We’re happiest on Saturdays at 7:26 PM.
At least that’s what this survey found. Yet, while this exact time seems strange, there have been multiple studies to back up that people are generally happier on weekends.
A team of researchers from Rochester University found that regardless of how much money you make, how many hours you work, or even what you do for a living, people are happiest on Saturdays and Sundays. Even unemployed people feel happier on weekends, according to another Stanford study.
It seems that “weekend happiness” is something we all tend to feel, regardless of what’s happening in our lives.
Even though I love running my company Crew and having the freedom to set my own schedule, I know I feel less stressed on the weekends. All this made me ask: Why does a Saturday feel different than a Wednesday?
Over the course of 10 days, I tracked what I ate, how I slept, and any major events that happened. I also wrote a summary at the end of the day of how I felt and ranked how “perfect” of a day it was on a scale of 1 to 10. From this data, I was able to collect my biggest sources of stress and, conversely, my biggest sources of happiness (go here to see my whole process!).
After seeing the results of my own experiment, I had a much clearer idea of what made me happy and what made me feel overwhelmed.
I also learned more about the impact other people can have on my mood. While I may not be able to change the schedule the world operates on, there are ways I’ve found to reduce how I let these external sources of anxiety affect me.
So naturally, after learning this new information, I wanted to find ways to operate for the long haul. If I could do that, I knew I’d not only feel better about each day, but I’d be able to consistently do better work.
Here’s what has worked for me:
1. Make a Short, Prioritized To-Do List
My biggest source of stress is feeling like I have too much work to do.
After becoming mindful of this, I’ve realized it isn’t the actual amount of projects, but rather the fact that I haven’t properly organized what I need to do. It boiled down to something that seemed so innocent: my to-do list.
It had become unwieldy. Instead of housing the tasks for that day, my list had become a depository for any goal, realistic or not. Looking back, it seems ridiculous that at one point I had 161 things “to do” in one day.
To win over your to-do list, you need a short, prioritized list that’s flexible enough to adapt to things that will come up. Instead of throwing everything in one long list, I restructured my daily list by looking at a typical day and sorting what I need to do by priority.
Then, I put these tasks in the project management tool Trello.
Under each column, I put the current project I’m working on. I put in enough tasks that will take about five to six hours to complete. This leaves enough time for other unexpected things that might come up, as well as breaks. And by scheduling dedicated break times, I consider them part of my daily tasks, making it easier to set aside time to eat a good meal, exercise, or meet with friends and family (all sources of happiness).
Another challenge I’ve always had with my to-do list is things never getting crossed off. An important item might just sit there for months and eat away at my motivation, stressing me out. Because my list never changed, I didn’t see progress. Because of how I organize it now, I can easily clear out individual tasks, which makes me feel like I’m winning the day.
2. Overestimate Your Deadlines
Over the last year I tracked my personal deadlines, and I only hit about a quarter of them.
Like most people, I always think I can do more. But when I miss a deadline, it becomes a source of stress. My solution for this was to make each thing I needed to do a clear action that was easy to reach.
For instance, when I write, I don’t set a word count or a goal of finishing a blog post. Instead, I give myself a target of just writing each day. It could be a paragraph or a full article. As long as I write something, I win. Only when I get close to completing a story do I change the to-do item to, “finish blog post”.
Setting unrealistic deadlines over and over is a recipe for burn out and makes it harder for you to keep up with a high level of quality work long term. If you overwork yourself today and don’t do your work tomorrow, what’s the outcome? Less repeatable progress and more stress.
Someone who writes 200 words a day every day for ten days accomplishes the same thing as someone who writes 2,000 words once every ten days. Of course, if you’re in a zone, don’t stop. Write 50,000 words if you’re feeling it. But if your attention starts to fade (maybe you can’t help but look at your phone or check your favorite website) that’s a signal to break.
3. Do Focused Work—But Before You Do, Tell the People Around You
Not all hours are created equal.
Just because you work more hours, doesn’t mean you’re doing more (or better) work.
Multitasking is a myth. When we try to multitask, we might feel like we’re getting more done, but as research shows, we actually do less and make more mistakes. One hour of focused work with no distractions is more valuable than three hours interrupted by checking texts, emails, pings, and rings.
When I first started working with no interruptions, it felt awkward. I felt like I was being rude, putting on my headphones and not answering people when they spoke to me. Because I was thinking about my rudeness, my mind wasn’t fully focused on my task.
I realized one of the mistakes I made was not telling the people when I was going into a stretch of focused work. Not everyone functions this way, so if I choose to, I need to tell the people around me.
Here’s an example of a message I send my wife:
Though it takes time to message the people you work with, it’s much better than snapping at people if they ask you for something while you’re trying to focus.
4. Sleep—But if You Can’t Sleep, Wake Up and Work on What’s on Your Mind
I know I usually need seven to eight hours of sleep a night to feel rested.
I noticed because I’m more worried from work-related tasks during the week, I get less sleep on average compared to a weekend.
During the week, I’ll often have one or two nights a week where I can’t sleep because my mind is racing. I used to lay in bed and try everything I could to force myself to sleep. As I lay awake longer and longer, I could feel my stress build.
So, I tried something new. If I’m restless, I wake up and work on what’s on my mind. It doesn’t matter if it’s 4 AM. A half hour of debating the thing that’s circling in my head calms me down much more than rolling around for hours.
Get your sleep. But if you can’t, wake up and focus on what’s bugging you.
5. You Don’t Have to Work Out Every Day—Just Move
Though our bodies crave movement, you don’t need a huge workout to get the level of exercise you need to be healthy.
National Geographic researcher Dan Buettner studied areas of the world where people are living the longest. One thing he and his team consistently found was that the people they studied were getting a constant, low intensity amount of exercise, usually from walking, standing up and sitting down, or tending to a garden.
Staying in any one position for too long causes our blood circulation to drop. Moving gives you a moment to refresh. Whether it’s walking to your office, taking the time to stretch while you’re microwaving your lunch, or playing a sport, any type of blood flow acts as a release. It’s an opportunity to refresh your brain and make you feel good.
6. Give Five Minutes Toward Daily Affirmations
I’m fortunate, but I don’t think about how fortunate I am enough.
As one of our writers, Jeremy Duvall, recently wrote one of the main causes of not being grateful is something called hedonic adaptation, which is a fancy term that means we automatically adapt to good (or bad) things as they happen. When something that makes us feel good happens, like a raise, we get a momentary increase in happiness. Yet shortly after, we find ourselves dipping back down to being just as happy (or unhappy) as we were before.
To be more aware of the good things I already have more often, I’ve started setting aside five minutes each day to writing answers to these prompts:
To start the day:
- “I am grateful for…”
- “What would make today great?”
- “I am XYZ (creative, a happy person)”
To end the day:
- “Three amazing things that happened today are...”
- “How could I have made today better?”
I learned about this technique while listening to a podcast hosted by bestselling author and frequent writer on the topic of productivity, Tim Ferriss.
By writing down your answers to these prompts each day, you’re reminding yourself about what you should be grateful for and what you value. It frames your mind so that no matter what happens today, good or bad, you’re reminded that you already have things to be grateful for.
After doing this for a few days, I’ve noticed I’m often more positive throughout the day. This was a big impact for something that only takes five minutes, the same amount of time for me to put on pants and brush my teeth.
We’re missing out if we’re just cycling through a stressful five days and recovering for two.
To live the life you want, identify what you’re grateful for, what makes you happy, and what makes you anxious. Then, find ways to remove your sources of anxiety and add sources of happiness to each day.
This article was originally published on Crew. It has been republished here with permission.