The Art of the Weekend

By Molly Rose Teuke

“Without the weekend, where would the week be?”  — Anthony T. Hincks

Ah … the weekend at last! It was a chaotic week and you’re thrilled to anticipate two glorious days with absolutely nothing on the agenda. What better way to rejuvenate and get ready for Monday’s rat race?

If this is your view of weekends, you’re not alone. A great many of us feel our weekends should be unplanned time for spontaneous recreation, perhaps with a little household duty scheduled in, but only as needed.

Nonsense, says time management expert Laura Vanderkam, author of “What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend: A Short Guide to Making the Most of Your Days Off.” Vanderkam is not a fan of the “do nothing” weekend and quotes writer Anatole France for support: “Man is so made that he can only find relaxation from one kind of labor by taking up another.”

GO WITH THE FLOW

If only I had money to go shopping and have dinner and cocktails out, I could have a perfect weekend. Perhaps. But acclaimed psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would probably disagree. He spent much of his life trying to understand the roots of happiness and what contributes to a life (or weekend) worth living. A key conclusion from his research is that an increase in material resources does not bring about a commensurate increase in happiness. Our happiness increases, he says, when we’re in what he calls “flow.”

He developed the now popular concept of flow, a state we sometimes enter when we’re highly focused. Once you achieve flow, he says, “… time disappears, you forget yourself, you feel part of something larger. And once the conditions are present, what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake.” This, Csikszentmihalyi says, is where we humans are happiest. Not doing nothing — and certainly not vegging out in front of the TV — but having the experience of doing something for which we have the right degree of skill and yet still experience a sense of challenge. “Unfortunately, a lot of people’s experience is in apathy,” he says. “The largest single contributor to that experience is watching television.”

Csikszentmihalyi looked at flow as part of a larger picture of our everyday lives. Let’s step back into the weekend. Vanderkam has seen hundreds of time logs and interviewed countless successful people about what they do on their time off. “Successful people know that weekends deserve even more care than you bestow on your working days,” she says.

AVOID DISAPPOINTMENT

Doing absolutely nothing might sound good. But the reality is that, unless we plan our weekends, we expend needless emotional and mental energy trying to make our time off feel meaningful, and trying, unsuccessfully, to experience flow. That means our weekends not only don’t give us much satisfaction, but they also undermine our ability to hit Monday rejuvenated and refreshed. Most successful people, Vanderkam says, greet the weekend having thought of what they intend to do with their time off and what outcome they desire.

Yet many of us don’t plan, and soon the weekend sags into hours of channel surfing, social media browsing, and countless other mundane and not very satisfying activities. Or worse, the weekend disintegrates into frustrating, anxiety-producing snits when you can’t carry out plans you thought up at the last minute. Think what would happen if you spent 36 hours of your work week unplanned. You’d get the same kind of results from unplanned weekends — dismal.

HAVE A PLAN FOR YOUR WEEKEND

Vanderkam isn’t suggesting you make work of your weekends, though she’s not opposed to scheduling projects. She just thinks you can benefit from planning — making sure you have the proper tools and supplies on hand. A Saturday repainting your bedroom could bring you a sense of flow, but not when you spend the entire morning shopping for paint and don’t have time to finish the job. Or say you like to cook and entertain. It’s disappointing when you call on Friday afternoon and everyone you know already has plans. Invite guests early, choose your recipes ahead of time and shop for essential ingredients before the weekend.

The same principle applies even if you’re a die-hard spontaneity junkie. At least make a list of things you think you might like to do — Vanderkam suggests making a bucket list of activities close to home — and take action to set yourself up for success. If your weekend preference is curling up with a good book, stop at the library or bookstore during the week to gather likely titles. If you like to hike or bike, research new trails, stop at the drugstore for insect repellant and sunscreen, and put air in your bike tires or retrieve your hiking boots from the back of the closet. If you like mingling in crowds, print out your community’s calendar of events.

IT’S UP TO YOU

Vanderkam isn’t suggesting you book every minute of your weekend or that every minute you book should be filled with activity. A Saturday afternoon nap can be a perfectly fine thing to plan for your weekend. It’s the intention that counts. If a nap is something that makes you feel like you’ve done something with your weekend, great. If you nap because you can’t think of what else to do with your afternoon, that’s not so satisfying. For me, spending Saturday morning on a sewing project, or Sunday afternoon baking pies or cakes is more satisfying — and feels more like flow — than finding myself at the mall because I couldn’t think of anything better to do.

She also recommends we carry our weekend planning into Sunday night. Instead of edging almost imperceptibly into the workweek 12 or 15 hours before Monday morning, as many of us do, plan something fun that keeps your mind anchored in the weekend. Play cards with friends, take the kids for ice cream, FaceTime a distant sibling. Activities that become tradition are especially helpful at the end of the weekend because they make Sunday night recreation so easy.

The result of planning your time off is that you come off the flow of your weekend activities primed for the flow of a productive and satisfying workweek. You can greet Monday with an energized mind, satisfied heart and centered spirit.