Money Mic: ‘I Conquered Work-Life Balance—By Hacking My Weekends’

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Weekend Warrior: My Love-Hate Relationship With Work-Life Balance

Since the day my 4-year-old son was born, I’ve been a self-employed mom. So while he’s at preschool during the week, I work from my home office. But since I typically pick him up by 11:30 A.M., he ends up spending a lot of time with me—making it difficult to run errands or finish all of my assignments.

On the weekends, my husband and I share parenting responsibilities, so I have a little more downtime than usual—and until recently, I invariably spent this time running in circles, trying to squeeze in too much at once.

Here’s what a typical Saturday morning looked like: As soon as my husband and son left the house for a playground excursion, I’d throw a load of laundry in the wash and unload the dishwasher. In the middle of those tasks, I’d remember another to-do, like running vinegar through the coffee pot for a cleaning.

Realizing it was getting late in the morning, I’d suddenly feel a sense of urgency to start my yoga practice before they returned. But about 20 minutes into yoga, the load of laundry I’d started was ready for the dryer, so I’d hit the pause button on yoga to change over the laundry—but not before checking work email on my smartphone, rendering it nearly impossible to recapture my yoga focus.

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Before I knew it, my husband and son were home—and my only real accomplishment was making myself as frazzled as humanly possible. I’d try to wind down by going to dinner or a movie in the evening, but the whole time I’d be nagged by a chorus of “shoulds”: I shouldn’t be eating at this fancy restaurant. I should be folding that laundry. I shouldn’t be thinking about laundry.

Enough was enough. I needed to figure out a better way to spend my weekends—to enjoy them again, tackle my to-do list and sneak in some relaxation. So I decided to do some reconnaissance, turning to time-management pros for advice.

Many people think that “free time” automatically implies a lack of structure—or the freedom to forgo plans altogether—but that’s where they’re wrong.

The Secret to Taking Charge of Your Time Off

According to Laura Vanderkam, author of “What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend,” the key to making the most of your Saturdays and Sundays is as simple as changing your perspective on planning. Many people think that “free time” automatically implies a lack of structure—or the freedom to forgo plans altogether—but that’s where they’re wrong.

The truth is that, whether or not you’ve penciled in an event on your calendar, you’ll still end up doing something. “And if you haven’t thought about what that ‘something’ should be, it probably won’t wind up being as meaningful or enjoyable as it could be,” Vanderkam says, adding that even a small amount of planning can have a big impact on your weekend—and even your wallet.

Take, for example, the simple act of dining out on a Saturday night. “If you plan ahead, you might score a reservation at that hot—but cheap!—Thai place,” she says. “But if you don’t plan ahead, you’ll show up, they’ll have a two-hour wait and you’ll go someplace more expensive that you won’t enjoy as much.”

But even before you can start focusing on those weekend plans, it’s important to first set up a schedule for the following workweek. So before you leave the office on Friday, Vanderkam suggests writing down everything you need to do when you return on Monday.

This way, instead of fixating on your to-do list over the weekend, you’ll actually be present while spending time with friends and family. ”It enables you to show up Monday ready to go,” Vanderkam says. “You’ll have a more productive week.”

Once you’ve drafted your Monday to-dos, it’s time to strategize your Saturday and Sunday plans. In her book, Vanderkam shares the story of a couple who learned to embrace planning by making it fun: On Friday evenings they sit down with their happy-hour drinks and list what they’d like to accomplish over the next two days. It’s a simple—but effective—way to marry planning and quality time with your partner.

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  • abookandabeach

    “How to Live at Your Full Potential in Just 30 Days” helped me do just this — book of techniques that comes w/ 3 guided meditation CDs (or MP3s for downloadable version). Easy, effective! Amazing how sometimes making 1 change can make a 90% improvement in your life. See http://www.optimindshaping.com

  • C.A.

    As a person with a six-day workweek, I have to confess that I giggled a little bit at the mention of “weekends.” But I definitely agree that the basic strategy of taking the time to make a plan remains true. In my current situation, I leave the apartment at 8:15am and get back at 8:15pm, Tuesday through Sunday. I knew that it would be tight going into it, so I made a plan of attack. It took me a halfway successful first week (which included spending my entire day off working to survive the upcoming week) to get into the swing of things, but I feel like I have refined and adjusted things now, so that even with only one hour of unstructured time per day on workdays, I’m feeling healthy and like I am actually living a life.

    One thing that does continue to befuddle me, however, is how people in my industry manage with families. Crucial to the above paragraph, I’m single and child-free.

  • Marie

    I recently read “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think” by the same author and while I don’t agree with everything she said, it did stick with me and make me seriously re-evaluate how I use my time.

    I don’t think it’s actually beneficial to be “doing” ALL the time, which Laura Vanderkam seems to recommend, but I do like the idea of being more deliberate about using free time. I like her emphasis on how something active must be a priority – it was a good kick in the pants for me.

  • http://somekernelsoftruth.com SomeKernelsofTruth

    I can so relate to this manic pace on weekends, resulting in not even enjoying what are supposed to be the good parts of it. Excellent tips; I like the idea of the fun Friday night planning session. Great article!