Six tips for claiming downtime from The Weekend Effect author Katrina Onstad
Lower your standards
Overworked Canadians are apt to spend their precious weekends catching up on the ignored domestic detritus of the week. If the budget won’t let you farm out those time-sucking tasks like cleaning and repairs, try getting the bulk of errands and chores done in small chunks on weeknights: think of a Wednesday grocery run or a Thursday vacuum session as investments in a free Saturday. Or, better yet, make peace with a little squalor and choose leisure over unattainable homemaker perfection.
Engaging in altruistic activities such as volunteering doesn’t just increase happiness and a sense of purpose: it buys you time. It sounds counter-intuitive, but research shows that people who give away their time to worthy causes feel like they have more of it (even if they don’t really). The reason? The power of “self-efficacy”: time is perceived as longer when you’re using it to accomplish something meaningful.
Release the children
In this moment of parental anxiety about kids falling behind, it’s hard to say no to every enriching activity and rep team tryout on offer. But overscheduled children create overscheduled families whose precious free time is drained by kid-schlepping. Be selective about the sign-ups: try one or two activities per season, and otherwise set the kids loose (age appropriately, of course). Independence is key to developing self-confidence, and so is boredom, which sparks creativity and lets kids figure out their own interests without a parental agenda.
Put a clock on it
True respite means unplugging. Of course, sometimes there’s no choice but to play professional catch-up away from the office. If there’s no way around it, avoid “work drift” by making a plan and sticking to it: map your to-do list and block off a portion of time, with a concrete beginning and end. Then take a true, work-free break. Letting work invade leisure in dribs and drabs — an email here, a spreadsheet there — kills productivity and innovation (not to mention relationships!). Decades of studies confirm that working less actually means working better.
For some people — including the casualties of downsizing — a sudden surplus of time can be an unexpected stressor, triggering feelings of loneliness. The fix: other people. Socializing makes us happier and healthier, and those with strong face-to-face networks might even live longer and stave off dementia more easily. Take a class. Meet a friend for coffee. Participate in community activities. Break the isolation and nurture those social bonds that are a pathway to longevity.
Kids do it instinctively; many adults don’t (especially women, research shows). But play — engaging in an activity purely for pleasure, with no knowledge of the outcome — should be as much of a priority in the week as work. Play is the site of wonder, joy, abandon. A good round of active play will launch the rejuvenating “flow state,” where self-consciousness vanishes and you lose the sense of time passing. Start with a hobby, a sport or just goofing off with your partner — all types of play keep the brain flexible and the heart alight.
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