A few years ago, my wife and I went out to dinner to celebrate our anniversary. When we got to one of our favorite restaurants, all the tables were full, and we ended up sitting on stools at a quiet end of the bar.
We had the most wonderful evening, and our waitress surprised us with a free anniversary dessert. Pretty cool, huh?
Halfway through our celebration, another couple walked in, and, as with us, all the tables were full, and they sat at the bar. After ordering their drinks, both the man and the woman pulled out their (not so) smartphones and started scrolling through them, continuing their scrolling the entire evening.
When our surprise dessert arrived, the husband looked up from his phone and asked us how many years we had been married. We ended up talking with him for a bit.
They, too, he told us, were on a date night. Her parents had come over to watch the kids, and they decided to go out to eat. So how were they spending their time? Catching up on work!
There’s so much wrong with this situation on so many levels, but I wanted to scream at them, “Stop working on the weekend!”
Why Are You Working on the Weekend?
Why are you working on the weekend? Here’s the primary reason: a lack of discipline during the week.
We take hours to answer email rather than being crisp and concise. We go to unnecessary meetings, and necessary meetings wander aimlessly. And we take long coffee breaks, longer lunches, and even longer lulls checking the news, ESPN, YouTube, FaceBook, and Twitter.
It’s amazing anything gets done! Discipline during the workweek, then, is the first secret to enjoying the weekend. Discipline in three areas: meetings, email, and media.
Some meetings don’t need to happen at all. Cancel the ones without a real business reason and refuse to attend the ones without an agenda. For the meetings that you lead, limit the agenda to a reasonable number of items, then start on time, end on time, and wrap them up in forty-five minutes or less.
Like meetings, some email doesn’t need to be answered at all. Read them and move on. For email that does need answering, make yours short and sweet: six sentences. With the hundred or so emails we send and receive each day, six sentences are all anyone has the time to read and digest. Batch your email in one morning and two afternoon work sessions, instead of letting it interrupt you throughout the day, derailing your productivity. After three email exchanges back and forth with someone, have a live conversation.
Now turn off all notifications on your phone and laptop and remove YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever from your screens. Work at work, ruthlessly eliminating digital distractions from your day. Play in the evening and on the weekend.
Finally, you don’t need to be a hermit at the office to get all your work done in a week, but you do need to be careful about endless chatter. Conversations over a cup of coffee or lunch together with coworkers are perfectly appropriate. Just don’t linger. Be friendly, cordial, and kind. Then get back to business.
What Do You Do on the Weekend?
The wonderful thing about weekends—when we don’t work during them—is that there’s plenty of time to pursue the things that make life worth living. Pursuing those things purposefully is also a secret to professional success.
“Weekends are what stand between you and smoldering burnout,” writes Laura Vanderkam in What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend. “Success in a competitive world requires hitting Monday refreshed and ready to go. The only way to do that is to create weekends that rejuvenate you rather than exhaust or disappoint you.”
Consider this: From 6:00 p.m. on Friday evening to 6:00 a.m. on Monday morning, there are a grand total of sixty hours. Take away three nights’ sleep and what’s left is nearly a forty-hour workweek of free time. Forty hours! What do you do during this time? These four R’s answer that question:
Weekends should first be about relationships. Our busy work weeks leave little time to foster deep, heartfelt connections with the ones whom we love the most. Spend time with family and friends. Go on a date with your spouse and play with your children. As a person of faith, I also take extra time on the weekend to connect with God at church and read the Bible.
One of the casualties of our busy work weeks is also sleep. Late nights and travel demands can cut sleep short, or anxious thoughts can leave us lying awake for hours. Take the weekend to catch up. Go to bed early, sleep in, or both. Take naps and move at a slower pace. Your body will thank you.
Whatever you do, don’t plop yourself in front of the television all weekend long. Get out of the house. Take a hike. Go for a run. Play Frisbee. Walk in the park. Move!
Recreation is restorative for the body, mind, and emotions. It’s what Alexa Pang describes in his brilliant book Rest as “active rest,” explaining, “When we think of rest, we usually think of passive activities: taking a nap, lying on the couch, watching sports on television, or binge-watching a popular TV series. That’s one form of rest. But physical activity is more restful than we expect, and mental rest more active than we realize.”
Finally, do the things you love, the things that refresh your soul and renew your mind. I love cooking, so I cook big meals on the weekend. I love good beer, so we’ll visit a local microbrewery. I love a good book—not a business book—so I read the latest novel at a leisurely pace. I’m also learning how to do woodworking and am having a ton of fun making handcrafted projects.
What these things do for me is turn off my brain from thinking about work and bring calm and composure to my mind and emotions. I didn’t always live this way, weekends used to be as wild as the week, but ultimately, I hit a wall and had to do something different. Dramatically different. Disconnecting on Fridays, I now walk into weekends that are full of joy and satisfaction and walk out of them refreshed and energized for the week.
One final note—doing all of these wonderful activities on the weekend means being a bit more intentional during the week about household responsibilities. If you’re not careful, you’ll exchange one set of work activities for another: paying the bills and mowing the lawn, washing the laundry and cleaning the house. With some preplanning and ingenuity, however, you can get these things done before Saturday and Sunday and have plenty of time for weekend wellness.
I just finished writing this article. It’s late afternoon on a Friday. I won’t read, re-read, and rewrite it over the weekend, as much as I feel compelled to right now. What I will do is close my laptop, let the article rest, and review it on Monday morning. That practice, call it a discipline if you like, always makes for fresh, creative, and compelling prose, but, even more importantly, it makes for a better husband, father, and human being.
What about you? How will you spend the sixty hours that get credited to your account this Friday? I challenge you to learn how to engage in the four Rs—reconnect, rest, recreate, and refresh—instead of working on the weekend.