Do You “Live to Work” or “Work to Live?”

Crystal A. Walker

Your mindset about work might be limiting you from a healthier lifestyle.

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I’m going to ask you some tough questions, but they’re necessary to help you accurately answer the following: Do you “live to work” or “work to live?”

  • Do you take your laptop or mobile device to bed and answer emails up to the moment it’s time to sleep?
  • Do you eat lunch at your desk?
  • Do you take calls after hours?
  • Do you feel guilty about taking vacations or time off?
  • Do you skip working out to squeeze in a little more work?

If you said “no” to all of the questions above, congratulations! You’re on track to set healthy priorities for yourself, which will lead to a healthier life and mindset.

However, if you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, you’re in the “live to work” category. I encourage you to continue reading, as it might be time for a friendly intervention.

I’m not a mental health expert, life counselor, or motivational speaker (although those professions are cool in my book). But I am going to share an enlightening piece of insight I recently acquired that has changed my life for the better: La Dolce Vita.

La Dolce Vita is a phrase that I learned about on my recent trip to Italy. It translates to “The Sweet Life.”

The pace of life in Italy was as foreign to me as the language. As an American, I know the majority of us are in constant “Go, go, go!” mode, and just as many of us spend the weekends getting caught up on chores or simply trying to recharge with the mindset of “Monday is right around the corner.”

I’m not trying to compare countries or cultures. But I have to admit that Italians have a love for life that shook me to my American anxiety-ridden core.

In Italy, it’s customary to have dinners that last for three hours; naps in the middle of the day are a-okay; employers insist on employees taking vacations; and long lunch breaks are acceptable.

Listening to our tour guide, Giulio, explain the pace of life in Italy, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Why is this so difficult for me to understand?”

It was as though he was telepathically plugged into my brain; he answered:

“We Italians work to live and don’t live to work. We love the sweet life, la dolce vita.”

He may not know it, but Giulio smacked me with a much-needed reality check. I had fallen into the “live to work” category, and after going to Italy I couldn’t help but think I was missing out on living the best (and most healthy) life possible.

Now that I’m back home in the U.S., I’ve made some changes to help me change my mindset.

Set Boundaries and Stick to Them

It’s easy to talk about boundaries or implement them. Unfortunately, it’s challenging to stick to them. That’s how new habits are made, and new patterns of life become ingrained in us. Some boundaries I recommend include:

  • Read something you enjoy in bed. This means either going to the library and checking out a book or finding one on your e-Reader (*cough* I have a few self-published stories on Amazon and Kindle Vella you could start with *affiliate links*). Whatever you choose to read must not be work or school-related.
  • Set your phone to automatically go to “Do Not Disturb” at a certain point in the day. Perhaps sometime before cooking dinner.
  • Walk away from your desk at work. Go outside and eat your lunch or meander over to the break room. Maybe you can use this time to reach your step goal for the day. This is an extraordinarily refreshing boundary to set because:
  1. You can get to learn more about your co-workers.
  2. You’re giving yourself a mental reset.
  3. You’re making it clear that you’re putting your needs first.
  4. It’s a reminder to yourself (and others) that work will be there when you get back. For now, enjoy that afternoon coffee and a warm lunch.

If you find it difficult to walk away from your desk because “you get in the zone,” set an alarm on your phone for every couple of hours as a reminder to move — and stick to it. Don’t hit that snooze button!

Face the Tough Truth about Your Employer

If your employer is being rude or guilt-tripping you about taking your (well-deserved and entitled) lunch break to spend as you please, you need to ask yourself two questions:

  • Are they really the employer you want to work for?
  • Are they seeing you as a person or as something disposable?

Not everyone can quit and find other work, but it might be time to start researching a new position, if possible. You may be regarded as just a number or a warm body making the wheel turn to your employers.

If that’s the case, it’s time to go somewhere where you’re appreciated. Or, go have a closed-door conversation with your boss and let it be known you have a voice, you’re a person, and you will not be treated in such a fashion. (P.S. That’s also where Human Resources (H.R.) can come into play, and those positions exist for you.)

Dedicate Time for Yourself

Make yourself #1 in your list of priorities. If it means going into your office, shutting the door, and writing, painting, drawing, or simply listening to some music, do it! Also, let your family know when it’s “me time.”

Don’t have a room to retreat too? That’s fine. You can still let your loved ones or roommate know when it’s “me time” in other ways.

For example, when I have my headphones on at the computer, I’m in “Do Not Disturb” mode. Is my Frank Sinatra music playing while I’m cooking dinner or am I under Bob Marley’s magic while soaking in a bubble bath? If so, leave me alone.

No matter how you choose to find time for yourself, do it. After all, if you don’t take care of yourself, how do you possibly expect to care for your loved ones?

Use Your Weekends Wisely

If you find yourself hitting Sunday and still feeling exhausted, you didn’t use your weekend well.

Also, let’s go ahead and jump directly to another honest point: Two-day weekends are garbage; a consistent three-day weekend (and four-day workweek) is refreshing.

It might be possible for you to have such a schedule. If you’re self-employed, you have few excuses. But if you’re employed by someone else, let me ask you two more questions:

  • Have you looked at your company’s policy to see if working four days instead of five is an option?
  • Have you wondered if you can have such a schedule?

You may find it mutually beneficial to do four 10-hour workdays to get your 40 hours a week. Also, it never hurts to ask. The worst your employer can say is “no.”

Spend your Hard-Earned Money to Improve Your Quality of Life

I’m trying to be careful with this statement because in no way do I want you to sink yourself into debt because you think a new 70" 4-D television is going to improve your quality of life.

No. No. No.

In another recent article, I discuss more of this in-depth. My point is, if you can budget yourself in a way that the benefits outweigh the costs, then it’s worth it, especially if it boils down to free up something priceless like time.

How can you do this?

Hire out services or get a membership.

Pre-pandemic, I was a dedicated grocery pick-up person. After crunching the numbers and logging my time spent shopping for one month compared to how many hours I saved doing grocery pick-up, the amount of free time I was able to carve out was shocking.

If you’re interested in Walmart pickup or delivery, here’s a referral link that helps you earn $15 off your first order for just trying it out. (*Note: This is an affiliate link and I will also earn a percentage off my Walmart order as well.)

Always Have Your Next Vacation Scheduled

Even if it means you take time off to stay local, go camping, or take a weekend road trip, do it. This has a few psychological benefits:

  1. You always have something to look forward to.
  2. It re-emphasizes to your employer (and to those around you) that you’re putting yourself first.

A lot of the recommendations above boil down to time and time management. But I’d like to offer a friendly reminder: You have an unknown amount of time to live in this world. Use your time to its fullest and happiest potential.

You deserve it.

Looking for a few more recommendations on how to achieve a good work-life balance? Consider these tips.

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Top Writer in Humor and Travel on Medium. Self-published fiction author on Amazon and serialized writer on Kindle Vella. A long-time resident of the Gulf Coast & Full-Time RVer who enjoys covering local and unique topics.

Pensacola, FL
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