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?