When is it smart to work weekends?

Last Updated Mar 10, 2011 4:00 PM EST

Working on weekends (or your official off-days) is widely viewed as a work-life balance no-no, for good reason. Checking email randomly is a recipe for extending low-grade works stress to cover your entire week. But there are a few circumstances when working on your off days can actually lead to a more enjoyable life. As long as your family is on board, here are good reasons to take some time away from the TV or errands:

You're starting a sideline. In this economy, relying on one stream of income is a risk. A more creative sideline (anything from writing to design to selling crafts on Etsy) can nurture other parts of your brain and help you find new ideas for Monday.

You're carving out strategic thinking time. If your workplace is so crazy that you can't get quiet time alone, then an hour or two on your off days, focused on thinking about the future, can go a long way toward making your workweek more effective.

You've taken on a career-making project. For a book I wrote recently, also called 168 Hours, I interviewed Stephanie Wickouski, a bankruptcy lawyer who decided, back in the late 1990s, that she wished to write a book on bankruptcy crimes. Her employer at the time said she could write the book if she wished, but had to do it outside her usual billable hours. So she blocked out lots of time on nights and weekends. It was a grueling schedule, but the finished book, Bankruptcy Crimes, raised her profile in the space and led to much bigger opportunities later on (she now works in the New York office of Bryan Cave LLP).

You've limited your workweek hours... but don't want to limit your career. Maybe you've negotiated a flexible schedule for family reasons, or because you're pursuing another big personal project. That's great, but from interviewing hundreds of people about their careers, I'm convinced that most of us start to stagnate if we don't put in at least 30 hours of solid work per week. Those are real hours. Not surfing the web hours, or lingering over take-out face time hours. If a time log shows you're dipping below that, and you're not looking to slow down, then weekends are a good time to make it up. Trade off family responsibilities, and use this time to plan and prospect.

When do you think it's OK to work weekends?