Working on weekends

A little over a week ago, the news hit that Goldman Sachs was attempting to make life easier for its junior analysts. A key part of that? Trying to contain work within a 5-day workweek.

I think that’s probably a good idea. When weekend work is built into a place’s culture, and it’s not an organization that obviously needs to be open on weekends (like a store, or a hospital) it’s often because someone is doing a bad job managing workloads. As the head of Goldman’s investment banking division was quoted as saying, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Burn-out isn’t productive. Or profitable.

That said, I’m arguing over at Fast Company this week that there’s nothing wrong with working on weekends. When I wrote my book on how successful people spend their weekends I found that — no surprise — a number work on days that begin with S. Many try to contain it — a spot on Saturday morning, or Sunday night — but they do work on weekends.

That’s for reasons beyond sheer volume of work, though. Many people who achieve great success in their lines of work really like what they do. Work isn’t separate from life. It’s part of life. Weekends often present a great opportunity to think about problems and brainstorm solutions apart from the office environment.

And for many of us, working on weekends is the key to achieving work-life balance. Given my current commitments — which perhaps I should rethink, but I have them for now — I really need to work about 50 hours a week. Yet I’m attending functions at my children’s schools. I eat lunch with any kid who’s home at noon. I run when I have reliable childcare. Consequently, I often need to work nights and weekends to make the pieces work. While that may sound problematic, I’d rather work on weekends than not be able to go read at my son’s school. I imagine many other people would make the same choice.

If weekend work isn’t part of your job description (e.g. a doctor with weekend call) do you work weekends? Sometimes? Often? Never?

19 thoughts on “Working on weekends

  1. I don’t work weekends. I’m a counselor and just see clients on the weekdays- just one day a week, actually- so it is easy to contain.

    My husband used to work in construction and weekends were a given. All the time. For years. It was the pits. He is in a different industry now, and when he goes in on a Saturday it isn’t because of stress and the mountain of stuff he’ll get through- it’s because he just wants to chip away at something he is working on. But he enjoys it– I think that’s the difference. When he worked weekends before we both resented it because it was such a drain on both of us. Now he can come home from work energized, so I am fine with him going in occasionally.

  2. I work weekends (and evenings) when I think the work needs it- for a particularly important crunch time, or because we need to take our production systems offline to do an upgrade. I try to balance that with some time off during the week- for instance, I had to work tonight, but I am taking a half day on Monday to hang out with my 6 year old. I will also work weekends if my home things have taken me away from work enough to make me feel behind- but I don’t automatically balance a few hours out to see a school event with the same number of hours working at home. I try to keep to a “do the work that needs to get done” philosophy, and fight the face time/visibly working long hours culture as much as I can. I am in management, and I want to set a healthy culture for my team as much as I can. This may or may not be limiting my career. I don’t think it is, but it is hard to prove one way or the other. The flip side to this is that I hold myself to a fairly high standard for efficiency when I am working. I try not to waste time aimlessly surfing the web, for instance. But even that has grey areas, because sometimes, when I am working on a hard design problem, spending 15-30 minutes aimlessly surfing the web is exactly what I need to do to let my brain find its way to the solution. Really, to me the key is to be honest with myself about how my work is going. Am I getting enough done? If so, all is well.
    And that doesn’t even start to consider the time I spend on my side project! Which is, by definition, all on weekends and in the evenings. But is low stress and fun for me, even though it is building skills that may eventually be career relevant, so I don’t count that as work. Yet. Real life is more complicated than the neat little buckets we make for ourselves!

    1. @Cloud- it’s not a numbers thing for me either, it’s about the volume of work. But as I learned from keeping a time log for two weeks in a row, the work hours required for the existing volume of work is pretty much a constant.

  3. Aside from being on call, I have really cut back (to almost nothing!) on my weekend work. Pre-kids (or actually, pre-TWO kids) it was easier to make time for popping into the lab to finish up an experiment, or getting out the laptop for a few hours. But our current weekend schedules are so time and energy consuming that I just don’t have the motivation anymore to get ahead on work. Honestly, before having kids, the weekend was my best working time because it was uninterrupted by others’ demands…and it was fine to work the better part of the day, and then go out for dinner or watch a movie in the evening for something relaxing. The kids, however, need me more in the morning hours, and by the time they are in bed, I’m too tired to think about work.

  4. In the summer I don’t need to. During the school year (when students, teaching, and service take a lot of time needed for other things) I often do 3-4 hours of work on the weekend. I used to do more. I would blame having children, but looking at my colleagues with and without kids over the years, I think it’s something about getting older.

    1. @NicoleandMaggie- very true that a lot of things get blamed on kids that are really just a reality of getting older. I think not sleeping in on weekends (like past 9 am) and not being able to party particularly hard may both fall into that category.

  5. I agree with most of the posts on here.. .and wanted to thank folks like Cloud and Ana for weighing in .. I appreciated this comment from Cloud: ” I will also work weekends if my home things have taken me away from work enough to make me feel behind- but I don’t automatically balance a few hours out to see a school event with the same number of hours working at home. I try to keep to a “do the work that needs to get done” philosophy, and fight the face time/visibly working long hours culture as much as I can.”

  6. I also think there are a few other factors that need to be taken into account
    as Laura says
    -do you love /like your job and is it part of your self-actualization
    -are you a primary breadwinner in your house – is your job on the revenue line of your family. for few women it is .. the more this is the case the more likely you will be to find the time and find support in your household for work (this definition is flexible though b/c money is not something everyone needs more and more of beyond say a certain income level)
    -what does your spouse think about you working and how involved in childcare is he or her
    -how personally comfortable are you personally with leaving your kids with spouse or family member or babysitter on weekend and what is your personal comfort level with chlidcare vs work and vs. personal time.. how much personal time do you need… this is kind of a personal thing.. and one could argue that no one is comfortable with work all the time and even the stay at home parent or the single parent would never want to parent alone all the time..
    -separate from your work and parenting.. do you have any or a lot of other interests that cannot be combined into work or chldcare that you need to fulfill to feel whole… (exercise, sxx, reading, engaging with other adults on ideas or tv or eating a slow meal or cooking or do you have other things in your life that are as important to you as work and parenting and if so do you have enough time for them) – this has an effect on folks … .
    -are you a single parent, do you have backup childcare…
    -what is your definition of success and do we define successful as say having that time to stare out the window (this is a major aspect of happiness say for a holocaust survivor ) that may not be as important to others who may not appreciate it as much
    -for sure having some free mental space an time — is good for one’s work and parenting… how to carve it out inside the current society and current work expectations is another not easily answered q uestion..

  7. I have been in a career for the last several years that I love. Pre-kids (like ana) I did do more work at home on weekends but I was at the early stage of this career (I switched from being a full time accountant to teaching at a community college).
    I’m finding now I have more projects and committee work and a 1 yo and 3 yo. I sometimes wish I didn’t wait to be 40 with two young kids – but life doesn’t always work out the way you plan.
    Some days I do need to be working after the kids are in bed or weekends but I am often too exhausted to concentrate.
    My husband is a shift worker and has to work every other weekend (so I’m parenting solo). For now I try to be as efficient as I can during my work days – sometimes that means leaving the office when I don’t have class so that I can work uninterrupted. Other days I leave marking as my evening work as I can do that even when tired.
    I liked Clouds comments about the culture of working a set number of hours. We have someone in our office who is either at their desk (or teaching when required) from 8 am until 5pm but they constantly play solitaire. I really think many companies lack leadership and managers that require accountability (not just a body in a chair).

  8. My situation is similar to Laura’s. I usually don’t get in a full 40-hour week due to personal/child-related obligations, and therefore do a little bit of work on nights and weekends to “balance” that out (and more when there are actual deadlines). I like Cloud’s point about work culture, but at the same time, I am in a career where I have an infinite amount of work to do, so it’s up to me to decide how much of my time I want to invest in that on average. Really, the most important thing for me would be getting serious about defining my most important goals, both in work and personal life, and making sure I make the “most” of my time, but that’s easier said than done…

    1. I totally identify with this M…the infinite amount of work to do and the need to set priorities. I’ve been trying to do this for a while and failing, so I’m glad you mentioned that its easier said than done for you, too!!

      1. This really is something that gets better with practice, I think. I have an infinite amount of work, too, particularly if I include the professional growth work I want to do (deep study of areas in which I want to improve). I am good at prioritizing so that I meet deadlines without long hours. I am not as good at prioritizing so that I include enough time for professional growth. Also, my ability to prioritize so as not to require long hours is something that has definitely improved over the course of my career. It got a lot better when I was turned into a project manager and taught about analyzing dependencies. That gave me a lot of insight into why I prioritized some tasks the way I did, which had previously been done primarily by instinct.

  9. I usually don’t work on weekends but will if I feel like I have to or am falling behind in terms of keeping up in my field. However, I count my salary in terms of hours worked, so I rather work 40 hours to make X amount than work 50+ hours to make more money. Sometimes you do earn more for working more hours, but there is also a point of diminishing returns.

  10. I don’t work on the weekends much now because my husband works pretty much all weekend and many nights (PhD student). However I did a lot of evening/ weekend time before my son was born. We had a scare at the end of my pregnancy and I had doctors visits galore (think 4+ per week) and it was great to be able to make up that time rather than having it cut into my available maternity leave.

  11. Pre-kids, I worked weekends and nights when I was scheduled — I was in a public library, so it had to be open — but I didn’t have to take work home. Now I have a career that would be done from home, kids or no kids, and because it’s deadline-and-project based, I do work almost every weekend. Because of the kids, though, I certainly don’t work 8 hours a day — I just survived my busiest week by far, and averaged 5.5 hours a day over the whole seven-day week.

    I’d love to be able to contain my work within 5 days, and I try to set deadlines for myself to free up weekends, but sometimes projects overlap, or the boys are sick for two weeks straight, or I underestimate how long something will take, and it ends up spilling over into the weekends, despite usually only clocking about 20 hours per week. Until the baby has a more regular childcare schedule, and we’re not just dealing with occasional sitters to meet a crunch, 3 hours a day is all I can reasonably manage. Like Ana says, by the time they’re in bed, I’m too tired to do much, and so that’s when things like laundry and dishes end up being done.

    Surprisingly, I do feel like my work is pretty balanced with my life, despite working weekends. I enjoy it, and I don’t work 8-hour days ever, and it’s nice to have a break after a couple of hours to run errands, or go for a run, or just play. I think working weekends when you work from home is a different animal from working weekends in an office, or bringing work home from an office.

  12. I always work weekends. Just out of school (with a doctorate in Computer Science, but still at my first real industry job), I am at a stage where I want to level up in my craft (software development and research). And that has me reading books and taking advantage of free online open courses. The only way to level up and be on top of all that is to work on that and personal learning projects on the weekends and evenings. It all ties back to the same love for work/ passion for what you do that you have, I think. But I can’t imagine not doing it. At least for a few years.

    I do agree with your views though – work in fixed slots and allow myself determined refreshing breaks by doing something from your so-called 100 list of dreams at least one of the S-days 🙂 I think you have the right idea and now I am trying to incorporate that. Because indeed not allowing myself something that’s entirely different from everything else has has me often not feeling refreshed at all on Mondays which often has had negative consequences (me being lousy on Mondays, e.g. or indulging in food binges, both not beneficial).

    1. @Ravi- yes, I think we need some time off. It doesn’t have to be Fri night to Sun AM, but 24 hours with no work is good to shoot for.

  13. Amen to this: “Many people who achieve great success in their lines of work really like what they do. Work isn’t separate from life. It’s part of life.”

    That’s how I feel about my work – it doesn’t feel like work, and I intend to do it forever and never truly retire from it. I’m lucky and I made great choices. So yes, I work some weekends if 1) a client is paying me for it, and 2) I want to, even though it is part of my job description.

  14. I find that a few hours of focused work on the weekends sets myself up for success during the week. And I agree with you that I would rather work a couple hours on the weekend in order to do things during the week that bring me happiness and allow me to give back to my community.

    I find setting boundaries around the hours I will work really helps. Rather than work aimlessly on the couch while my husband watches football, I send myself to my home office for 2 hours and 2 hours only. That way there is an end in sight and motivates me to get as much done during that scheduled time. And sometimes I reward myself after with things like yesterday’s mani pedi I scheduled after my time spent on focused work.

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