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What successful people know about weekends

(MoneyWatch) We all look forward to weekends. But are you really making the most of them?

Few people are, because we tend not to think about weekends holistically. Here's one way to look at it: There are 60 hours between 6 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Monday. Even if you sleep for 24 of those hours, that leaves 36 hours for other things. That's the equivalent of a full-time job. Yet many of us hit Monday morning with a vague sense of having squandered our precious downtime on activities that didn't help us recreate.

That's a problem because, in our competitive world, weekends are actually the secret weapon of workplace success. The most successful people know that to be truly productive, you need to hit Monday refreshed, relaxed and ready to go. (See related post: What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast). The only way to do that is to create weekends that rejuvenate you rather than exhaust or disappoint you.

So how do you do that? It's a three-step process.

1. Ask what you'd like to do with your time. We have a tendency to turn weekends into a death march of have-to-dos. There are poorly planned hours devoted to children's activities (you wait in a dance studio without a good book to read); errands (buying a new grill that you don't make time to use); chores (cleaning a basement that will just get dirty again); and inefficient work (checking email compulsively just because your smartphone is on). A better approach? Make a list of anything you'd like to do or have in your life. Aim for at least 100 items -- 1,000 would be great. The idea is to dream up anything that would make you and your loved ones happy, a bag of tricks that includes things that are creative but doable. You aren't going to Egypt this weekend. You could put on a puppet show for neighborhood kids. You could go running on that new trail you keep meaning to try. You could write a love letter to your spouse.

2. Make a plan. Serendipity is great, but as any kid waiting for Christmas morning knows, anticipation is a major component of happiness. And in our distracted world, failing to make a plan increases the chances that you spend most of your weekend in front of the TV. In consultation with the rest of your household, pluck 3 to 5 items from your happy list and peg them to the major weekend spots: Friday night, Saturday day, Saturday night, Sunday day, Sunday night. Try to include ideas from the three categories of activities that, beyond obviously pleasurable activities like sleep, eating, and sex, make people happiest: socializing, spiritual activities, and exercise. Here are some examples of awesome weekends:

Weekend #1

Friday PM: Friends over for game night

Saturday day: Family beach trip

Saturday evening: Family dinner at a great restaurant you've been meaning to try near that beach

Sunday day: Church

Sunday evening: Leisurely bike ride

Weekend #2

Friday PM: Karaoke at a bar with friends

Saturday day: Volunteer shift at a soup kitchen

Saturday evening: Concert in the park

Sunday day: Long run

Sunday evening: Yoga class

Choosing 3 to 5 things still leaves plenty of time for sitting in front of the TV or shuttling kids around if that's part of your weekends. But when it comes to the "have to dos," try as much as possible to follow step No. 3.

3. Honor the Sabbath. You don't have to be religious to see the benefit of not working for 24 hours. There are always chores and errands that have to be done on weekends, and maybe tasks for your paid job, too. But try to contain these activities within a short block of time -- maybe two or three hours on Saturday. That way, if your mind wanders to something you have to do, you can tell yourself there's a time for that, and now is not that time. Spend at least one of your weekend days focused on family, community, inspiration, gratitude, and the larger questions of life and you'll hit Monday in a different frame of mind.

How do you make the most of your weekends?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user wisemandarine
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