Over the course of our lives, we only get a few thousand weekends. The most successful people know better than to squander them by laying around or scrubbing the floors.
In her book, “What The Most Successful People Do On The Weekend,” time management expert Laura Vanderkam outlines how to make the most of this sacred time off from your harried workweeks.
She outlines how you can take control of your weekends by planning ahead, being selective with your time, and finally indulging what you love most.
The first step to controlling your weekends is making conscious choices.
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It’s so easy to plop down on the couch on a Friday night or Saturday morning and watch TV, but falling into these routines will suck away the few free hours you have. Instead of doing something by default, choose to decide how your time is spent.
Vanderkam writes, “In a world of constant connectivity, even loafing time must be consciously chosen, because time will be filled with something whether it’s consciously chosen or not — and not choosing means that the something that fills our hours will be less fulfilling than the something our remembering selves will likely wish we’d elected to do.”
Make appointments for yourself, even if it’s only to read a book.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee says you need to have a plan for the weekend, setting specific hours or minutes aside for activities you want to do. Then you have to commit.
Huckabee advises: “If you know you want to read a book, then get the book out and have it set aside and make plans to read it. Say it’s going to be at 1. When that starts, get on it. Don’t wait until that afternoon, then think — could I read? Or listen to some music? Or take a walk? Then you’ll sit about wasting an hour of what little time you have figuring out what to do with the rest of it.”
You have to be disciplined and commit to the decisions you make.
Planning actually makes weekends happier, and unlocks a key mechanism of joy.
Vanderkam cites Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert’s 2006 book, “Stumbling on Happiness.” In it, Gilbert argues that “the greatest achievement of the human brain is its ability to imagine objects and episodes that do not exist in the realm of the real.”
Gilbert is talking about anticipation. Anticipation accounts for a huge chunk of happiness, which comes from thinking about the events we plan. Vanderkam writes, “As you look forward to something good that is about to happen, you experience some of the same joy you would in the moment. The major difference is that the joy can last much longer.”
Plan three to five anchor events each weekend, but don’t plan out every hour.
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Vanderkam says most people cringe at the idea of planning their weekends. But placing three to five main, or “anchor,” events on your calender for the weekend doesn’t mean you need to plan them down to the minute.
She writes, “Three things taking three hours apiece is nine hours of your 36 waking ones. That leaves a lot of time for sitting and nursing a scotch, if you don’t have three small children, or watching ‘The Backyardigans,’ if you do.”
Make a list of the things you dream about doing, and you’ll find the ones you can do every day.
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When the weekend rolls around there may be so many things that you want to do that you freeze up and end up doing almost none of them. That’s why it’s effective to have a really good list.
Vanderkam suggests people create something called “A List of 100 Dreams,” which prompts you to brainstorm anything you might want to do in life. Although some things, like going to see the pyramids in Egypt, may not be doable right now, by the end of the list you’ll have come up with everyday activities, like getting together with friends for a picnic in the park.
As you make your plans, don’t discount something you haven’t done in years.
One of Vanderkam’s key secrets is to “dig deep.” Even if there are activities that you haven’t done since childhood, you can still make them part of your regular weekends.
For example, one of her readers signed up for Saturday morning piano lessons. She says that sometimes parents get so caught up in planning their kids’ lives that they forget to schedule fun activities for themselves. Pick something that means a lot to you, and make it a permanent routine.
Weekend mornings can be the best time to do things for yourself.
Flickr / Thomas Hawk
Weekend mornings are very easily wasted in laying about. Instead, set them aside for personal pursuits.
Vanderkam writes, “If you’re training for a marathon, it’s less disruptive for your family if you get up early to do your four-hour run than if you try to do it in the middle of the day. To get up early, you’ll probably have to avoid staying up late the night before, but this is a good idea in general.”
Establish small habits to create new traditions for your family.
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“Happy families often have some special weekend activity that everyone loves but no one has to plan each time,” Vanderkam writes.
It could be as simple as making pancakes or taking a stroll on a Sunday evening. Whatever you’d like to implement, make it a ritual. Soon they will become traditions, and traditions become comforting memories, which are proven to boost happiness.
Set aside specific hours for down time, and turn off your phone.
It’s important to schedule down time, because otherwise you may never unplug. Vanderkam says Jess Lahey, a New Hampshire-based teacher and writer, has an official weekend nap time every afternoon between one and three.
Like siestas in Spain, you don’t necessarily need to sleep and may choose to watch a movie or read. The time is meant to relax. Vanderkam says that in Lahey’s family, “Everyone turns their phones off, and Lahey and her husband close the door to the upstairs, [and] read for a bit.”
Be sure to make plans for Sunday night so you don’t sit around stressing about your job.
Planning something for Sunday nights is an easy way to avoid stressing about work in anticipation of Monday. That can happen even when you like your job, but for people who don’t like their jobs, Sunday night stress can be draining and sad.
To combat this, Vanderkam suggests scheduling something during these hours because it extends the weekend and keeps you focused on the fun to come, rather than the next morning. Aliza Rosen, a reality TV producer, goes to yoga at 6 p.m. on Sunday nights and says it is a great way to sweat out the toxins of the week and center herself for Monday.
Keep chores, errands, and busy work to a minimum on your days off.
There are always things you have to do, but keeping chores to a minimum on the weekends is really important.
Finishing chores shouldn’t be central to your weekend because they often expand to fill available time. Instead, try to do a chore each day during the week. If that’s not possible then set aside small windows of time during the weekend. For example, set a half an hour on a Friday night between dinner and when you watch a movie to put away the laundry, or 20 minutes between your piano lesson and bike ride on Saturday morning to empty the garbage.
Setting small amounts of time will motivate you to get chores done quickly.
Make sure to unplug completely for at least a few hours.
Have a tech “Sabbath” day — or at least a few hours on the weekend when you unplug from your email and professional life.
Although it becomes harder to do that with smartphones and demanding careers, Vanderkam recommends hiding your mail icon on your phone during your “Sabbath,” so you are not even tempted to click on messages that spill into your inbox. You may not be able to completely avoid working on the weekends, but you can at least carve out a few hours.
If you live to be 80, you’ll have 4,160 weekends in total, so don’t let any go to waste.
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Four thousand weekends isn’t all that much. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed and simply do nothing (or meaningless things). But by falling into that trap, Vanderkam points out you may miss the best parts of your own life.
Too often people don’t think about what they’d like to do and wind up living constrained versions of life, doing little tasks on a to-do list.
Vanderkam says, “What the most successful people know about weekends is that life cannot happen only in the future. It cannot wait for some day when we are less tired or less busy.” So start with this weekend and do something.