Tanya Golash-Boza

Professor at University of California at Merced

Take the Weekends Off

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Image: advertisement for the Eden Hôtel, 1918 (from les Archives départementales des Alpes Maritimes)

When I began my tenure-track position in 2005, I did not have Internet access at home or a smartphone. I remember telling a collaborator not to expect a response from me on Saturdays or Sundays as I did not check email on the weekends. He was astonished. Fast forward to today: I have both web access at home and an iPhone so it’s more challenging to avoid working on the weekends now. But I still make every effort not to.

We all need a real break from work. I’ve found I need time off on the weekends in order to be productive the following week. Our productivity declines precipitously when we try to work more than 40 hours a week. It is, thus, much more effective to consciously limit our working hours so that we can be as productive as possible during those times we are working – and can enjoy our time off, guilt-free.

What would happen if you didn’t work at all this weekend? I spent a recent weekend in Yosemite National Park, with limited phone and email access. I went on a hike to a waterfall, swam in the cool and clear Merced River, had engaging conversations with friends, and laughed with my daughters. When I came back to work on Monday, I felt rejuvenated and ready to move forward with my writing projects.

If you are used to working all or part of the weekend, here are some ways to spend your time that will ensure you return to work rejuvenated:

1) Take a long walk in the park without your phone. There is scientific evidence that walking helps us think. When was the last time you spent time alone? I mean, really alone, without any electronic devices? If it’s been awhile, you might be surprised what happens when you venture out with just your thoughts.

2) Get some exercise. Go to the gym. Getting your heart rate up can make you feel great. Go lift some weights or run as fast as you can on the elliptical. Go for a swim or take a yoga class. Apart from being good for your heart, there is evidence that exercise is good for your brain.

3) Meditate. There are many mental, spiritual, and physical benefits to meditation. Try it out and see if it works for you. “Mindfulness meditation” has been found to enhance your focus and even reduce your stress levels.

4) Hang out with friends and family. Tell them that you love them. Find out what brings them joy. What about a friend with whom you can share your worries? It can be especially good to spend time with someone who makes you laugh as there are numerous health benefits to laughter.

5) Do something crafty or artistic, even if you’re not very crafty or artistic. Do you have a project lying around you have been meaning to get to? Do you have an easel tucked away in a closet? Pull it out and get painting. Or sign yourself up for a drawing or photography class. It will allow you to be creative on something other than work.

Stop telling yourself you don’t have time to do any of those things and just do them. You may be surprised to find that, in general, working less makes you more productive. For example, if you are feeling exhausted, you could still pull out your computer and spend four hours preparing for Monday’s class. However, it would be much more effective to go for a walk and think about what you’d like to accomplish in your next class. After your walk, spend 30 minutes writing up your notes for class. There is even evidence (not that some of us need it) that working less will make you happier.

In case you are still not convinced, scientific research backs up the idea that turning off your brain can enhance your creative potential. I took a class on creativity and productivity with scientist Morgan Giddings, where she explained that there is a part of your brain that is only activated when you are not focused on work. When you are writing or teaching class, you are only accessing a limited part of your brain that allows you to focus and do your work. In contrast, when you are relaxing and focused on other things, you can access deeper levels of your brain. That’s why so many people have revelations in the shower: Because that is a time when you are not actively working.

The only way to activate that part of your subconscious mind is to not work. So, try it. Plan to take the entire weekend off. Or, if you have things you absolutely must finish before Monday, set aside a limited amount of time on Saturday or Sunday to complete those tasks. But try to take at least one day completely off this weekend and do something you really enjoy.

Let me know how it goes and please share your ideas about what to do when you are not working.

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