation, though, because it is associated with making work your highest priority at the cost of other people/things in your life (a.k.a. workaholism).  So how do we maintain a healthy work/life balance?

It’s actually good for us as humans to do productive work on a regular basis.  It’s good for your brain to solve interesting and challenging problems.  It’s good to work in teams of people to accomplish a goal.  It’s good to be able to afford your clothes and food.  But it’s also good to let your mind and body rest.  It’s good to spend quality time with friends and family.  It’s good to stop and appreciate what you have, instead of always wanting more.

As you probably know, too much of a good thing can become a problem.  If all you do is rest and hang out and goof around, you become lazy and a drain on society.  If all you do is work, you become irritable and miss out on important life events.  But don’t worry, it’s possible to create a healthy work/life balance.


Which Kind of Person Are You?

If you’ve never thought about this before, go through the lists below and think about which category you fall into.  Someone who works to live might look something like this:

  • Puts in the minimum amount of effort to get the job done
  • Complains about every assignment
  • Watches the clock
  • Leaves work exactly on time
  • Thinks about having fun instead of working
  • Seems like a zombie during the workweek
  • Feels alive on the weekends

Do you tend to dread going to work because you would rather hang out with friends?  Do you go to work just so that you can pay the bills?  You’re probably working to live.

Someone who lives to work might look like this:

  • Goes above and beyond to do their job well
  • Proactively asks managers for bigger assignments
  • Loses track of time at work
  • Often works late or on the weekend to get things done
  • Thinks about work even when not at work
  • Seems like a zombie at social events
  • Feels alive being productive in the workplace

Do you tend to dread going to social outings because you would rather be getting work done?  Do you look forward to going to work because that’s where you feel accomplished and respected?  You’re probably living to work.


Don’t Be Extreme

Whether you work to live or live to work, extremes are unhealthy.  There are traits in each category that are positive, while others are negative.  For example, trying to do a job well is better than putting in the minimum amount of effort.  Likewise, at a family gathering, it’s better to engage in conversation than to sit in the corner on your laptop.  It’s important to find a balance.  When you’re at work, give your full attention to your work.  When you’re at a social event, give your full attention to the activities and people around you.

For some, whether they work to live or live to work is circumstantial.  If they happened to be good at the career they started, then it’s easy for them to lean towards living to work.  And that’s not a bad thing to have people that enjoy what they do — that’s actually very positive.  On the other hand, if that same person happened to dislike the career they started, then they probably lean towards working to live.  It depends on goals and priorities.


What Are Your Priorities?

I don’t know if a study has been done on this or not, but as humans we tend to attribute increasing value to things as we spend more time on them.  As you pour yourself into something, you have a greater stake in that thing and so you care about it more.  For example, if you spend weeks building a giant tower out of popsicle sticks, you’re going to be pretty proud of it.  If a friend comes in and knocks it down on accident, you’re going to flip out, because that was something you spent a lot of time and effort on.  But if your friend knocked over you tower five minutes after you started, you won’t be as upset  because your investment in the tower was lower.

The same is true of how we spend our time each day.  The more time we spend at work, the more important we feel that it is.  And this is true not just for the live to work folks — if you work to live, you start feeling more and more stressed and guilty for not putting in enough effort because you have invested so much time just being at the job.  So time invested often equates to greater perceived worth.

So how do we create a balance?  I believe the first step is to decide your priorities.  Write them out if you have to.  But spend some time thinking about the why behind the work.  Why do you have this job?  Is it fulfilling?  Is it to provide for your family?  Is it a career move?  Is it for the benefits?  Is it for the money?  If you aren’t careful, your why will be lost in your work.

We’ve all heard stories of a dad going to work to provide for his family.  But after a while, he starts spending more and more time at work, missing soccer games and coming home late.  What happened?  He forgot his priorities.


Set Rules For Yourself

In order to avoid crossing certain lines, you have to first draw the lines.  Otherwise, you’ll won’t even notice when you crossed them!  In practical terms, that means giving yourself rules and boundaries when it comes to life and work.  Below are some sample rules.  You can make your own or start with these:

  • Don’t answer your phone at the dinner table.  You can always call them back.  Pay attention to the people in front of you.
  • Set a reasonable cut off time for work.  For example, if you normally stay until 5pm, and you haven’t solved the problem by 6pm, it can wait until tomorrow.
  • Don’t check personal email at work.  Don’t check work email at home.

Obviously we could come up with many more rules, but these should give you an idea of how to start delineating between work and non-work.  And of course these rules will vary according to your priorities.  If you are single and your highest priority is your career, then some of the examples above wouldn’t be for you.  But if you have a family and they are your highest priority, then these examples can help you keep family as number one.


Adjust to Find Balance

As you start following your new rules, it’s okay to make adjustments until you find a healthy balance between work and non-work.  Too much work is unhealthy, just like too much play is unhealthy.  Create boundaries so that you can function best within each realm.

What are some other ways that you keep work from taking over your life?  Do you think it’s possible to have a healthy work/life balance?  Leave a comment below!