A few weeks 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 two quiet stools at the end of the bar.
We had the most wonderful evening, and our waitress surprised us with a free anniversary dessert. Yeah!
Halfway through our date, 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 cell phones and started scrolling through them, and continued scrolling the entire evening.
When our surprise dessert arrived, the husband, looking up from his phone, asked us how many years we had been married, and we ended up talking with him for a bit.
They, too, he told us, were on a date night. Her parents had come down to watch their 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 the title of this post, “Stop working on the weekend!”
Why Are You Working on the Weekend?
Why are you working on the weekend? There are two main reasons: a lack of discipline during the week and a serious addiction to adrenaline.
Let’s start with a lack of discipline. The first reason most of us are working on the weekend is because we don’t use our time well during the week. We take hours to answer email rather than being crisp and concise. We go to unnecessary meetings, and the meetings that are necessary wander aimlessly forever. And we take long coffee breaks, longer lunches, and an even longer time checking the news, ESPN, YouTube, FaceBook, and Twitter.
It’s amazing anything gets done! Discipline during the work week, 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 45 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 100 or so emails we send and receive each day, six sentences is all anyone has the time to read and digest. Batch your email in a morning and afternoon work session, instead of letting it interrupt you all throughout the day and derailing your productivity. After three email exchanges back and forth with someone, stop hitting reply and have a live conversation.
Now turn off all your notifications, disable your browser, and remove YouTube, Instagram, FaceBook, Twitter, or whatever from your work computer. Work at work, ruthlessly eliminate digital distractions from your day, play in the evening and on the weekend.
Finally, you don’t need to be 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 is perfectly appropriate. Just don’t linger. Be friendly, cordial, and kind. Then get back to business.
Urgency addiction, however, is a much harder fix that the disciplines listed above, because, quite simply, we love our fix. That is, we enjoy the adrenaline rush we get from a text, email, or news flash. Our brain rewards us with a shot of dopamine and we feel fabulous.
But like any addiction, it takes more and more and more hits to keep feeling fabulous, and we’re left a wreck of a human being, drained and exhausted. Adrenaline is great for emergencies, but it’s not for daily consumption.
How to Stop Working on the Weekend
Okay, so how do you break your adrenaline addiction? I have a three step system: 24, 48, and 60. Let me explain …
Don’t try to go cold turkey, it won’t work. 24 is where to start. This weekend take a full day—24 hours—away from your WMD, wireless mobile device. Put it down, turn it off, and don’t check it. You’ll feel jittery at first, maybe go through withdrawals, but that’s okay. You’ll get over it, and the world will keep on spinning. Go from Friday at 6:00 PM to Saturday at 6:00 PM, or from Saturday at 6:00 PM to Sunday at 6:00 PM, but take 24 hours where you don’t touch that thing at all. No cheating!
After doing this for a month, expand your 24 hour window to 48. This is a big jump, but 48 hours isn’t even a full weekend. So turn off your wireless mobile device or set it aside from Friday at 6:00 PM to Sunday at 6:00 PM. Do this for another month, and, again, no cheating!
Now you’re ready for a full weekend of device free living. Turn it off or set it aside on Friday at 6:00 PM and don’t pick it up again until Monday at 6:00 AM. Make this your new normal and explore adding shut down times during the work week as well from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM. This, of course, goes for your laptop, iPad, or any work from work you allow to invade the evenings and weekends (or even random work thoughts. Let them go!).
And, yes, I know some of you have to be on call during the weekend. We have dear friends who own a funeral home and used to work most every weekend, until they started rotating on-call duties with their staff. Now they’re on-call only one weekend a month. If they can figure out how to do this in a business as delicate a theirs, you can too.
Not working on the weekend also may mean having two cell phones, a work phone and a personal phone. That’s okay. With all our adult children living away from home, I use my personal phone to talk with them on Saturday and Sunday and send them dorky pictures with corny dad jokes. Make sure, however, that there’s a hard boundary between your work and personal device. Remember, no cheating!
… And What To Do Instead
What do you do instead of working on the weekend? Here are four R’s to guide your 60 hours:
Weekends should first be about relationships. Our crazy busy work weeks leave little time to foster deep, heartfelt connection 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 to read the Bible.
One of the casualties of our crazy busy weeks also is sleep. Late weeknights 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 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 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 emotions. I didn’t always live this way, weekends used to be as wild as the week, but ultimately I hit the wall and had to do something different. Dramatically different. Disconnecting at 6:00 PM on Fridays, I now walk into a weekend that’s full of joy and satisfaction and walk out of it refreshed and energized for the week.
I’m guessing that’s pretty much your story too and challenge you to reclaim the 60 hours of freedom that’s yours to reconnect, rest, recreate, and refresh.
One final note, doing all of these wonderful activities on the weekend means being a bit more strategic 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.