How I plan weekends these days

One of the upsides of speaking and writing about time management is that I have a valid professional reason for thinking through my own systems. My weekend planning process has become more formalized in the last few years as my family has grown, and as I’ve studied other people’s processes and seen what works and what doesn’t.

Now, if you broke out in hives reading that last sentence…well, I get it. I know that to some people, the idea of planning a weekend seems to be missing the point. But I have found that really thinking through the schedule and logistics means that everyone — including the adults! — gets to do things they want over the weekend. My leisure time is too precious to be totally leisurely about leisure. I’ve decided that I’m much happier and more relaxed if I embrace this. (Side note: this is true even in this era of cancelations. Cancelations call for contingency plans. If this doesn’t happen, then we will do this.)

This past weekend was an example of how planning allowed for adult activities. My choir was presenting a concert of rather complicated French music on Sunday afternoon (another side note: big sanctuary, lots of room for social distancing). We had our dress rehearsal on Saturday morning, plus we sang for Sunday services as usual. I wanted to do at least one run. My husband is running a half-marathon in early April, and needed to do a 10-mile run. We wanted to do a date night dinner. Some of the kids wanted to go snow tubing at a ski resort in the area before the weather changes. The 10-year-old had a baseball clinic. The big boys (and my husband) needed their hair cut. The baby needed passport photos taken (there are no international travel plans until later in the year — thank goodness — but there’s never going to be a good time to do this task so we thought we’d tackle it now…while there’s less demand…). The kids also wanted downtime — playing video games, riding bikes around the driveway, etc.

Clearly this was not all going to happen by random chance. We also need to give our Saturday sitter a heads up about what’s on the schedule and optimize the time we have childcare too.

So I usually take some time mid-week to think through the weekend. On Wednesday I asked my husband about the snow tubing possibility, and confirmed his running desires (coupled with the weather forecast). I looked at what was on the calendar for the kids and thought about what should probably happen (e.g. those hair cuts). The goal is to email the schedule to my husband and the sitter on Thursday.

Why am I the one sending the email? In our case, it’s because one of us writes about time management and just thinks more this way (my husband is a “P” on the Myers-Briggs tests…) We have had some discussions on making this division of labor workable; the general agreement is that input on the schedule needs to happen before Thursday unless there is a change that will clearly make it better. For instance, given the moving parts of 5 kids, it’s not fair to say on Saturday morning “hey, we should do this today!” and pout when it can’t happen. If I’m making the schedule, my husband has to be game for whatever is on it, and the good news is that he almost always is. I’m not completely inflexible, though. I’d assigned my husband the task of getting the infant passport photos taken, and suggested Saturday morning, which is also when the haircuts needed to happen. He realized he had a window on Friday night to do this, so he did it then rather than add it to the list of things that had to happen on Saturday morning. Also, we have come to an agreement that if he asks me “so what are we doing this weekend?” after I have sent the email, I will not react well.

But despite his “P” nature, I think he’s found the schedule helpful for managing expectations. For instance, since he knew there was a designated time on Sunday for him to do his long run, he wasn’t worrying about not getting it done on Saturday. Since he knew we were going out for a quick dinner on Saturday night he started looking at potential restaurants. We chose one last minute — it is possible to be spontaneous on some things!

As I get the hang of planning weekends with five kids including an infant, I’m also learning to keep an eye on each individual kid’s activity level. The family as a whole can seem quite busy even if certain kids are doing almost nothing. The 10-year-old was complaining about having to accompany his sister somewhere on Saturday afternoon, but I could remind him that he was not even going to have to leave the house on Sunday. And he didn’t. (I did force everyone outside for a little while)

All is not perfect. Stuff can go wrong. People can decide they all don’t want to do the activity in question after saying they did (we had this happen a few weekends with skiing). Some kids are too busy while others spend too much time on screens. I end the weekend with stuff undone — like the dining room table I have yet to construct (I did get to the chairs!) And of course there is the massive uncertainty about all gatherings. I had an intricately constructed schedule for Tuesday evening that allowed for my husband and me to attend the kid-led parent-teacher conferences at the elementary school and get to our 7th grader’s choir concert, and then all of this was canceled when school was canceled yesterday. But just because life is ultimately unknowable doesn’t mean that planning is useless. When, much of the time, we do get to do things we want to do, it’s OK when sometimes we don’t.

In other news: The Kindle version of 168 Hours, my first time management book, is currently on sale for $1.99. If you’ve never read it and thought you might like to, now could be the time!

Photo: Cherry blossoms last spring. They’re supposed to peak in Washington D.C. by the weekend of March 21-22! 

9 thoughts on “How I plan weekends these days

    1. @Connie C – sort of. A few students had been exposed to someone with it and so as a precautionary move they closed schools for the day and did a deep clean of everything. Schools were open again today. The kids have a half day this Friday to allow staff to prepare remote learning plans should that become necessary.

  1. It is so helpful to hear how other people plan their weekends! I am always trying to optimize both productivity and leisure. Two questions for you:
    1) to what level of detail do you plan the weekend schedule? Thirty minute increments, or a more general “these things need to happen on Saturday afternoon”?
    2) Do you have a process for soliciting input from the kids?

    1. @Sarah – The email contains exact times for things that have exact times. It also indicates windows for when other things should happen. So for Sunday, I told my husband I’d be home from church at 11:30, so he could go for his run after then, and he needed to be home from his run by 2:30. That was because I needed to be back at church at 2:45. I was gone all Saturday morning, and just said the hair cuts needed to happen some time in there. They didn’t get a quick start…
      As for input from the kids, I do ask if they want to do things, and if someone mentions wanting to do something I definitely add it to the list, or if we liked it the previous year I will mention it’s coming up to build excitement. They’ll sometimes ask for playdates and I do my best to try to set those up if possible. But there’s not a formal process for it. The kids would probably just sit around all weekend playing video games or watching movies if I left it completely up to them. They’d also be horribly behaved by the end of it.

  2. Part of planning our weekends here in DC is planning for the cherry blossoms! Now that the peak bloom estimate has been moved forward a week, we’ve updated the family calendar accordingly. Every year we get fancy donuts, eat them on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial around sunrise (awesome photo ops), and then walk the tidal basin to see the best of the blossoms. Such a fun family tradition! My husband and boys are pretty good about having their photos taken, and it’s fun to review them year over year to see how much the kids grew.

    1. @Kathleen – we may wind up making a trip too! Kind of playing it by ear right now, but keeping a window on that weekend open.

  3. My husband is also probably a P, but he’s such a questioner that he won’t take a Myers Briggs test. Ha. Gretchen Rubin’s 4 tendencies framework was so eye opening for me because I am an upholder so can’t naturally understand his questioning tendencies! But, he does not question my need to plan! He’s become more ‘trained’ since we got married/had our son. He was very anti-planning when we were dating but now he understand it and is actually pretty jealous of how often I get together with my girlfriends for dinner. It happens regularly because we plan it but his guys friends are TERRIBLE at planning so they never see each other.

    Since we only have one child, we don’t need to plan as much as we would if we have several, but we always go into the weekend knowing what needs to get done and when it makes sense to get those things done. And we try to line things up so that he grocery shops while I am at swimming lessons with our son on Saturday mornings. He’s also getting better at checking the calendar versus saying ‘what are we doing this weekend?’ which can annoy me since I’ve usually texted him and put it on our calendar…

  4. What do you make of the various studies showing that planning our leisure time takes the pleasure out of our leisure activities, making them feel more like obligations?
    (Ex., here’s an article on Trave & Leisure, “Why Making Plans is Ruining Your Weekend, According to Science”:

    I would love to be able to be more spontaneous…but my husband and I have a large groups of friends and acquaintances where there are fun plans almost every weekend: birthday parties, baby showers, wedding showers, holidays (this Sunday we have a friend hosting a St. Patty’s Day dinner, which I’m really looking forward to), visiting or hosting long distance friends and family, sports event viewing parties, hikes, alcohol tour/tastings, museum visits, etc.

    In order to have *quality* time with my close girlfriends (rather than only seeing each other at these large events, and where we can focus on *talking* while not having to *do* anything), we have to plan ahead of time to get together, or it doesn’t happen. And these plans are always about a month in advance, since we have to go that far out before we find a weekend where we’re free, without plans!

    And then, of course, hubby and I both have hobbies that we enjoy. I find that if I don’t pencil them in, they happen too rarely! (Oh wow…it’s been 6 weeks since my last run.)
    We don’t have kids, and yet most of our weekends (looking at the past in my calendar now, it’s easily 2 out of every 3 weekends), are *completely* booked. Oh boo hoo, I’m having so much fun…but I admit that I find myself wishing I could have much more “do nothing” time, or time to *spontaneously* decide to go for a walk at the nearby park, or go see that exhibit I’ve been hearing about. “Just hangin’ around on a Saturday” is not a concept I’ve been familiar with for a long time. But if I *don’t* plan carefully, hobbies, creative pursuits, and quality, one-on-one friendship-nurturing time fall by the wayside. So…I plan. Even though it feels like work.

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