How to Rescue Your Weekends

Saturday can feel like Tuesday in quarantine, but it doesn’t have to

Illustration: Justin Cassano

Laura Vanderkam, the time management expert who wrote Off the Clock and Juliet’s School of Possibilities, is here to answer your scheduling questions. Check back every week for more advice, and send your own productivity problems to asklaura@medium.com. (Your name will not be used.)

Dear Laura: I’m working from home. The kids are home from school. There’s nowhere to go, so weekends don’t seem too different from weekdays. I wind up checking email a lot or just doing work or chores. Any suggestions for making these days feel special?

Without the usual markers of time, days start to blend into each other. That might not be a problem if you’re vacationing on a tropical island somewhere. But when you’re just in your house — as many people have been through this pandemic — Tuesday and Saturday can both wind up featuring hours of inefficient work, home responsibilities, and anxiety. You don’t get much done, but you don’t feel relaxed either.

Fortunately, there are ways to make weekends rejuvenating, even while social distancing.

Just as in busier seasons, the key is to think through your weekends ahead of time. Think about what activities you and your household would like to do, think about when these can happen, and then make a plan for any not-so-fun activities so they don’t take over your days.

Even the best-planned weekend will likely feature laundry and vacuuming. You may need to catch up on some tasks from your job, too, especially if during-the-week homeschooling and childcare duties have shortened your workdays. But you can keep all kinds of work under control by designating a specific window for these things. Check email for an hour on Saturday morning, for example, and after 8 p.m. on Sunday. You can do a family chore blitz for a couple of hours after brunch and before watching a movie together. A short window forces prioritization. It can also help you relax when you’re doing the fun stuff.

Plan for that fun stuff in advance, too. On Wednesday or Thursday, talk with your family about what they’d like to do over the weekend. Come up with some ideas of your own. Maybe there’s a place you can hike or bike while social distancing or a nearby neighborhood you’d like to walk through. Other quarantine-friendly activities include board games, movie marathons, virtual get-togethers with friends and family, virtual worship services, a backyard bonfire, or baking and cooking projects.

Also, think about what you personally will enjoy: Reading a book, a soak in the tub, time spent crafting, gardening, or doing a hobby. Choose a handful of activities to make happen, then save the rest for future weekends.

Then work out the logistics. Check your weather apps. A hike is best when the weather is nice, but you’ll probably want to get an early start to avoid running into too many other families with the same idea; your cookie-baking extravaganza, on the other hand, is better suited to a rainy afternoon. If you have a co-parent, figure out when the two of you can swap coverage so each of you can fit in some personal time. Negotiating this in advance lets adults anticipate their fun and massively cuts down on resentment. If you need any supplies, add them to the grocery list (or put in a delivery order).

Once you have a rough plan, you just need to execute it. This may be easier said than done, as the weekend brings on an urge to veg out. But I find it helpful to repeat this mantra: Do it anyway. If your Wednesday self thought a hike would be fun, your Saturday self will probably enjoy it once you get going — and after the fact, you’ll be glad you did it.

Keep your happy future self in mind when your present self starts grumbling that it would be more convenient to watch Netflix.

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management books including Off the Clock and 168 Hours. She blogs at LauraVanderkam.com.

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