Making the Most of Your Weekends

In 168 Hours, I write that people who build full lives — at work and at home — think through how they want to spend their leisure time. It is very tempting not to plan one’s free time, both those after work hours and weekend hours that appear on a regular basis, and some people viscerally resist the idea of scheduling what is supposed to be down time. But here’s the problem with that approach:

  • We spend a lot of time not working. Even when we work full-time. If you work 50 hours per week, and sleep 8 hours per night (56 hours per week) this still leaves 62 hours for other things. Work 40 hours? That leaves 72. This is a lot of time to let sail by.
  • We live in a distracted world. Those hours will be filled with something. The question is whether that something will be email, TV, puttering around the house, listening to bad radio while you’re stuck in traffic on the way to the mall, or something you’d prefer.
  • Happiness research is increasingly finding that the anticipation of an event — as much as the actual event itself — is responsible for boosting our mood. While you’re on vacation, you’re obsessed with hunting for a clean bathroom and stores that won’t shortchange you. Before and afterwards, however, you’re pondering the wonderful memories you will create or have created. Planning ahead lets us get the maximum happiness boost by savoring the anticipation.
So that’s the case for planning one’s weekends and evenings. All easier said than done, however. When I’m tracking my time and posting my logs here, I’m pretty good about that. Not so much with less public time. But this weekend I was reminded of why it’s a good idea.
We finally decided (earlier in the week) that we would go into New York City for the weekend — our first family trip back since we moved three months ago. One of Michael’s colleagues was hosting a birthday party Saturday evening, and one of our wonderful babysitters who still lived in NYC agreed to watch the boys. So we had an anchor event. Then we built the weekend around that. We decided to go apple picking on Saturday, and planned a get-together in Central Park with the families of Jasper’s former pre-school classmates for Sunday. So that was three things — what I’ve learned is a solid number to plan. Then the spontaneous stuff can fit in around that.
In the spontaneous category, I wound up going on a nice nature walk Saturday morning (the trail running thing is now officially done until after baby Ruth arrives — hopefully in 2-3 weeks). We went to a pizzeria with the kids in NYC on Saturday night before departing for the party, and to a classic diner in the morning. I spent two hours in Madison Square Park with the kids on Sunday morning, watching them play with each other, and observing the somewhat neurotic hovering of parents of young toddlers who only have one kid (which I’m sure was me 2.5 years ago). And the anchor events were pretty fun as well. I’m always excited to get to dressed up and go out on Saturday night, and Central Park was just glorious on Sunday afternoon, with about a dozen kids in our group running up and down the lawn by Le Pain Quotidian. We thought we might stay until 2PM or so and didn’t wind up leaving the city until closer to 4PM.
Of course, in the thick of a full weekend, there are low points. For instance, I didn’t really sleep much between a combination of pregnancy discomfort and then sharing a bed with an almost 2-year-old in our hotel. Saturday morning, I got so frustrated with our attempts to get out of the house and get going that I wound up curled up on the couch. Jasper refused to go to the bathroom in Central Park, even though I warned that we wouldn’t have access to a bathroom for a while. Then we got stuck in what turned out to be an hour-long traffic jam getting into the Holland Tunnel, during which he announced that he had to go potty right now. So I wound up taking him into this McDonalds while Michael (and Sam) inched along in traffic. Ugh. And traffic jams themselves are always a low point of NYC travel (reminding me of one reason we left).
But over time, those memories tend to moderate themselves, and you remember that you actually did something with your time. It is easy not to do things because you’re tired. But you’ll always be tired. So you can not fill a weekend because you’re tired, or fill it and still be tired, but at least have the memories to savor afterwards.
How do you make the most of your weekends?

10 thoughts on “Making the Most of Your Weekends

  1. Making the most of my weekends is definitely not my best thing. I have so many competing interests: time with family, time with friends, time for TV, time for blogging, time for baking, time for organizing for the next week. I try my best to plan the weekend by Wednesday or Thursday at the latest. That way, I can look forward to the weekend and have things mostly go as planned instead of bumbling around Saturday morning without a solid game plan and end up doing nothing.

    1. @Sarah- I like the idea of planning your weekend by Wednesday. It strikes me as similar to that book “The Rules” that came out like 15 years ago and made everyone apoplectic. It was about time-tested secrets for capturing the heart of Mr. Right — but one of the most memorable “rules” was not to accept a Saturday night date after Wednesday. If he wants you, he’ll call you by then. If not, you were probably not choice A. One can debate the merits of that as a romantic strategy, but one reason to plan a Saturday date by Wednesday is that both of you are looking forward to it, thinking about what will happen, etc. Very hot. And so, it’s the same thing with planning a weekend. If you didn’t think of it by Wednesday, maybe it wasn’t that important to you…

  2. I went to a beautiful food event yesterday (Eat Local, DRINK GLOBAL) was the logo– to support our local watershed, took my daughter out doing deliveries with me for our small business. The friend who invited me is a food writer and she spontaneously invited me on Sunday a.m. for a free ticket on Sunday p.m. Took her to her Sat. a.m. music class which is my anchor event on Sat. to get the weekend started.. Also I read the book Don’t Check Your Email in The Morning and she suggests doing something like getting a pedicure or whatever it is that you like at the end of the workday on Fridays to set the pace for the weekend.. Right now I have a 7 month old and a 2.9 year old and sleep as you know is just not there the way it should be … in solid 7 hour blocks etc… But I went for a mini facial and mini massage on Friday night and I had a coupon so I invited my neighbor and friend and mom who is part of my support system .. so even on 4 hours sleep I was glowing and in a good mood to take my kids out for pizza on Friday night with grandma even though my husband had to work late. I just wanted to share that tip about the transition and free time b/c you wouldn’t think I also love the idea of some planning some spontanaity — and socializing as part of it and building your social network both your own and that of your kids. After something for myself Sunday a.m. (weight watchers meeting) I took my kids and a friend to the park all morning then met the other mom with whom I do a babysitting coop. My only issue with kids and a full time work schedule is that sometimes my weekends don’t have enough downtime… I’ve sort of made peace with the fact that as business owners my husband and I have to work some of the weekends (him more than I) and with two kids if I want one on one time I have to try and accept that weekends are for my own personal rejuvenation as much as possible in small increments and for the kids and family building especially now that weeknights are getting dark and cold. I see how once they are 4 or 5 you can build more you time back in so I’m trying to live in the moment…But Monday morning is very hard for me as a working mom bc I feel like I have to recover from the weekend and get back to work.. and it is hard .. Also I think your social network can be a source of info.. I passed a friend of mine on the way home from music class who informed me there was pirate festival and free singing pirates at the shopping center where we had ot go anyway so that made for an errand run and awesome time!

  3. sorry, didn’t think I made my point here so here it is: I just wanted to share that tip about the transition and free time b/c you wouldn’t think a book about work productivity would talk about down time or the importance of downtown.. but it is the first 2 chapters or something of “Don’t Check Your Email In the AM”
    and the research does show that very successful people have learned to delegate or prioritize so they can have very memorable free time and relationships… my new goal is to start my Friday workday earlylike 7:30 or 8 a..m and then do something for me from 4 to 5:15 p.m. without kids probably.. exercise or whatever !

    1. The idea of transition time is a good one…I’m trying to figure out how to build something like that into my day because I have a hard time putting away my thoughts after certain types of work days. I end up still trying to work on something in my head, and am often preoccupied with it during family time.

      1. @Cara and different Cara – I like the idea of transition times too. It’s very hard to get in the habit of doing when you work from home, because since there is no commute, the tendency is to work work work right up until whatever moment you have to be done (like your childcare ending or your spouse coming home or whatever the dividing line is for you) and then plunging into your other responsibilities. But the experience can leave you fragged. I’m trying to even do something like go to the mailbox to get the mail and walk around the house — just something to demarcate home and work. Sometimes I try the psychological trick of shutting my office door, but I’m smarter than that. I know it can be opened again.

    2. This post struck a chord with me. I remember when my son was in daycare I would rush to drop him off, work all day (sometimes without even taking a break), rush to pick him up and then rush to take him home to eat, play, bathe, etc. I used to think it would be wonderful if the daycare had a transition room for parents – soft music, tea, maybe a chair massage. Of course it was a fantasy but that would have really helped me ease into the 2nd part of my day.

  4. You have no idea how much this post struck a chord with me (and not only because we live in Philadelphia and have made two trips up to NYC this past month with our young son and when we’re in the heat of the moment of traffic where my husband and I look at each other and say “never again”).

    While I’ve been good about keeping our weekends with things to do, it seems as though a lot of our weekend time is dictated by other people’s events (e.g., birthday parties, weddings, work events, friends/family visiting, etc.). These events are absolutely lovely and I feel honored to get to celebrate these great events with people I think are pretty groovy, but I think we’re reaching a point where we feel like we never have time to plan a weekend of our choosing. Your post made me realize that I should take more agency of these weekends that are out of town to celebrate someone else’s event to add in a few of my own plans and desires. (But to keep them limited because a—things take longer than you imagine and b—to allow for spontaneity as you suggest). The planning could be fun in researching local museums or a good running trail or certain amenities that the hotel has to offer.

    As for how I make the most of the weekends where it really is just my family and it’s a weekend of our own choosing—I embrace our independence. I learned a while ago that my husband and I have different interests. And while I completely agree with trying to plan and schedule at least a few events for our weekend, my husband is still of the mindset that he wants to go with the flow and not plan his weekends. (I think he’s ultimately going to “see the light” given our new parenthood status. If he wants independent time to do something where our son can’t participate, he’s going to need to make the time and carve it out.) Instead of trying to drag my husband (or my friends or my other family) to various events, I have gotten very comfortable making my own independent plans. I make the plans I want to make and then extend an open invitation if it strikes someone’s interest. It often ends up being just me or me and my son, but I’m okay with that. I also have learned that plans and schedules are made to be broken. Being flexible and being scheduled do not have to be opposing forces.

  5. When I was working full time and studying to become a yoga teacher, I was really good at planning my time because I was so busy, that I wanted to make good use of my free time.
    Now I am a stay-at-home-mom with a playwrighting project, and I struggle to get anything done during the day, much less consider how to spend my weekend time. I think because I have so much time, I don’t feel pressed, and I end up floating around Facebook because I can’t determine what else to do.
    I’ve started keeping a book of projects and tasks so when I find myself with free time, I have something concrete to guide me. My sleep-deprived memory cannot be trusted!
    But sometimes I just read good blogs and leave comments. 🙂

    1. @Vicki – glad you’re reading and leaving comments! But yes, busy-ness has a way of making us think through how we wish to spend our time. It’s probably not a state we want to be in constantly, but it does force a level of prioritization.

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