If you can't remember the last time you left the office before dark, or you spent your so-called free time not constantly checking job-related emails, then chances are, your work-life balance stinks. And that's problematic, because it could not only wind up hurting your personal relationships, but also messing with your sanity and putting you at risk of burnout.

If your work-life balance is virtually nonexistent, it's imperative that you make some changes. Here are a few to consider.

1. Institute email-free hours at night and on weekends

Email is a wonderful thing in that it helps us easily stay connected. But that ease of communication can come at a cost, especially when you find that you're constantly replying to messages to avoid waking up to an overloaded inbox. If the never-ending flow of email is making it impossible for you to get a real mental break from work, the solution could boil down to banning electronic communication during preset periods. To this end, designate certain hours where email is off-limits -- say, from 9:00PM onward on weeknights, and on Saturdays and Sundays from noon through the end of the day.

Man sitting at laptop, covering his face


2. Commit to a family or friends dinner at least once a week

It's easier to separate yourself from work when you have other places you need to be. That's why it pays to set up a recurring dinner, or other gathering, during the week with family or friends, and pledge to be there on time. Having that meetup on your schedule is a good way to force yourself to limit your work time, all the while helping to maintain relationships with the important people in your life.

3. Set better boundaries at the office

Chances are, your lack of a work-life balance is partly due to the fact that you have trouble saying no to people at the office, whether it's your boss asking you to stay late to help on a project or a colleague begging for your input on a major presentation. Of course, being that person who always pitches in or comes to the rescue might help your career in some ways, but if you take that behavior to too much of an extreme, you'll risk destroying any semblance of a personal life.

The solution? Learn to say no, at least sometimes. Pledge to pick up and leave if you've stayed late the past three nights in a row, and firmly but politely tell your co-workers that while you'd normally love to assist them, you need a bit of a reprieve.

4. Work more efficiently

Maximizing your time at the office could make it possible to put in fewer hours without having it impact your output. Therefore, take a look at how you typically spend your workday, and identify productivity-zappers that may be wasting your time. If you make a point to stop joining your colleagues for their afternoon coffee breaks, or to excuse yourself from meetings that don't really require your attendance, you might get more done, thereby reducing the need to burn the midnight oil.

A better work-life balance can improve your health and your outlook. Even if you love what you do for a living, you still need some separation from your job. Pay attention to the amount of time you're spending on work matters, and scale back if it's excessive. Otherwise, you'll risk burning out and hurting your career and well-being in more ways than one.