Balance is like the stock market: it goes up and down, and the wisest folks keep their eyes on the distant horizon. But in 2020, I had a market crash in the equilibrium of my life.
Our consulting company, like most small businesses, was affected enormously by COVID-19. Afraid of potential layoffs or long-term effects, I poured myself into work – as surely many of you did. With so many new strategies to explore and international calls often beginning as early at 5:00 a.m, my body began to rise at 3:30 in the morning with anticipatory adrenaline, and I soon found myself working 7 days a week. Of course, staying busy also provided a convenient numbing of the fear and ambiguity.
By January 2021 (nine months in), our business had stabilised and was even thriving. While the logistical need to work every single day had passed, my body and mind had forgotten how to be off-duty. I found I could shut work off for a portion of each day but not for a complete day – or, more importantly, two days in a row. So, on a recent Saturday morning, I decided to reclaim the weekend.
My body began to rise at 3:30 in the morning with anticipatory adrenaline, and I soon found myself working 7 days a week.
Like all addictions, my workaholism was a shapeshifter. The moment I decided to put work completely aside (laptop in the drawer!) for ALL of Saturday and ALL of Sunday, my mind flooded with domestic work to replace it. Projects gleefully populated the vacated space: Buy those shelves for the garage. Research new schools for next year. Make a good red sauce from scratch and freeze it. I was twitchy and restless, craving activity and doing.
But bit by bit, I retook my weekend, which in my philosophy, should be a time of leisure focused in two directions: leisure alone and leisure with the ones you love. I tried to be present and available and let instinct guide me. Despite my best efforts, I did accidentally clean out the fridge, but I also fell asleep to the sound of the rain while reading Water for Elephants.
The gains from this 48-hour hiatus filled with 'time with no assignment' were undeniable. On Monday, I saw gains that bolstered everything from my writing to my squash game – which makes sense because research tells us that downtime replenishes our stores of attention and motivation and is a critical precursor to productivity and creativity. With my own experience as proof, I’m going to try hard to have every weekend I can. Here’s how you can join me.
1. Remove Your Primary Device
Put your primary work device out of sight and out of mind for as much of the weekend as you can. The best practice is to let it go all the way dead or place it in an inaccessible place (the phone is the toughest to do this with due to its many personal uses but strive for disconnection when possible)
2. Record To-Dos without Doing
Keep a pad with you to jot down work thoughts, professional reminders, or domestic projects that whisper to you, but do not take action on them. Collect them with the knowledge that come Monday, they’ll be patiently waiting.
3. Read Fiction
There is no form of entertainment methadone that can better temper your work cravings than a good novel. Whether your taste is spies, romance, adventure, or sci-fi, grab an old-fashioned page-turner and let it be your best friend all weekend (extra credit for reading on paper).
4. Do Nothing Together
Organising leisure activities can be yet another disguise for your achieving self. In your early forays back into weekending, abstain from intricate plans and just sit around with the people you love, focused on low-stimulation activities done in proximity of each other.
My next scheduled weekend begins Saturday – and the Saturday after that and all of the rest going forward. I had always known how important this was but had lost my way, as I’m sure many of you also have in this difficult time. Come back to the weekend with me, and we can rediscover it together.
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