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9 Ways to Optimize Your Weekends

By Kerry Weiss
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
June 16, 2023

Why does the weekend seem to take ages to arrive but fly by in a flash? Between running errands, socializing, and entertaining, there's barely enough time to rest. But there are steps you can take to make the most of your precious days off.

Whether you want to be productive, relax, or a mix of both, these steps can set you on the right path.

1. Set Your Alarm

It may sound counterintuitive, but sticking to your weekday sleep-wake schedule can actually lead to better weekends. "Maintaining a regular sleep cycle, in terms of the amount of sleep you’re getting nightly and your falling-asleep and waking-up times, is best for your well‑being," says Larry Marks, Ph.D., staff psychologist at University of Central Florida Counseling and Psychological Services, in Orlando.

One 2020 study suggests that sleeping in or napping on the weekends doesn’t quite make up for any sleep debt that you accumulate throughout the week, anyway.

2. Sketch Out a Plan

"Take a look at your to-do list and set reasonable goals for the weekend in terms of getting things done and having time to relax," Marks says. "This can help you feel more in control and help in balancing activities.”

But don’t be afraid to keep your planning loose. "You might say you’re going to do the laundry and clean the house Saturday morning and do a family activity Saturday afternoon, but not plan it out to the exact minute,” Marks adds.

3. Tackle Your To-Dos First

Nothing kills those weekend vibes quicker than having chores like yard work, car maintenance, and grocery shopping hanging over you. Crossing pesky errands off your to-do list at the start of your days off may help you slide into relaxation mode more easily. "Getting needed tasks out of the way early will allow you to make sure they get done and are not avoided," Marks says. "That being said, sometimes we have to spread out weekend tasks due to other plans."

4. Find Time for Self-Care

"Self-care is a necessity for our physical and mental well‑being," says Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D., industrial-organizational psychology practitioner and founder of the Cooper Strategic Group. According to the International Self-Care Foundation, that includes things like exercising and eating healthy as well as paying attention to when you need to slow down to tend to your physical and emotional health.

Consider taking your self-care routine outdoors. One study suggests that activities like taking a walk, viewing nature, gardening, and other outdoor activities may help reduce stress and improve overall health.

5. Don’t Feel Guilty for Doing Nothing

Italians have an expression, il dolce far niente, which translates to “the sweetness of doing nothing.” Having better weekends doesn't have to mean filling them with activities. "If you have the luxury to binge-watch a TV show and have a desire to do so, then enjoy that reward," Cooper Hakim says.

6. Work Ahead If You Find It Helpful

"Many find Mondays to be particularly busy at work," Cooper Hakim says. "If it helps you to check in remotely, do so for a limited time, but then return to your weekend plans."

7. Consider Meal Prep

Spend a few of your free hours on Sunday to cook a large meal or two that can be used throughout the week. Scour your cookbooks for interesting recipes and challenge yourself to pack these make-ahead meals with healthy ingredients. One French study suggests that even occasional meal planning can help you establish a healthier diet with more food variety.

8. Practice Gratitude

"Try to be thankful for having time and for being able to do the things that you did do, as well as finding things that you are looking forward to in the upcoming week," Marks says.

9. Take Steps to Avoid the Sunday Scaries

That sense of stress and dread that creeps up as the weekend comes to an end is not uncommon. In fact, results from a 2022 survey conducted by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that 79% of respondents had a harder time falling asleep Sunday compared to any other night of the week.

“Try to get any Sunday errands and chores done earlier in the day so that you have ample time to relax on Sunday afternoon and evening,” Cooper Hakim says.

Experiment with these strategies to find what gives you the right balance to your weekend. You may even consider reevaluating your week as a whole, as there’s been a societal shift between weekends and weekdays, particularly as more people are working from home.

"Rather than thinking about the weekend versus the week, consider how your time and energy through every day is interconnected," Marks says. “Reflect on when your most productive times are, when you enjoy relaxation and fun, when you have planned events, and what fits best for you and your family." The key to better weekends may lie in finding balance between work and rest during the week.

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