For as long as I can remember, I’ve always pushed myself to work harder and longer. But when I found myself feeling burnt out and exhausted from going nonstop, I realized it was time to make a change. And being the naïve workaholic I am, I assumed the solution would be simple: I’d turn off my email on the weekends and not check in again until Monday morning at 9 AM. That’s what work-life balance is all about, right?
For a person like myself, this turned out to be a lot easier said than done. The very first weekend I tried to take “off” led to me feeling anxious about the emails I wasn’t answering and the projects I was surely getting behind on.
And that’s when I learned that in today’s super-connected world, it takes almost as much energy to chill out on the weekends as it does to work on the weekdays. However, I’m happy to report that over the past year, I’ve gotten down to a system where I barely touch my computer for 48 hours straight.
Want to know my secret? Well, I adopted these three habits that you can apply to your life on the weekends—or, if you tend to stay late at work, to your weeknights too.
1. Black Out Your Free Time
The most important thing that helped me when I began taking my weekend time seriously was “blacking out” my weekend—as in, considering those 48 hours of no work to be non-negotiable.
That way, whenever I found myself saying, “Eh, I could just finish that assignment this weekend…” or wanting to take on an extra project that I could do on Saturday, I’d be reminded that that time literally wasn’t available on my calendar.
2. Manage Your Days Better
To successfully get your free time in, calling your Saturday and Sunday off-limits isn’t enough. After all, the emails will keep coming and the work will continue to pile up, regardless of what you want to do.
So, rather than giving in and just doing a little bit on Saturday morning, you need to get your time management game in check. Turns out, if I was more productive on Monday through Friday, I didn’t have those piles of work anymore to worry about on the weekends.
I rely on Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s theme day strategy (which you can read more about here). I spend Mondays focusing on general organization and Fridays on networking and connecting with others, allowing me to always have goals other than simply decreasing my workload. That way, I also don’t worry about these things on the weekends.
But there are so many options when it comes to using your workday more wisely, such as creating an “urgent versus important” to-do list or making tasks emotional. You should try a few different time management strategies to figure out what works for you.
3. Limit the Type of Work You’ll Do on Weekends
Fine, you just can’t stomach the thought of unplugging on the weekend. I get it. Truth be told,
I usually pick up my work on Sunday evenings to get myself ready for Monday morning. However, I limit myself to answering emails—and nothing more consuming than that.
By doing this, I’ve found that I actually don’t resent the work I get done on my weekends, and it also gets me in the zone to start more challenging work come Monday morning since my inbox isn’t clogged up with to-dos.
And, even better than this, try writer Sara McCord’s advice to finding work-life balance: Write all those emails, save them in drafts, and then fire them off Monday morning—ensuring you won’t have to take any more action on Sunday night.
Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule. If you’re new to a job and are trying to impress your boss, it’s OK to work through your first few weekends to get caught up. Or, if you have a huge presentation coming up on Monday and need to run through slides, you shouldn’t feel guilty about taking that time.
The point is, though, you should feel like you’re in control of your designated free time and what you do with it—instead of feeling like your job constantly takes over your life.