I am working on a feature for a magazine on “how to make the most of your weekend.” It’s not exactly a new topic, but always a good one to think about.
Why? Most of us don’t do weekends well. As I argue in Chapter 8 of 168 Hours, many of us don’t treat our leisure time with respect. We assume we don’t have any of it, or we think it sounds sad to be scheduling leisure time. But that leaves us vulnerable to turning weekends into soul-sucking TV fests, or a death march of chores and children’s activities. If we work 50 hours a week and sleep 8 a night (56) that still leaves 62 hours for other things. Housework and childcare consume some of this. But not all of it. Treating our weekends with respect involves thinking through how we want to spend them.
But fear not! There are some good guidelines, rooted in happiness research, to make weekend optimization easier:
- Plan ahead. So you’re a spontaneous person. Great. There will still be time for spontaneity if you think through 3 things you’d like to put on the calendar ahead of time. Planning ahead ensures a few things. One, that you’ll actually get tickets, a babysitter, or leave for that day-trip before 2pm. And second, this gives you something to look forward to. Anticipation accounts for a big chunk of the happiness associated with any given event. Why 3? It’s enough to make the weekend feel full, but not enough to fill all the available space.
- Realize what we actually enjoy. Researchers have studied which moments of peoples’ days make them happiest. It should be no surprise that commuting is at the bottom, and sex is on top. Eating is right up near the top too, as is relaxing. You should definitely aim to eat and have sex during your weekend. And relax. Assuming that you can pull this off, though, the next three biggies are socializing, religious/spiritual activities, and exercise. So as you’re choosing your 3 things, try one in each category. This could mean having friends over for dinner, going to church, and going for a run. That’s plenty. Or you could get more ambitious and schedule a day-long hike with your extended family, plus a shift volunteering at a food bank. Bonus points if you hit multiple elements on each one.
- When in doubt, spend your money on experiences, not stuff. Shopping often becomes recreation. We’re prone to believing that a sweater is a justifiable purchase — we need stuff to wear, right? But most of us probably have enough clothes. Better to use that money on something that at first glance seems fleeting, like a family cheese making class. You will likely enjoy the memory of the cheese class more than another sweater hanging in your closet.
I’ve been trying to incorporate these principles into my weekends — though sometimes it’s difficult to carve out time to plan ahead. (I know! I have time. I just often don’t make it a priority). We had friends over for dinner on Friday, and planned ahead to rent a car and drive out to New Jersey on Saturday. We went to the Liberty Science Center, which was a lot of fun for the boys. Then they had total meltdowns, including a tantrum that involved Jasper lying on the floor of REI. Sunday was somewhat of a wash, since Sam proceeded to stay up screaming for chunks of Saturday night. But I did get a run in on Sunday. So a decent weekend, except for the screaming. And fortunately, they come every week, so you can always try again.