Let me make one thing clear: This is not a post about how you should spend your weekends working yourself to the bone.
"Productivity" has a much wider definition than many of us give it credit for. We tend to equate productivity with doing things, rather than with taking time to think, reflect, and rest.
But busyness is not the same as productivity. Being productive can mean working on a project efficiently, but it can also mean giving your mind a break. After all, w hen people are exhausted and burnt out, they become less engaged at work -- and Gallup reports that engaged employees are a whopping 28% more productive than unengaged employees. (Not to mention they're happier, more attentive, and more innovative.)
So, what are some ways you can make your weekends more productive, in every sense of the word?
Check out the list below for some ideas. Some of these are geared toward the more conventional definition of productivity, while others are biased toward giving yourself a break so you can be happier, more creative, and more efficient in the long-term.
(Note: If you're finding you're still working nonstop on weekends, check out our guide on how to be more productive to learn how to manage your time and maximize your workplace performance during the week.)
12 Ways to Be More Productive on the Weekends
1) Use different skills than you use during the week.
You probably spend the majority of your workweek sitting at your desk or in conference rooms, slogging away at your day-to-day tasks. That's why changing the types of activities you do on weekends can play a big role in both your level of happiness and productivity.
Why? By changing the types of activities you're doing, you can actually change the neurons firing inside your head. Using different neurons makes it easier for you to make different types of connections and associations. When composers get stuck writing a piece of music, for example, it's not uncommon for them to switch to a different instrument to help get over their writer's block. The different instrument helps them think about the "problem" in a different way.
Laura Vanderkam, author of the book What Successful People Do Before Breakfast, agrees, saying your weekends need to feel different from your weekdays. She suggests rotating in different activities and hobbies that you don't have time to do during the week. Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson plays soccer on the weekends, for example. And billionaire Warren Buffet plays the ukulele. Making time for hobbies and non-work activities can foster creativity, relieve stress, and make you a happier, more successful person.
2) Don't try to do it all.
If you wake up on Saturday with a list of 20 to-do list items, you're setting yourself up for failure. (Or at least for a whole lot of stress.) The key is to prioritize so you get the most important things done, not all the things done. That way, you allow yourself the time to do them well.
One technique for prioritizing your to-do list is called the impact vs. effort analysis. Here's how it works: Before you begin a task, ask yourself how much effort this task will take, and what the immediate impact will be. This'll help you quickly figure out which of the items on your to-do list will have the most immediate impact in the least amount of time.
For example, if you wake up on a Saturday and find your inbox is overflowing but you were hoping to bang out a blog post before lunch, run a quick impact vs. effort analysis in your head. You might realize that getting through 30+ emails takes a significant amount of effort, but actually has little impact on your success. Writing that blog post, on the other hand, requires more effort, but it carries a much higher impact.
3) Kick into gear first thing in the morning.
"The early bird catches the worm" isn't a common phrase for nothing. Practically every article out there on productivity says waking up early can help you get more done -- provided you went to bed at a reasonable hour the night before. If not, it may be better to catch up on sleep. (See #6.)
Either way, when you do get up, try to get up and out of bed as soon as you can. Mornings tend to be slower and lend fewer distractions, making it easier for you to get things done more quickly.
"I try to leave my house as early as possible," says Leslie Ye, writer and editor for HubSpot's Sales Blog . "That way, I get fresh air and don't just sit on my couch all day."
"If I do an easy but rote chore right when I wake up, like clean the kitchen or empty the dishwasher, I'm usually really productive the rest of that day," says HubSpot's Director of Content Corey Wainwright. The idea is that, if you kick yourself into gear first thing in the morning, you don't give yourself a chance to laze around -- and you'll put yourself in the mindset to get things done.
4) Give your mind a break.
Alternatively, if you don't have anything specific if you need to get done, sometimes the best thing you can do for your future productivity is to give your mind a break.
After all, time off is good for your productivity and performance at work. Almost nine out of ten American workers feel like time off increases their happiness, and 91% of business leaders believe their employees return from breaks recharged and ready to work more effectively.
Ye likes to use weekends to get outside and get some fresh air. "Being in an office five days a week leaves me drained by Friday," she says. "Taking the time to do an outside activity, even if it's just taking a walk along the Charles River, helps me recharge and gives my mind a break."
Meditating is another way to release your mind from stressors -- and it happens to have extraordinary health and productivity benefits, like increased focus, reduced stress, and greater creativity. Plenty of successful people -- Jack Dorsey, Rupert Murdoch, and Oprah Winfrey -- all meditate daily.
If you've never meditated before, there are a few great apps that offer guided meditations, like Headspace (which gives you 10 free guided meditation sessions with the option of subscribing later) or Calm (which offers two-dozen guided meditation session ranging from a few minutes long to about 30 minutes long).
5) Catch up on sleep.
Sleep debt is a real thing. The downsides of sleep debt aren't just that you're tired all the time -- chronic sleep debt raises the risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. And in the short-term, lack of sleep can have significant effects on the hippocampus -- an area of the brain involved in memory creation and consolidation.
The good news is, if you find yourself getting fewer than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night, you can make up that debt on weekends. One University of Chicago study followed a group of student volunteers who slept only four hours per night for six consecutive days. All of the changes they experienced during that period of sleep deprivation -- from high blood pressure to fewer antibodies to insulin resistance -- were reversed when the students made up the hours of sleep they’d lost.
So if you missed, say, ten hours of sleep over the course of a week, then add three or four extra sleep hours on the weekend, and an extra one to two hours to nights the following week -- until you’ve repaid all 10 of those hours.
Don't make this a habit, though. Try to factor those seven to eight hours of sleep per night into your daily schedule as much as you can. (Read more about the science of sleep here.)
6) Hone a skill for the job you want.
While you should use your workweek to nail the job you have, if you're gunning for a promotion -- or another job altogether -- then why not use some of your weekend time learning the skills of the job you want? Learning a new skill or diving deeper into an area of specialization that's growing might be just the ammunition you need to land that coveted position.
The skills you choose to work on will depend on the role you have your eye on. For example, if you want to move up as a digital marketer, you may want to improve your HTML/CSS skills, read up on trends in modern technology and emerging platforms, or brush up on your SEO knowledge. If you want to work for an agency, you'll want to gain experience with cross-channel marketing, mobile marketing, and design. Want to be a CMO? Make sure you master personnel development -- perhaps by taking on mentorship roles outside of work -- as well as financial analysis and strategic thinking.
For more ideas on which skills to work on, here's a list of 13 valuable skills you can learn for free.
7) Write a guest post for a publication.
Want to get your get her name out there as a thought leader and industry expert? Most media outlets allow people to submit authentic, original articles on topics that are relevant to their readership.
Each one has different requirements and submission instructions, though. While some require you to submit full articles, others accept topic pitches and are willing to work with you on an outline. To help you sort through these requirements, here are guest blogging instructions and guidelines for 11 top media outlets, including The New York Times, Business Insider, HBR.org, Mashable, and more.
If you want to write more regularly, consider creating a personal blog. The social publishing platform Medium is a great place to publish personal blog posts because it comes with a built-in audience. This is especially helpful for people who don't have time to do a lot of content promotion. (Here's a beginner's guide to Medium to get you started.)
8) Pick at least one obligation-free day.
Weekends are for stepping away from the daily grind, spending time with friends and family, doing things that make you smile, and generally keeping your work-life balance in check. These things may not necessarily boost your company's profits by 200% or make you CEO next week, but that doesn't make them any less important.
But some of you might find it hard to step away from all those obligations -- work-related or not -- for the entire two-day period. If that sounds like you, then try to choose at least one of the two days to remain totally obligation-free.
"S aturday is my no-guilt, 100% work-free day," says Ye. "I don't do any errands, chores, or open my work computer -- I save that for Sunday. Giving myself one day a week to do exactly what I want with no guilt makes it that much easier to tackle my chores and errands the next day."
9) If you choose to work, set a time limit.
I find it harder to work efficiently on the weekends, simply because it feels like I have so much more time. But time can fly, and all of a sudden it's 5:00 p.m. and I just spent the last several hours in limbo between getting work done and procrastinating hardcore.
When you literally reserve blocks of time to get specific tasks done, it can be much easier to focus and get your work done quicker -- leaving you with more time to actually enjoy your weekend.
Emma Brudner, who manages HubSpot's Sales Blog, uses laundry as a work timer when she works from home. " I set mini-deadlines for myself corresponding to when I have to go downstairs to switch loads," she says. "If I'm working on an article, I tell myself I'll get to a certain point before the wash cycle ends. Then I set another goal for the dryer."
Tyler Littwin, a content strategist and graphic designer at HubSpot, agrees it's important to set a limit on work when you're at home. "If you work from home full-time (or on a regular basis), it’s really easy to let your work life bleed into your personal life. Maintaining a boundary is important for both halves of the equation."
Another handy trick? The laptop battery countdown. This one comes from Ginny Soskey, who manages HubSpot's Marketing Blog. She suggests bringing your laptop with you to a remote location -- like the coffee shop downstairs -- without your computer charger. Then, aim to work until your computer dies. This is a way of gamifying your productivity, and it works: The pressure of a looming deadline can do wonders to keep you focused and working smarter.
Didn't get as much done as you wanted to in your designated block of time? Forgive yourself, and then move on. The more you set these hard time limits for yourself, the more efficient you'll get during your designated work time.
10) Declutter your living spaces.
Think about all the things in your home that you haven't touched in months or years, but can't bear to throw away. Those shoes you never wear anymore. That unopened kitchen gadget you got for Christmas three years ago. All those old notes and receipts you haven't looked at in years.
A lot of us simply have too much stuff. Why not spend some time over the weekend getting rid of it, little by little? Decluttering your living spaces will make you feel a lot better -- especially if you can give some of those items to charity, or sell them online.
For the more expensive things -- like that unopened kitchen gadget -- try selling it. If you're in the U.S., try using Craigslist for items you don't want to ship, like furniture or other large items. For items you feel comfortable boxing and shipping, try eBay. You can also trade in old items like electronics on Amazon for Amazon credit. (For more ideas, here's a great guide to decluttering your home from Lifehacker.)
Billionaire Richard Branson said, "It is amazing how focusing your mind on issues like health, poverty, conservation and climate change can help to re-energize your thinking in other areas."
Serving others has a long list of intangible benefits, like pride, satisfaction, accomplishment, connections with others, strengthening your community, and improving the lives of others. Nothing helps put things into perspective -- and can make your problems seem a little smaller -- than helping those less fortunate. Plus, along with social benefits, research shows there's a strong relationship between volunteering and physical health, too.
Weekends are a great time to get involved in local and community volunteer events. If you don't have a specific cause in mind, check out your local library, youth center, animal shelter, homeless shelter, or hospital to see if they're in need of volunteers. VolunteerMatch.org is another great place to find good causes in your local community for a wide variety of time commitments.
12) Do something fun on Sunday night.
Sunday night blues are never fun. Instead of using those last few golden weekend hours to check through all your boring work emails, do something you'll actually look forward to. For me, it's watching Game of Thrones. For you, it might be reading a book, taking a run with your dog, meditating, or cooking a nice meal.
Another idea is to take the time to reflect on the week gone by. Reflection is something you should be doing daily, but weekends are a great time to step back and think about what made you smile, what you're grateful for, what you've accomplished, and how to make the next week even better.
“This extends the weekend and keeps you focused on the fun to come, rather than on Monday morning,” writes Vanderkam in her book. That way, you'll go to bed with a calmer mindset, unperturbed by all the stuff you have to do the next day.
What other ways are you productive on weekends? Share with us in the comments.
Originally published May 6, 2016 8:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017