No matter how your work week is organized, one thing is certain: Everyone needs a weekend. With freelance and contract work we're granted the freedom to create our own schedules, but the benefits of a defined work week can get lost in the "tyranny of the urgent" as we juggle different employers and a variety of deadlines.
Last year Rochester University studied the impact of weekends on overall mental and physical wellbeing and their study participants consistently felt better on weekends. Said psychology professor Richard Ryan:
"Far from frivolous, the relatively unfettered time on weekends provides critical opportunities for bonding with others, exploring interests and relaxing; basic psychological needs that people should be careful not to crowd out with overwork."
Here are some tips for creating space in your career for weekends and using them to refresh your energy and creativity:
1. Never PLAN on working over a weekend. This means when an employer gives you an assignment late in the day on Friday and asks for it to be turned in on Monday, you have to say, "No, but I can get it to you by end of day Tuesday." Sure, there will be emergencies that require the occasional working weekend, but don't plan it that way. Ever. Whenever you are given a deadline, evaluate it with realistic expectations. If necessary, ask the client to adjust the deadline, so you get your weekend -- there's no shame in it!
2. Conquer PROCRASTINATION once and for all. Okay, maybe you can't conquer it once and for all, but you can certainly take it one day at a time and say, "Today is a work day, and I will not run errands. I will WORK." Try it tomorrow (provided tomorrow is not the start of your weekend). This will drastically cut the amount of "emergency work weekends" you end up with.
3. PRIORITIZE your weekend. We're all wired differently. Maybe for some the weekend needs to be about laying on the couch and doing laundry. For others distractions from the daily routine like a day trip into nature can be completely refreshing. Figure out what keeps YOUR stress level down and then prioritize your weekend activities accordingly, so that weekends consist of things that rejuvinate you.
4. PROTECT your days off. Don't let a busy schedule take over your days off and don't let busy people hijack your weekend. Your circle of friends and family may have certain expectations of how you'll spend your weekends, but you have to set boundaries. Your weekend is not meant to be a string of endless obligations.
5. UNPLUG your weekend. In a technological age where our contract work can be at our fingertips whether we're sitting at a ball game or a wedding reception, we have to work harder at shutting off the smartphones and being present in the moment. Consider the benefits of not touching the Internet one entire day or sending phone calls to voicemail for most of your weekend. At first it may feel like an appendage is missing from your body, but when you discover what an unplugged day feels like, you may wonder why you never tried it before.
No more excuses: It's good for you. It's good for business. Take your weekend and make the most of it!
What has your experience been with days off? Share your perspective in the comments below.