Weekends never feel long enough. Whether it’s a regular two-day weekend or an extended (but, somehow, still short) three-day weekend, leisure time goes by much faster than work days.
While there isn’t a magical way to actually extend every weekend, there are ways to take advantage of the time off work, and, in turn, make your weekends feel more fulfilling.
According to Dr. Mike Sevilla, a family physician at the Family Practice Center of Salem in Ohio, weekends are even more important than you may think.
“People need physical time and space to relax and recharge their mind and body after a long work week,” Sevilla said.
Tracy Dumas, an associate professor in the management and human resources department atthe Ohio State University, added that “any break from work, [whether] vacations, weekends or even after work in the evening, is incredibly important for recovery.”
Recovery, Dumas added, is a “term used by organizational psychologists to capture the concept of replenishing resources depleted by the effort expended at work” — much as athletes need to recover and take rest days after tough workouts.
Here, experts share how to optimize those recovery days and make the most of your time off:
Plan out some of your time.
“You can make the most out of your weekend by planning to do activities that you enjoy,” said Alayna L. Park, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon.
She noted that creating a specific schedule for your weekend can help you follow through with the activities you want to do. This way, you don’t go into Sunday night feeling disappointed with the activities you did (or didn’t do).
Think about it: You’re much more likely to go on that long bike ride if you rent a bike in advance or coordinate a ride with a friend. And while planning things out may not physically make your weekend longer, having set things to do (that you’re looking forward to) can make you feel like you’ve maximized your time.
And, there’s another bonus of making plans ahead of time: “Making enjoyable plans in advance can also give you something to look forward to during a hectic workweek,” Park said.
Curb your screen use and find a hobby.
It’s pretty common to feel like time flies when you sit down to watch an hour-long show or scroll Instagram. Studies show that people who spend a lot of time on social media can experience a distorted sense of time, often wondering how it passed so quickly.
Looking at social media or watching TV over the weekend is OK, of course, but you should try to limit it. According to Sevilla, taking a break from watching TV or scrolling social media is a good way to reconnect with things that make you happy on your days off.
“Consider returning to a previous hobby that you were doing before the pandemic, such as walking or reading,” Sevilla said. “Or, better yet, challenge yourself to try out something new.”
Do activities that are different from your day-to-day work.
“Engage in activities that draw on a completely different set of resources than your work,” Dumas said.
In other words, if your 9-to-5 job is highly technical, spend the weekend doing an activity that builds on different skills, she advised. This could mean playing a musical instrument or trying out kickball.
On the other hand, if you work in the arts industry, you may want to stay away from activities like writing or creating on your days off and try something completely different. This way, you won’t be reminded of work when you’re trying to enjoy your weekend.
Put work away.
Let work be something that takes place on the weekdays, not your time off.
According to Sevilla, furthering the distance between you and work during the weekend is important. Worrying about work wastes those valuable weekend minutes that could be spent with friends or family. “Keeping work out of sight and out of mind can help make the weekend feel a little longer,” Sevilla said.
This can mean turning off your work phone, disabling your work email and even putting your work laptop away so you aren’t reminded of a looming deadline while you cuddle up on the couch.
Find a balance between going out and resting.
According to Dumas, “rest is important, but staying on the couch or in bed all weekend isn’t as helpful.” If you spend too much time resting all weekend, time truly will fly by —when’s the last time you laid down for a quick nap and woke up two hours later?
You’ll feel at your peak when you combine that much-needed rest with an activity that you find enjoyable or stimulating, Dumas explained. Specifically, engaging in mastery activities, in which you learn something new, will help you gain more energy.
What’s more, if you find these activities enriching, you’ll head into work on Monday with that energy and in a better mood because of your great experience over the weekend, Dumas said.
Stay in the moment.
It may be easier said than done, but if you stay in the moment during your treasured days off, you’ll have a more enjoyable weekend. In fact, studies show that some people who practice ongoing mindfulness and meditation experience time at a slower rate.
If your mind starts wandering to an email you sent last week or to an upcoming meeting, Park suggested that you ground yourself in the present moment.
“You can ground yourself anywhere and anytime using your senses,” she said. To do so, start by naming five things that you can see, four things that you can touch, three things that you can hear, two things that you can smell and one thing that you can taste, she said.
“Once you are back in the present moment, then you can intentionally move forward with things that bring you a sense of joy,” Park said.
And who doesn’t want to experience a sense of joy all throughout a slow-moving weekend?
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Dr. Mike Sevilla’s practice being in Oregon. It is in Salem, Ohio.