“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it's worth watching.” ~Unknown
Sometimes, for me, it's not a matter of if I'll work on the weekend; it's a matter of how.
On the one hand, I'm committed to being mindful and creating balance in my life.
On the other hand, I have a lot of dreams and goals and I enjoy giving my all to pursuing them. Even if it sometimes means I write on a Saturday or edit on a Sunday.
I've decided that what's most important is not to create a black-and-white understanding of which days I work and which days I don't, but instead, to be sure I have sufficient time for play and to focus on fully enjoying it.
This way, I may devote a couple hours in the morning to work, but it doesn't dominate my thoughts through the afternoon and evening.
There are no rules to this whole life thing. There's no choice that's good or bad. But there are choices that cause more pain than others. For example: obsessing over work, clients, contacts, and colleagues instead of truly enjoying your downtime, however short or long it may be.
If you sometimes let work-related stresses bleed into Saturday and Sunday, these tips might help you let go and relax, even if just for pockets of time:
1. End Friday well.
It's hard to relax on Saturday if you failed to return four important calls, file important paperwork, or finish a marketing report on Friday. Think about all the work-related things you tend to think about on the weekends, whether it's your Monday meeting or a weekly report. Then, take care of it as best you can before you leave.
In a perfect world, we'd all be so zen and mindful we'd just focus on what's in front of us. But we're human, and our thoughts do wander to things we have to do. So plan in advance as best you can to minimize potential stresses.
2. Be specific.
If you must do work on the weekend, be clear about how that will play out. It's all too easy to get caught up in a task, especially if it's something creative. If you're comfortable devoting a weekend to work, then by all means, stay in the zone and keep going.
But if you'd like to leave yourself time to relax and enjoy time with people you love, be specific. Plan a time when you'll work, with a concrete start and end. Then make a promise to yourself to let go when that time has come and gone. You can always get back in the zone. You can't always see your son's soccer game or enjoy Sunday brunch with your friends.
3. Tell people your plan.
If your friends and colleagues are accustomed to accessing your around the clock, they might not think twice of texting with a work-related question while you're out with friends.
Tell them in advance you will not be available or will only be available between certain hours. It's a lot easier for people to respect boundaries when you set them!
4. Set up a pre-written text.
I find it difficult to completely ignore text messages or turn my phone off for hours at a time. If you feel compelled to leave your phone on in case of emergency, prepare in advance so you won't need to think about work too much if a work-related text comes in.
As I suggested in the post 8 Ways to Stay Focused in a Tech-Driven World, you can pre-program a text that reads, “Today is a text-free family day for me. I will respond in more detail on Monday.” It might take effort, but when you need to use this pre-written text, train yourself to think, “I am not obligated to think about work now, and I consciously choose not to.”
5. Enlist other people to help.
My boyfriend recently told me, “Finish all your work before tonight so I can have your full attention.” That simple request was a powerful reminder he deserves it—and I deserve to be fully in the moment with him.
6. Make a “No list.”
Lots of people find it hard to say no to people because we don't want to disappoint them or would prefer to avoid the associated discomfort, but it's crucial if you'd like to take time for yourself.
It may help to have a list of approved requests and ones you simply won't entertain. This way, when someone asks, you don't need to think about it in too much detail. You simply need to remember, “I promised myself I wouldn't do this today.”
7. Check in with your mental state throughout the day.
For all intents and purpose, you're relaxing; you're at brunch with friends, after all. But are you really present? Are you being mindful, giving them your full attention when they speak, and enjoying the experience with all your faculties?
When you're self-aware about your mental tendencies, it's easier to catch yourself and come back to the moment. Remember: you can still work later if you want to without thinking about it right now. And if you let yourself enjoy right now, you'll be clearer-headed when it's time to work.
8. Remember what it's all for.
Sometimes my work-related thoughts and worries seem urgent—like I have to outline an article in my head or I won't reach my professional goals.
I try to catch those thoughts and replace them with, “If I don't enjoy what's in front of me right now, there's no point in having professional goals because I'll never be able to enjoy what I have when I have it.”
9. Utilize a relaxation technique.
Whenever I find my mind drawn to thoughts outside my current experience, I do this breathing exercise: hold one nostril closed and breathe deeply through the other; then switch your grip so you're now holding the opposite nostril closed, and breathe out through the opposite one. If you repeat this five to ten times, taking deep, slow breaths, you'll create a sense of inner calm.
That calm, in any moment, is your most precious resource. It allows you to do anything with more ease and enjoyment.
10. Plan your weekends well.
When I have gaps in activity, I feel a natural pull toward my laptop, partly because I enjoy writing and partly because it's habitual. It helps me to have a plan for my day.
That's not to say you need to be doing something all day; just that it may help to commit to blocks of time when you will exercise, watch a movie, or do anything else you'd like to do. The simple act of planning something might make it easier to fully commit.
As I wrote in the beginning of this post, there truly aren't any rules. If you want to work, work. If you want to play, play. Just be honest with yourself about what you really want and what you need to do to get it.
If what you really want is to both get things done and fully enjoy the time when you're not working, the greatest skill you can foster is the ability to let go.