How to make the most of your weekend

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


6 thoughts on “How to make the most of your weekend

  1. Hi Laura – I follow your blog with interest. I’m an empty-nester, so my weekends without kids are very different than yours, but my husband and I have a system for creating meaningful weekends that leave us refreshed – and prepared – for the coming week. Would you be open to a guest blog post on what I consider to be the perfect weekend structure?

  2. Hi Laura,
    I read your blog nearly every day and loved your book! It’s given me much to think about. As a single empty-nester, I don’t have a shortage of time. Instead, I am in the enviable position of trying to figure out how I want to spend it!

    I agree that experiences make me happier than things. I have chosen a theme of “Living Large” for 2011 – more learning, more family & friends, more travel and more in my savings account. I already have a trip scheduled for April, am taking 2 courses, and have regular soup and game nights with friends. Nothing in the savings area yet!

  3. I like this post. I am 37 (almost 38 weeks prego) and also like the idea of this woman’s to talk about what you do when you don’t have kids — might even be interesting for those of us with kids b/c we also are interested in quality time for ourselves and with our partners even though so much of our time is child focused… a kid free wekend or two days is good for anyone.

    Right now I am very focused on keeping my blood pressure under control (it’s a little though not induction-worthy high) and nesting so we are staying home more than I like for the next two or three weeks and I have found that has its own pleasures as the do something thing can get exhausting

    My kid takes a regular music class Sat. a.m.’s which gets us out of the house Sat. a.m. It is relatively easy to tack sledding or a museum trip to that or on a sunday

    I had planned a visit to a dinosaur exhibit but also have a pass to a local indoor play center so she did the class and indoor center with daddy… and unfortunately I did sorting and housework… (I had the cleanign lady but felt a need to pick up the general disaster that was keeping her from finishing her tasks )
    umm she can’t put the folded clothes away if i don thav eany of the closets cleaned out and/or if my 2 year olds drawers are a mess but I did feel good that the xmas tree finally got down —

    I do find that a little tv — time to read — and time away from work are all good.. one dilemma is if you can get a little work done on a weekend sometimes it does take the pressure off the weekday but then again setting specific project goals for the week, finishing them and then just cutting yourself a break on the weekends to really focus on these other things can be good

    Also it was 20 degrees outside this past weekend so some nesting and staying home can be good.

    I agree about socializing (and research backs this up that it is one of the things that most makes you happy)
    either with other couples, as a couple say date night or when you have young kids doing this with other folks with young kids can kill a lot of birds — your social need bird, your need to keep your kid entertained in 20 degrees without tv, etc.

    Sex is a pretty easy thing to try to work in and is an easy and cheap way to hold a relationship together… even if not perfect, just do it as nike says seems to be half the battle for a lot of folks.. good eating is hard with young kids but again play dates work for this b/c more adults means more time to eat .. also getting a babysitter to hit a restaurant or ordering a great lunch during the workweek is one way I enjoy my food without the pressure of trying to feed kids

    1. @Cara- there could probably be a whole post on when to schedule kids’ lessons. We had been doing swim at 11AM on Sat, but that kind of messes up the weekend – because then it’s nap time so we haven’t had a chance to go anywhere. Moving it to Sun late afternoon has helped – because we’re usually around Sun night anyway, and that leaves the weekend days free for bigger things.

  4. Good point about the lessons and leaving time — I have/had her in a class on Monday nights that I am torn about b/c it is nice if she’s had a nap and a disaster if she hasn’t and you do want to get them home from childcare on weeknight and get in some family time in the house… thought it might be fun to keep doing it w new baby since I have grandma b/c it is a way for us to connect

    morning lessons and programs do kind of eliminate day trips which can be more fulfilling as a family than lesson here one hour there etc.

    I wonder how you handle it when one needs a nap and the other doesnt…just drag the younger one along is always an option I think…

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