Time management expert Laura Vanderkam’s follow-up book to What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, aptly titled What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend, is crammed with advice from successful entrepreneurs and scientific studies to help you never waste another weekend again. As Vanderkam points out, all too often “our precious weekends are eaten up by unproductive work or leisure that fails to energize us, leaving us dragging Monday morning and asking where the weekend went.”
The key: making weekend plans in advance. “These days disappear into chores, errands, inefficient email checking, unconsciously chosen television marathons, or a death march of children’s activities that suck the energy out of chauffeuring adults,” Vanderkam says.
Her book includes lists of the weekend activities that make people happiest, why it’s important to unplug for at least a little while, and why Sunday nights may be the most important time of your entire weekend.
Below is an excerpt from her book on six ways to make your weekend successful.
Six secrets of successful weekends
Here are a few more tips to remember as you’re making your plans:
1. Dig deep. Maybe there are activities you haven’t done since childhood that could become a regular part of your weekends. One reader tells me that she and her husband decided to sign up for piano lessons on Saturday mornings. Now they and their teenage son all have lessons back to back. It’s easier to nudge a kid to practice when mom and dad are doing it, too. Sometimes we get so concerned about scheduling our kids’ lives that we forget to schedule our own.
2. Use your mornings. Weekend mornings tend to be wasted time, but they’re great for personal pursuits. 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.
3. Create traditions. Happy families often have some special weekend activity that everyone loves but no one has to plan each time. Maybe it’s pancakes on Saturday mornings or a family walk to worship services, but whatever it is, make a ritual of it. These habits are what become memories—and comforting rituals boost happiness.
4. Schedule downtime. Jess Lahey, a New Hampshire-based teacher and writer, has official weekend naptime in her house that takes place each afternoon between one and three. Her kids—who are pre-teens, not toddlers who actually need to nap—know it’s coming, and they save up screen time for it. They play games together, watch a movie, or read. Everyone turns their phones off, and Lahey and her husband close the door to the upstairs, read for a bit, “then dive in for what always proves to be (amazing) sleep. That deep sleep that leaves you a little disoriented when you wake up,” she says. “Once I’ve figured out where I am and what day it is, I leap out of bed recharged and head out to weed the garden or get down to the business of making dinner.”
5. Make time to explore. A run, walk, or bike ride can turn into an adventure—with plenty of opportunities for that spontaneity people seem to think planning quashes—if you choose the right neighborhood. Use weekends to stretch your routine a bit.
6. Plan something fun for Sunday nights. This idea may be the most important tip in this book. Even if you love your job, it’s easy to feel a bit of trepidation on Sundays about the stresses waiting for you on Monday morning. And if you don’t like your job, Sunday trepidation can become a full-on case of the Sunday-night blues as time slides, inexorably, into the next day. You wonder what you’re doing with your life. You wonder if any of it is worthwhile.
If you’re asking such existential questions, it may be time to shake things up. But in the meantime, or even if you just feel weary when you think of your commute, you can combat the Sunday-night blues by scheduling something fun for Sunday evening. This extends the weekend and keeps you focused on the fun to come, rather than on Monday morning.
Caitlin Andrews, a librarian, calls it a “necessity” to end Sunday night on a high note. Her extended family gets together for dinner almost every Sunday, alternating houses. “The host house cooks the main meal but the others bring something to add—an appetizer, a bottle of wine, a side dish, or dessert. It’s a little stressful when I have to cook and clean for people coming over,” she reports, “but I don’t spend too much time on it and my husband helps. Plus, we always end up with leftovers for the rest of the week when we cook. It’s just a couple of hours—everyone comes over about five thirty and we’re home by eight or nine.” That’s plenty of time to plan and decompress before bed, and she looks forward to this tradition all weekend. “It takes my mind off any Sunday-night blues that might be coming on.”
Aliza Rosen, a reality TV producer who’s dreamed up series like Farm Kingsand Curvy Girls, does Vinyasa (“hot”) yoga at 6 p.m. on Sundays. “It’s a great way for me to sweat out the toxins of the week and center myself for Monday,” she says. “I reset myself.” She admits that for her, the yoga is not particularly spiritual. “I’m making a mental list,” she says. But it gives her something to anticipate as she’s sliding toward each Monday firefight. That may be the same thing that Ina Garten, the chef otherwise known as the Barefoot Contessa, was thinking when she created her 6 p.m. Sunday ritual of getting a massage.
According to the June 29, 2012 “My Sunday Routine” New York Times profile of Garten, this twenty-seven-year tradition stemmed from a 1985 realization that “I was working really hard, and one day I told myself, ‘I’m not having enough fun.’ So I did two things: I got myself a red Mustang convertible and started having massages. I don’t have the Mustang anymore, but I still have the same masseuse!”
One equally great way to end the weekend is to volunteer. Nothing will take your mind off any problems associated with your decent-paying and steady job like serving people who aren’t so fortunate. Savvy volunteer coordinators know that it’s easier for most people to make Sunday night volunteering a part of their lives than other times. Jacob Lee runs the Orange County (Calif.) chapter of the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve (FOCUS). Every Sunday night, his volunteers serve a meal, restaurant style, to homeless families living in an area motel. Sunday is “generally kind of a dead night,” Lee says. “On Saturday night people have things to do. On Sunday…?” Miraculously, everyone is free. So you get a much more diverse group of volunteers than the retirees and homemakers who might volunteer during the week. After the volunteers serve the meal, as the evening starts to wind down, everyone sits together, telling their life stories and “learning about why people end up where they end up,” says Lee. It’s a way to connect with humanity before everyone goes their separate ways for the week.