Striking a Balance: When Does the Workplace End and Personal Life Begin?

“Work to live or live to work?” is a question that has reverberated through the ages. However, some individuals fail to discern the boundary between their professional life and personal existence. These work-life integrators enthusiastically promote their dedication to the #hustleharder or #riseandgrind ethos, waking up each day ready to clock in 18 hours for the ‘American Dream’. While such determination may be commendable, it tends to blur the line between healthy commitment and destructive workaholism.

The glamorization of workaholism is not a new phenomenon. It has subtly penetrated industries and societies over decades. A prime example is the legal industry where an average lawyer works nearly three weeks of overtime a year, incentivized by bonuses. However, the staggering statistics revealing 21% of lawyers struggling with alcoholism and substance abuse, a 28% depression rate, and a 19% anxiety rate seldom get the same attention.

Sleep Faster?

We often idolize figures like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mark Wahlberg, advocating to “sleep faster” for more work time. Yet, the harsh reality remains: consistently working 55 hours or more per week can be detrimental to health. The pervasive ‘grind mentality’ is not only systemic but also deeply flawed.

A name that might not resonate with many is William Stewart Halsted. He was instrumental in shaping the modern medical education system. Dr. Halsted, the founder of the first surgical program in the US at John’s Hopkins University, introduced the ‘medical residency’ system. He propagated the notion that future doctors should immerse themselves in medicine, even live at the hospital during their training.

As the Chief of the Department of Surgery, Halsted practiced what he preached. He was renowned for his groundbreaking discoveries, work ethic, and the ability to stay awake for days. However, his reliance on a cocktail of cocaine and morphine to maintain his extraordinary work regimen was a secret, one that unfortunately paints a murky image of his legacy. Today’s medical professionals are indoctrinated into an all-consuming effort, largely unaware of the disturbing roots of this practice.

How can you separate work and personal? 

Everyone leads a different life and so there is no one-size-fits-all. Feel free to amend and skip steps to find the right fit for your life. 

Take a Step Back and Assess

If you are reading this, you are probably looking for ways to improve your overall balance and happiness. That begins with understanding where you are now. If you’re honest with yourself, you might need a day or two off to find the headspace to ask questions of yourself. 

Make a List of What Your Want Personally

Consider making value lists. What are your values? What do you want from and in your life? A family, city-life, travel, fitness-wise. What roles do you occupy at work and at home and which are priorities?

Assess If Your are Closer or Further from Your Ideals

Making assessments on ourselves can be difficult. Start by picking a date and looking back to the same date a year ago. What has been the trajectory of your life and is it trending in the direction of satisfying your ideals?

This assessment should grasp the trajectory of many factors including:

  • Physical health and wellness
  • Status of diet, exercise and sleep
  • Time spent with family: More or less than you would have liked?
  • How much attention have you paid to your personal life?
  • Strength of your relationships
  • Your typical topics of conversation
  • Hours spent working outside of normal hours
  • Work-related stress levels
  • Time for hobbies
  • Workload and demands
  • Where you feel most positive and satisfied

Analysing Your Workplace Culture

51% of people missed family events due to work commitments. Typically, we blame ourselves without evaluating the subtext of what our employer asks for and expects. For example, let’s say you work for a company that regularly rewards employees for successful projects that require significant overtime. Indirectly, the company expects you to use personal time for work achievement. 

Similarly, a lack of sick pay, maternity or paternity leave, interest in employee personal lives and employee reluctance to take vacations are emblematic of a potentially toxic work culture. 

You are missing family events, sacrificing hobbies, and personal relationships. Does your company truly value your personal happiness? And, will your career trajectory mean more of the same? 

Acknowledge the Need for Change 

By carrying out an introspective assessment, you may come to the realisation that your values and those of your workplace are not aligned. There are a number of solutions but all start in the same place: Acknowledging the need to change. 

If you acknowledge the need, you can commit to change but it needs to be a firm decision. What is it needs to change? Can you do it inside the company or outside? 

In answering the latter question, think about your boss and whether they are receptive to your need. If so, you can be open and honest about your needs with a view to making adjustments. If not, what roles and organisations align with your set of ideals?

Take Personal Responsibility

This article is not designed to whine about the modern workplace. We are responsible for our decisions. We accept or decline our work life balance and conditions. Of course, certain career paths require more struggle than others but we have do have agency. It is up to us to assume the control of our future. Blaming the job or the family takes the control out of our hands.

Know Your Priorities

By now, you have outlined what you want for your life. It should be things that fill you with purpose, happiness and self worth. Understandably your career will be on this list but it shouldn’t be alone and it shouldn’t always be number 1. 

Be very clear on what is and is not a priority. Disconnect to spend time being present with loved ones. Build a routine around self-care as well as work. Take time to rest, relax and have fun. When crunch time comes, remind yourself of these priorities.

Set Boundaries, Say No

Improving balance means setting boundaries. Lady Gaga and Steve Jobs both champion the ability to say ‘No’ because it allowed them to value what they wanted and focus. 

Saying no at the appropriate time can change the course of your day and your life. It can put an end to a cycle of mindless social media scrolling. It can put the work emails down when you should be attentive to loved ones. It can correct your schedule so that you are not losing time to shallow tasks. 

Saying ‘No’ means you decide the value of your time and how you can spend it effectively. 

Protect Your Keystone Habits

Diet, sleep and exercise are a sample of your keystone habits. Managing these well positively influences most other aspects of your life. 

Your days and health are typically the result of decisions. By valuing and protecting your diet, sleep and exercise from negative habits, you create a foundation of health and mental strength. These three habits are almost always the first things to go when the pressure comes on. 

7-9 hours sleep. 3 litres of water and 5 different fruits or vegetables. 45 minutes of daily exercise that raises the heartbeat. Your decisions on these impact your ability to be present at home and effective at work. Get them right.

Consider a Lean Work Approach

The Lean Business Model is an approach to business that looks to trim the fat out of your business processes and optimising efficiency. What does that look like for your life?

At work: look at your schedule and caseload. What can be done to improve time efficiency? Are there processes that could be automated or streamlined? Are you wasting time multi-tasking? Can you delegate more tasks? Could you commute to work on public transport and use that time to answer all emails? What are your biggest distractions? What small wins can you make time-wise?

At home: Could you feasibly get to bed earlier or get up earlier? Stop watching TV or going on social media. Meal prep for the weak. Request an extra day working from home to cover certain chores. Declutter your home and your life. Budget your time to where you want it spent.


The growth of rise and grind culture is not correlated to growth in wages. Nor is it correlated to personal happiness. Although there is ever more content that tell’s us to ‘do what we love’, that doesn’t say that your job is all you are. 

In actual fact, the growth in workaholism correlates most with illnesses. You are 1.66 times more likely to have depression. 1.7 times more likely to suffer with anxiety. 1.3 times more likely to suffer a stroke or heart attack when you work 55 hours a week or more. *put at beginning?* 

The truth for employees is actually the truth for employers over the long run. Respecting the boundaries between work and home lives reduces absenteeism, staff turnover and workplace accidents. Morale, happiness, loyalty, productivity, creativity and productivity increases. The moral of the story is that while we have glamourized toxic workaholism, not addressing it damages participants.