Choosing Life Before Work

Do you live to work, or do you work so you can live? This might seem like a simple question, but I want you to think about what you do (not say). I ask this question because we end up working so much of the time at the cost of living our lives. We end up living to work instead of vice-versa and we have only ourselves to blame.

This is especially true for some of my friends with big businesses (and I doubt they are alone). The bigger their business, the more they are enslaved to their work. If anyone, it’s them who should be able to have a lot of discretionary time on their hands to do the things they want to do outside of spending time at work, but they don’t. Instead, I’ve found that the more money they have, the more they are tied to their work. The way I see it, the whole point of having a business is so you can have a life outside of it. Otherwise, your business isn’t working for you. The same holds true for those working a corporate job (but more on that below).

We spend so much of our time at work today and not enough time actually living our lives. We prioritize spending time at work ahead of our relationships and our personal interests. We pride ourselves on working longer than the next person to the point that it becomes a badge of honor; this is how we go on to create counterproductive cultures in our organizations, but that is another conversation. We make “bucket lists” of things that we might want to do someday, but that day never comes because we are busy living our lives based on outdated paradigms of “work-life balance”.

Here’s the thing: If you’re spending more than 40 hours a week at work, there is something terribly wrong either with your line of work, you (poor self-management), or both. This is particularly true for those who are highly successful and find themselves in management in organizations or those who run their own businesses.

Spending so much time at work hardly leaves any time for renewal, which could be in the form of downtime, leisure/recreation, spending time with friends/family, or pursuing things of interest.

All of this isn’t to suggest that your work is not important, but if you’re spending most of your time at work, then you’re undermining yourself greatly. On the other hand, choosing life before work does not suggest that work happens outside of “life”; rather, there is more to life than spending time at work. We short-change ourselves by spending too much time at work and not living fully.

Please note spending time at work is very different from actually working. You’ll see that I’ve mentioned the former throughout the piece for a couple of reasons. First, not all of the time spent at work translates to getting results. Second, and more importantly, spending more time at work is a choice we make.

Choosing life before work starts with thinking about your life and thinking about what is important to you. Think about the things you’ve been neglecting in the past in the hope/interest of doing them “someday”. Will you be happy and satisfied with your life when all is said and done?

It’s about realizing that we always have a choice and that we don’t have to work the way we’ve been working. Life is not meant to be all work. There will always be more to do than we can possibly do. Does that mean we spend the majority of our time at work? Of course not.

We need to start with the end in mind and actively think and reflect about our lives in regards to what we want out of it. We need to figure out what is important for us in the long term and then spend time on those things today because that is all that will matter when all is said and done.

By the way, do you really want your tombstone to read that you worked 80+ hours a week? If not, think about what you might want to do differently. How/Where do you want to be spending your time? If you don’t think about your life now (and how you spend your time), then when? If you don’t start thinking about what matters most to you now, then when?

Remember that as much as you might like your work, the work you do is only a means to an end. It’s not an end in and of itself. True wealth comes from having as much discretionary time as possible to do things you want, like spending time with friends and family and doing things of personal interest.

Once you understand what is most important to you, then it’s about doing whatever is necessary to make it happen for you. This part is “easier” because the hard part of thinking (which comes from within) is over; now it’s just about the doing.

Once you start living your life with the right mindset, then it’s simply a matter of living your values by making those things happen on an everyday basis. For instance, you might say that you’re not going to work past 5 on weekdays and you’re going to take the weekends off. Whatever work gets done during that time gets done, and the rest gets scheduled for later. In this case, at least your work will not come in the way of your life any more.

Take a step back every now and then to think about your life. Stop living your life based on other peoples’ expectations. Your time on this earth is yours alone, and it’s up to you how you choose to spend it. Stop justifying to others how you spend it.

Here are some ways of putting your life ahead of your work:

Create boundaries that also act as constraints. Unless you do this, work will slowly take over your entire life. When we work for ourselves, we need to be even more careful about creating boundaries because we tend to work harder for ourselves, which is not always a good thing.

It isn’t about spending more time at work, but getting results in the short time you work. Focus on results, not time spent because it’s about output, not input. I shared my thoughts earlier on working less and working better and how that is in the best interest of everyone.

Keep track of where you spend your time. Unless you know where your time is going, you won’t know what you want to be doing differently.

Plan your weeks in terms of relationships and results; that is the only way to strive towards being the best person we can be (in terms of our character) and to serve the world by providing value through our work (contribution).

We need to ask ourselves (and sincerely answer) if we are living to work or working to live. The whole point of working is to find something you enjoy doing and making a living at it, not at the cost of everything else. In the end, choosing to put life before work is a choice we make. By not proactively making that choice, we are (by default) choosing otherwise.

Our work should revolve around our lives, not vice-versa. If we haven’t designed our lives this way, then we owe it to ourselves in order to lead truly fulfilling lives.

If you liked this piece, subscribe to the Weekly Newsflash to read my latest writing. Topics include mental health, simple living, and true success: