We spend our working weeks in a frantic race against deadlines and battling an ever-growing to-do list. But while the Monday-Friday haul is all about maximising our productivity and efficiency, weekends should be a time to unwind.
The most successful people at work reserve those precious 60 hours for relaxing and re-charging their batteries for the week ahead.
“We put a fair amount of thought into how we spend our workdays, or at least we’re usually accountable to someone for that time,” says US-based career expert Laura Vanderkam. “Time off is more nebulous, and so we have a harder time using it well.
“But I think that leisure time is too precious to be totally leisurely about leisure. There are ways we can all use the 60 hours between that 6pm Friday beer and 6am Monday alarm clock better. And by better, I don’t mean doing more work. I mean actually enjoying ourselves and achieving the goal of any weekend: rejuvenation, and the ability to face Monday ready to go.”
Needless to say, this doesn’t involve binge drinking – however tempting it may be to down two bottles of Pinot come Friday night – and nor should it entail endlessly fretting about work (or worse, actually working).
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Instead, it’s about planning ahead for a period of time that is deliberately calm, refreshing and uplifting. Here are five ways to do exactly that:
1. Make a conscious effort to disconnect
It’s very difficult to turn off at the weekend but if you really want to re-charge, that’s exactly what you have to do. And this starts with work itself. If at all possible, you should avoid pulling a “workend” – or if really do have to work, try to limit it to two hours a weekend or one weekend a month. Otherwise it can quickly spiral out of control.
“If we consistently work long unsocial hours it will also affect our relationships,” Lancaster University Management School’s professor Cary Cooper. “If you don’t invest in the people in your home then things will go wrong there and that unhappiness feeds back into your work, making you feel less effective and secure at work. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Ideally, you should also resist the temptation to check work emails – if your job allows, try disconnecting your account from your phone come Friday night or put your phone on silent with a sound alert for urgent messages only.
In fact, turning off in general is a good idea at weekends, even if it’s just leaving your phone at home for the evening or turning it off while you go walking for a couple of hours. Think of it as a mini digital detox leading to greater happiness in the long run.
“We’re constantly having our attention distracted and distraction is a cost,” says Professor Paul Dolan, of the London School of Economics. “When you switch tasks it requires attention. Paying attention to what you’re doing and who you are with and turning your phone off and enjoying being with your friends is much better for you than constantly checking your phone and checking emails.”
2. Plan ahead
It may seem like a contradiction to create a schedule out of your relaxing downtime, but planning a few great “anchor” events will help give your weekend purpose.
We all know the mopey sense of despondency that comes from having wasted your weekend hungover on the sofa, but if you work ahead you can maximise the impact of your time off. You can then slot in relaxation and smaller activities – napping, taking the dog for a walk – around the anchor events, such as meeting a friend for lunch or booking tickets to a new exhibition.
By scheduling in things to do at the weekend, you also give it a sense of happy anticipation. And it works on a practical level too.
“I love spontaneity and embrace it when it happens, but I cannot bank my pleasure solely on it,” says Vanderkam.
“Hitting the weekend without a plan means you may not get to do what you want. You’ll use up energy in negotiations with other family members. You’ll start late and the museum will close when you’ve only been there an hour. Your favourite restaurant will be booked up – and even if, miraculously, you score a table, think of how much more you would have enjoyed the last few days knowing that you’d be eating those seared scallops on Saturday night! When you plan enjoyable things ahead of time, you magnify the pleasure.”
The key to all this is teaching yourself to associate the concept of planning with things that you want to enjoy, rather than things you are avoiding – not an easy distinction, but it will happen with practise.
3. Avoid doing too much housework
Many of us save up chores and errands to do in bulk at the weekend. But that runs the risk of us spending more time on mundane tasks such as ironing or cleaning the oven – not only because we have more to do, but also because we have more time to do it in.
So the period you give yourself to do tasks will naturally expand over time, until you find yourself spending most of Sunday cleaning the house.
Experts recommend spreading the housework out during the week and setting yourself time limits to do particular chores.
Blogger Erin Doland of Unclutter.com abides by the “one day, one room” rule.
“Dedicate half an hour to cleaning one room every day instead of cleaning the whole house on the weekend,” she explains. “My husband and I still subscribe to this policy. In addition to picking up after ourselves throughout the day, we set aside 15 to 30 minutes for more intensive cleaning tasks like vacuuming, scrubbing toilets, and sweeping and mopping floors. Mondays we deep clean the dining room and kitchen, Tuesdays are foyer and living room, Wednesdays are bathrooms, Thursdays are bedroom, and Fridays are our shared office. We have created playlists that are 15 to 30 minutes long on our iPods with collections of fun songs to listen to while we clean. So, when the music stops, our cleaning tasks are usually coming to a close.”
If it all sounds a bit too organised, bear in mind that you at least need to put a strict cut-off on time spend vacuuming or queuing at the bank. Aim to get it all done by 11am on Saturday, to get it out of the way and stop it nagging at you as you enjoy the rest of the time left.
4. Do something new
For years, scientists have linked learning to happiness so it’s no surprise that learning new skills and experiencing something different leads to a greater sense of happiness and fulfillment.
A 2012 study by San Francisco State University found that people who spend money on experiences such as cinema tickets or a weekend away were happier than those who spent money on material goods. Researchers also discovered that those who were more inclined to spend their disposable income on experiences were more likely to be extroverts, with an openness to new skills and ideas.
“Even for people who naturally find themselves drawn to material purchases, our results suggest that getting more of a balance between traditional purchases and those that provide you with an experience could lead to greater life satisfaction and well-being,” they concluded.
Of course, doing something new doesn’t have to involve spending money. It could be as simple as taking a look around a museum you haven’t been to for ages, volunteering at your local refugee network, helping out on an allotment or setting up a free language exchange to learn a different language. Vanderkam recommends people to “dig deep” and rediscover a favourite childhood skill such as playing the piano or cycling.
An important element to this is achieving a sense of pleasurable concentration and creative focus that will make the hours fly by. Over 30 years ago, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined this state as “flow”. Once you have trained your brain, like a muscle, to “flow” at the weekend it may be easier to do so during the working week, with tasks you actually have to do.
“The real challenge,” as Csikszentmihalyi explains “is to take something that you have to do that has purpose and meaning” and work out how to induce a state of flow while doing it. “It’s possible to experience your job and your family life as flow, and that to me is more important than that we provide opportunities for flow in art and sports.”
5. Spend time with your loved ones
It’s hardly the world’s biggest mystery that spending time with people we like makes us healthier and happier – yet we are surprisingly remiss at carving out the space to make this happen. Wishing to have spent more time with friends is one of the top five regrets of the dying (as found by a Guardiansurvey), while countless studies have shown that spending time with loved ones is far more important to well-being and contentedness than say, income or job satisfaction.
In fact, loneliness has been proven to be twice as unhealthy as obesity for older people, meaning social interaction is important to your physical and emotional state as well as being desirable.
If you think about it, most of the activities we associate with having fun – meals out, playing football, going to concerts, cooking food – are associated with other people.
“We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends,” according to Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert.
As exercise is so often linked to well-being and relaxation, it’s not a bad idea to shoehorn in some group-based sports, like a mass run, to your weekend. The same goes for community-based activities and volunteering.
But whatever you do and however you do it, make sure you eek out the time to be with those people who are most important to you, and who make you happy.
“Successful people make time for what is important or fun,” says professional careers coach Marsha Egan. “They make space for activities that add to their life balance.”