A Book Review of “Boundaries, Priorities, and Finding Work-Life Balance”

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By Professor Anthony Patterson

Achieving a healthy equilibrium between work and personal life is an age-old struggle, but in today’s always-on digital age, it can feel harder than ever. “Boundaries, Priorities, and Finding Work-Life Balance,” an installment in the HBR Work Smart series, tackles this challenge head-on. Through a curated collection of articles from leading thinkers in business and psychology, the book provides a roadmap for professionals, particularly those early in their careers, to avoid burnout and craft a more sustainable, fulfilling life.

The book’s central theme, articulated by professors Ioana Lupu and Mayra Ruiz-Castro, is that work-life balance is a continuous cycle, not a one-time goal. They advise readers to regularly pause, take stock of their emotions, reassess their priorities, weigh alternatives, and implement changes. This framework sets the stage for the book’s subsequent sections which delve into setting boundaries, beating burnout, managing to-do lists, and prioritizing self-care.

Organizational psychologist Janna Koretz sheds light on how overidentifying with work can lead to burnout and lost sense of self. The remedy, she argues, is to consciously invest in an identity outside the office – in hobbies, community, and relationships.

 Liz Wiseman, author of “Rookie Smarts,” contends that burnout stems not just from overwork, but from having too little impact. Her antidote involves reducing “phantom workloads,” continuously optimizing job scope to focus on high-impact work, and proactively sharing leadership responsibilities.

 Carson Tate, a productivity consultant, presents a memorable E.M.P.O.W.E.R. framework for evaluating and diplomatically declining superfluous requests that can lead to overload. Amantha Imber, host of the “How I Work” podcast, argues that peak productivity is achieved not by time management, but by guarding one’s energy – taking restorative breaks aligned with ultradian rhythms and minimizing context-switching and distractions.

Elizabeth Grace Saunders, a time management coach, provides tips for balancing full-time work with education, side hustles, or passion projects. Morra Aarons-Mele, host of The Anxious Achiever podcast, shares personal practices for quieting one’s inner critic – that internal voice pressuring us to be “always on.”

The book’s final section powerfully illustrates how boundaries and balance are ultimately about self-care. Professors Bonnie Hayden Cheng and Yolanda Na Li share research on how even small amounts of exercise can yield significant performance and well-being gains. Executive coach Rebecca Zucker enumerates the mental health, immune system, and even spiritual benefits of truly unplugging on vacation.

While professionals at any stage will find value in “Boundaries, Priorities, and Finding Work-Life Balance,” the book is a particular gift to early-career professionals who have an opportunity to establish healthy, sustainable habits from the start. The diverse array of expert voices, relatable anecdotes, and practical frameworks make the book’s insights highly accessible and actionable. For anyone feeling depleted by work and hungry for more in life, this guide provides a path forward.