Why You Shouldn't Work On Weekends
A guide to preventing burnout
I burned out my junior year of high school. 5.5 years of back-to-back assignments and extracurriculars led to a spectacular crash. Not quite as dramatic as a stock market crash, but close. I quit all non-essential reading, procrastinated to-dos, and couldn't summon the energy for the smallest of tasks.
Fast forward and I didn't fail out of school, I do occasionally read in my free time now, and I no longer struggle with low energy levels. But the lull lasted ~6 months, which is not an insignificant amount of time.
In college, I sought balance. Armed with my dance-it-out playlist, dog walking certification, and Pinterest to-try recipes board, I never feel hopeless or permanently drained during my three completed years of college. Yeah, I had moments of stress. I sometimes stayed up late and contributed to stress culture. But I never pulled an all-nighter, compromised a meaningful relationship, or risked my mental health.
Despite the wisdom beyond my years regarding stress management (tone: sarcastic), two weeks ago, in June 2020, I burned out again.
With the start of 2020, I picked up several "productive hobbies." Personal branding, LinkedIn browsing, audio-booking, networking, company discovering, event attending, and market researching for an entrepreneurship project. As all of the above can be done indoors, they slowly replaced my previous stress-battling hobbies. At first I didn't notice. I prioritized my new projects and hobbies because I enjoyed them. Learning about new disciplines, industries, and skills full-time energized me. I woke up excited to continue and stayed up late, not noticing time speeding by while immersed in a new research topic or creation. I stole time from eating, exercising, and sleeping windows, yet I felt so... energized.
There's nothing wrong with my new hobbies. None of them are inherently detrimental. But the first red flag waved when my self-worth and mood began to depend on my productivity. At first, I put in the hours because I was excited. But a few months in, the driver swapped out. Now holding the wheel was American Productivity Syndrome (disclaimer: not a real term). When I wasn't working on my projects outside of work hours, I felt guilty. Behind. Lazy.
Thus, I cut even more "true downtime" until I used 100% of my time "productively" for 2 months (eg. wake up at 7, blog + research + send emails until 9, attend school + study 9-5, and then network + attend events + send more emails + progress through free online courses until 11ish. Repeat x60 days.)
There are many issues with this approach, but my oscillating emotions finally lifted my blinders. If I didn't get as much done as I had set out to that morning, or if I hit a setback, I'd feel frustrated and overwhelmed.
Usually, I'd recognize the pattern, pull out my destress list, and re-establish my default, calm mental status. Except... those tools felt "unproductive" and unnecessary.
My family expressed concern for me in their honest, straightforward way: "It's cool that you're excited, but stop self-sabotaging. You literally don't have to do any of the things you're doing. Chill" (or some modified version of that sentiment).
They asked me a simple question:
It's Saturday, Sofia, do you really have to be working right now?
My brain screamed YES. DUH. But on second thought... I guess not?
So this week, I decided: I will not work on weekends.
It's not a hard and fast rule. As with everything, there are nuances. There will be moments when I need to work on weekends or late nights. There will be times when I won't have the luxury of cooking for two hours on a Sunday afternoon. There will be occasions when I want to pour my weekend time into a project or whatever else enthralls me and also happens to be a traditionally productive endeavor.
That's fine, necessary, and beautiful. But just like a healthy lifestyle, it's about pacing myself and finding my sustainable rhythm. To get myself past burnout #2, I will not plan to work on weekends.
I didn't finish writing this blog post on Friday. So I picked up on Monday. The goal remains consistent weekly posts, but nothing happens if I don't post. No one even reads my blog regularly enough to notice a 1-day delay. So I can afford to learn from the experience and simply improve the next time around.
Before I began this blog, I spoke to a few people who either run successful blogs or work on a blogging team at their organization. The most emphasized advice was:
It's a marathon, not a sprint. Most new bloggers get really excited, write fifteen posts in their first two weeks and then run out of ideas, energy, or will to write. Draft those fifteen posts if you want, but determine your sustainable, long-term frequency and publish the first fifteen at that rate.
The same can be said about progressing towards any longterm goals.
This first weekend "off" felt... glorious. I went on a bike ride without my phone. I slept in! And I didn't feel guilty or unproductive at all. Come Monday (today), I happily resumed all of my "productive hobbies" and my "unproductive hobbies" after a re-balancing of the portfolio. This time, without potatoing for six months post-burnout.
Productivity is a difficult topic to address because our culture glorifies work-hard-play-hard mentalities (#grind #hustle #havenotsleptin72hours... #whythough). Too much dedication or productivity does not exist. But at the same time, if you do adopt productive hobbies and projects, you can't share, because it's also trendy to procrastinate and watch TV until 3am. Confused? Same.
Which leads to my two lessons from two burnouts:
Don't base how you spend your time on others' comments and actions. Learn from others, but only you know what your balance looks like.
Your definition of balance changes during different stages of your life. Rather than seeking one perfect formula, hone the ability to quickly recognize when you need to do more, and when you need to slow down.
Finally, just in case you're also currently in the second category and need to hear it:
It's Saturday, dear reader, do you really have to be working right now?*
*to be read on Saturday for maximum effect