So one issue with trying to take a break is that we get so much advice on how to work and very little realistic advice on what to do when we rest.
Most rest advice that we do get, is aspirational. To paraphrase a recent magazine that I very much enjoyed reading but have no intention of imitating: you should be wearing a $1000 pair of white trousers while sipping negronis at an Italian-style hotel with an optional butler. But I’m actually interested in how to take a couple of days off (maybe or maybe not a Saturday-Sunday) as part of my regular life.
This blog post then is less about being inspiring or aspirational, and more about how I negotiate the need to take regular breaks as a regular person. Because my partner works 6 days, he needs to spread his chores and joys more evenly through the week. You might have preferences, or caring responsibilities, or other things that impact what works for you.
After years of experimenting and getting it right and getting it wrong, I have developed a pretty clear sense of what a restorative, balanced weekend looks like for me.
So a weekend, for me, starts on Friday evening, and needs to be wrapped up before I go to bed on Sunday. This gives me effectively two evenings and two days.
- Friday night, be social. Go out for dinner or to some live music or grab a drink. I’m still in public-facing, interacting mode, and it’s motivating to end the work week with something fun to look forward to.
- Saturday morning, look after the body. Usually this means a yoga class and then pastries and coffee.
My partner likes to sleep while I’m at yoga, and then go for a cycle ride later. Either way, we both do some exercise.
- The rest of Saturday is for reading, resting, etc. I might do something fun out with just my partner.
- Sunday is chores day. You absolutely need some time in your week to cook, clean, shop, do laundry etc. Sunday is my day for all those tasks—I go to the grocery shopping, run the washing machine pretty constantly, scrub the shower and try to prepare ahead so meals are partly created till at least Wednesday night.
This gives me a recipe for success:
- 1 part going-out social;
- 1 part caring for the body;
- 2 parts rest/fun;
- 3 parts chores (big shop, big clean, big cook).
If I cram two social events into a weekend, something else has to give—either the rest or the chores. If I am sick or exhausted then I need more rest—but I also need food to eat and to fill my heart with love and support. I usually prefer to do most of the housework on a single day, but I might have to bump some tasks along to mid-week if I want to squeeze in a spring clean or a big garden day.
Having a recipe helps me to plan. I know to schedule in fun things, but not so much fun I’m tired later. It helps me be realistic about how much chore-work will get done.
It also helps me transpose those plans into and out of lockdowns. I was writing the first draft of this post when I was planned, at various moments, to have gone to a family party (cancelled), a concert and dinner with friends (cancelled), a work function (cancelled) and a yoga class (cancelled).
- Instead I did Zoom drinks
- I did some at home yoga
- I read a book and did some chores.
- I wrote cards to people I had hoped to see in person.
- I also worked across the weekend, because emergencies take work.
Knowing the proportions helped me spread out the work so I lost one part of rest and one of chores—but I still got some rest in, and we had food in the fridge and clean clothes. I didn’t get to cleaning the showers though.
Now this isn’t the only time I’m not at work in the week—I love a midweek dinner with a friend, I go to the gym, I have yet to find a way to avoid dishes and mask washing through the week. I also scroll Twitter, read books, commute, floss my teeth, stay in touch with family. You know, the stuff.
And it’s not uncommon that I do a bit of work over the weekend. I typed out a draft of this blog post on my phone sitting on the sofa. Most knowledge workers will have work that smears over into their leisure time, especially as we work more remotely and so the boundaries blur. So it’s good to have a sense of proportion to blur the boundaries in the other direction too. Working from home allows me to sleep later, instead of commuting. so I’m less sleep deprived at the end of the week. I also have the chance to do some household chores during my work breaks—like popping on a load of washing. If then need to respond to some professional tasks over the weekend, well that’s just quid pro quo.
So that’s what I typically do on a weekend, and setting it all out here like this might help you to do a similar reflection about what works for you and what doesn’t.
And let it take time and be uncomfortable. I wrote the first draft of this post in early August as we entered Lockdown 6 in Melbourne and I’m only going to be publishing it a few months later. Partly that’s a function of needing to plan blog posts in advance, but it’s also a function of the fact that I didn’t want to edit this post because looking at what my weekend actually looked like in lockdown made me feel sad.
And actually it’s helpful to notice what makes you sad about your current weekend routine. For example, lockdown has continuously clarified for me where being at home is great, and where being at home is not so great. I will absolutely be going back to the gym and catching up with friends and going to cultural events and working in libraries as soon as it is safe to do so. In previous roles, reflections like this have made me realise I needed to change jobs or make other significant changes.
Wishing you joy. Let me know about your rest strategies, join the conversation on Twitter @ResearchInsider.