Planning weekends strategically


I stumbled upon this gem of a book called ‘What the most successful people do on the weekend’ by Laura Vanderkam that had some profound thoughts on why we should spend time on weekends in a more responsible manner.

The futurists didn’t necessarily predict this. Back in 1959, amid the rise of labor-saving technology and massive productivity gains, the Harvard Business Review fretted that “boredom, which used to bother only aristocrats” had “become a common curse.” “Why has leisure been such a conspicuous casualty of prosperity?” Being busy has become the explanation of choice for all sorts of things.

In a world of constant connectivity, even loafing time must be consciously chosen, because time will be filled with something whether it’s consciously chosen or not—and not choosing means that the something that fills our hours will be less fulfilling than the something our remembering selves will likely wish we’d elected to do. While “nothing” in Keats’ day meant watching the clouds float by, nothing now means weekend hours parked on the sofa watching television we didn’t mean to watch, surfing Web sites we didn’t plan to surf, and checking e-mail in an inefficient manner.

What all this means is that giving a structure to our weekends is worth a thought. It leads to two decisions that together create weekends that leave you rejuvenated and ready to go: choosing labors of a different sort and embracing the benefits of anticipation.

The experiencing self seldom encounters pure bliss, but the anticipating self never has to go to the bathroom in the middle of a favorite band’s concert and is never cold from too much air conditioning in that theater showing the sequel to a favorite flick. Planning a few anchor events for a weekend guarantees you pleasure because—even if all goes wrong at the moment—you still will have derived some pleasure from the anticipation.

“The greatest achievement of the human brain is its ability to imagine objects and episodes that do not exist in the realm of the real,” he writes. “The frontal lobe—the last part of the human brain to evolve, the slowest to mature, and the first to deteriorate in old age—is a time machine that allows each of us to vacate the present and experience the future before it happens.” This time travel into the future—otherwise known as anticipation—accounts for a big chunk of the happiness gleaned from any event. As you look forward to something good that is about to happen, you experience some of the same joy you would at the moment. The major difference is that the joy can last much longer.

Success in a competitive world requires hitting Monday refreshed and ready to go. The only way to do that is to create weekends that rejuvenate you rather than exhaust or disappoint you.

A good weekend needs a plan. Not a minute-by-minute plan, not a spreadsheet full of details, but just a few fun anchor events sketched in ahead of time.

So, what are some of the things we should consider doing on our weekends?


Obviously, grocery shopping has to happen at some point, but a late-weekday-evening visit can make for an efficient trip. Or, if you live near a big city, you can order groceries online during a boring conference call. Then it’s done without sacrificing weekend time.
If you use weekdays for chores, rather than weekends, you may just spend less time on chores—because you have less time. The time you don’t spend on chores can be freed up for more meaningful things. One way to do this? Designate a small chore time. Perhaps it’s Saturday evening while you’re waiting for a babysitter, or Friday evening right after dinner and before watching a movie.

The big reason is that many chores expand to fill the available time. The key thing with chores and weekends is not to focus so much on easily seen and measured goals, such as scratching everything off that grocery list, that you divert energy from your highest value projects: nurturing your relationships, nurturing your career, nurturing yourself. Down to the activities they and you enjoy most. When it comes to making the most of the leisure time, depth and focus tend to bring more happiness than a scattershot approach where you never get a chance to go all-in toward mastery.

2. Schedule downtime – This is the paradox of weekends: “You have to set an appointment to go off the grid as surely as to go on it.” You have to realize that this rest time is too precious to be totally leisurely about leisure. “Don’t enter into it with such a lack of structure that you don’t do anything because you spend all day thinking about what you want to do. As Anatole France once wrote, “Man is so made that he can only find relaxation from one kind of labor by taking up another.”

3. Never sit and watch TV – It consumes a lot of time and energy unnecessarily. Instead, we could put out cognitive surplus to good use.

4. Passion projects or side hustles – What would you like to say you’ve done by the end of the year in the major categories of life? What would you like to accomplish in your career, in your relationships, and for yourself? Then break down these goals into smaller steps, and try to incorporate at least one of these steps into your weekly plan.

It’s the same with weekends, which are miniature versions of the holidays we struggle to optimize. It is always easier to do “nothing” (meaningless somethings) and do only the things we have to do. Cast loose from the schedule of work and school, we list around. We don’t think about what we’d like to do with our time, and so we live a constrained version of life.

5. End Sunday night on a high note – Other kinds of work—be it exercise, a creative hobby, hands-on parenting, or volunteering—will do more to preserve your zest for Monday’s challenges than complete vegetation or working through the weekend. Aliza Rosen, a reality TV producer who’s dreamed up series like Farm Kings and Curvy Girls, does Vinyasa (“hot”) yoga at 6 p.m. on Sundays. One equally great way to end the weekend is to volunteer. Nothing will take your mind off any problems associated with your decent-paying and steady job like serving people who aren’t so fortunate.

6. A spiritual approach to weekends – Spiritual edification is more important than cooking and cleaning, a point Jesus made to Mary and Martha in the Gospels. Comforting a teen after a rough high school dance is more important than finishing the dishes in the sink.

I keep the Jewish Sabbath, which is not something I did when I was eighteen. For twenty-five hours each week, everything gets turned off. No e-mail. No phone. I don’t make anything. I don’t destroy anything. No matter how much stress I have in my life, it all evaporates on Friday night.

My pianos are my only big indulgence, but they’re a necessity,” he said. “When I’m playing the piano is literally the only time I can be completely abstract and disconnected from the regular world and yet be connected—to my music.

This different approach to thinking is why Dominique Schurman, CEO of the stationery company Papyrus, calls exercise “almost a job requirement. It allows me to kind of release the tension and clears my head. I get a lot of ideas when I’m exercising,” she told me. She goes on long runs and swims, and also gardens—a physical activity that she calls “a creative outlet. I just like to work on what goes well together.” As she moves her pots around, she studies different ways to combine color and texture, not unlike what she asks her card designers to do during the week. “Since I do that in my job, I kind of enjoy a tactile dimension,” she says. “I find that relaxing.”

7. Make time to explore – Someday, perhaps, you will be staring at the snow from the too simple room of a hospital or nursing home, dreaming of the days when making snowmen with your children was an option. This realization leads to a different question than that suggested by all these tips on simplifying the holidays. Namely, what are you saving your energy for? This is all there is. Anything could happen, and you are not guaranteed another snowman. So make a fuss. Make a show. Spend your energy now.

8. Use your mornings – Especially, for your passion projects.

9. Create traditions – These habits are what become memories—and comforting rituals boost happiness.

To conclude, there are sixty hours between the moment you crack open a beer at 6 p.m. Friday and the time the alarm goes off at 6 a.m. Monday. Sixty hours is a decently high percentage of a 168-hour week. Even if you’re asleep for twenty-four of those hours, that still leaves thirty-six hours for waking rejuvenation. That’s the equivalent of a full-time job—and this is a helpful mindset to have. You would not take a thirty-six-hour per week job without asking what you intended to do with it and what you expect the outcome to be.

“What do you want to do more of with your time?”