Have you ever returned to the office Monday morning feeling just as exhausted as you were on Friday afternoon?
You are not alone—new research shows that without practicing mindfulness on the weekends, most people fall into this trap. The good news? Research also shows that simply shifting your mindset can have transformative effects on your emotional experience.
ILLUSTRATION: CAROLE HÉNAFF
There’s a reason most people return to work Monday feeling no better than they did Friday afternoon.
Fatigue and stress on the job are problems for two out of three workers, and weekends usually aren’t much help, studies show.
New research suggests a surprisingly simple solution: Pretend your weekend is a vacation.
People instructed to adopt a vacation mind-set on the weekend returned to work feeling happier and more refreshed, without spending any additional money or time off, according to research on nearly 1,000 full-time workers at the University of California, Los Angeles. Although participants spent a little more time on eating and intimacy with loved ones, researchers found after controlling the results for specific behaviors that just one factor—their increased focus on the present moment, or mindfulness—predicted greater happiness.
“Merely shifting how you’re thinking can have these wonderful effects on your emotional experience and your time,” says Cassie Mogilner Holmes, a researcher on the project, which was described in January in the Harvard Business Review. Dr. Mogilner Holmes is an associate professor of marketing at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and a leading researcher on happiness.
This doesn’t always require changing your normal weekend routine. It may mean just thinking about and prioritizing activities differently. Interviews with a dozen people who consciously cultivate mindfulness on the weekend offer insights into the time-management and planning skills they employ.
Phil Risher knows the mood he wants—the joy he gets from adventure travel. He can sometimes achieve that in a weekend by planning ahead. Mr. Risher, a business-development director, keeps a list of hikes and scenic parks less than an hour’s drive from his Montgomery Village, Md., home.
When Saturday comes, he and his fiancée, Ashley Parrales, don’t have to spend any time figuring out what to do. They just get in their car and go. “If I fill my time with something that‘s exhilarating and makes me feel like I accomplished something, then I really do feel like I’m on a vacation,” says Mr. Risher, who blogs on young adults’ financial issues.
La’Wana Harris sets aside household chores and to-do lists on weekends to focus on her Wake Forest, N.C., home and her family.
A Friday ritual marks the end of the workweek—a special family dinner and movie night, no social media allowed, with her husband, two adult children and grandson, who live with her. Ms. Harris makes time Saturday to play in her backyard with her 4-year-old grandson, Jaden, gardening and exploring. “We listen to the birds, we play in the dirt. If it’s raining, we splash in the puddles,” says Ms. Harris, a former pharmaceutical executive and author of a forthcoming book on improving workplace diversity.
She wards off family members’ requests to do errands or other tasks on Sundays, reserving it for church and leisure. “I’ll say, ‘Hmmm, nope. It’s still Sunday. I’m not leaving Sunday until I have to,’ ” she says.
Of course, few people can avoid chores every weekend. Dr. Mogilner Holmes of UCLA says embracing a vacation mind-set every weekend wouldn’t work anyway, because it would become just another routine.
Instead, many weekend vacationers manage to remain mindful while doing the usual things. Psychotherapist Yael Katzman consciously sheds thoughts of work as she exits her Encino, Calif., office on Fridays. “I envision all the week’s stressors getting left behind,” she says.
Rather than the usual cereal and milk for Saturday breakfast, she invents dishes for her husband, Maor, and their daughters, 5 and 2, savoring the colors, flavor and texture of the food. She recently grilled thin-sliced sweet potatoes and topped them with an egg, turkey and avocado—like an open-face sandwich, Ms. Katzman says.
Her daughters often play dress-up, perform a play for her and her husband or make up games. “I love to just turn music on and be silly and dance,” Ms. Katzman says. “I try to spend the weekend laughing.”
Mindfulness has been shown in research to improve self-control, helping people regulate their emotions. Those who enjoy vacations tend to revel in positive emotions, expanding feelings of joy or happiness, according to a 2018 study of 42 vacationers.
It takes some people a few days after stopping work to wind down to that relaxed state.
Film producer Gato Scatena and his fiancée, Paloma Rush, a singer and songwriter, get into a vacation mood on weekends by taking hikes near their Los Angeles home. PHOTO: GATO SCATENA
Gato Scatena speeds up the process by jolting his body into weekend mode. During the week he takes invigorating cold showers in the morning, hits the gym early and fasts until lunch.
“Everything I do on weekends, when I know I need to unwind, is the polar opposite,” he says. He enjoys a warm shower and makes a leisurely breakfast of sourdough toast and a poached egg, sometimes with Hollandaise sauce. Then he goes on a hike with his fiancée, Paloma Rush, or chills at home, reading. “I just completely go into vacation mode,” says Mr. Scatena, managing director of S&R Films, a Los Angeles film production company.
Still, preoccupation with work is hard to shake. Some three out of five adults can’t keep their minds off work even when they’re doing something else, according to a 2017 survey of 1,000 adults.
Victoria Bogner puts away her laptop bag and other reminders of work to immerse herself in weekend time with her husband, Luke, and their children. PHOTO: BOGNER FAMILY
When Victoria Bogner’s work as CEO of a Lawrence, Kan., financial-planning firm started spilling into weekends, her husband, Luke, urged her to set boundaries. She started planning for the week ahead on Thursday, to wrap up tasks that might otherwise intrude on her thinking.
On Friday evening, she turns off email, sets her phone aside, zips her laptop case and stashes it behind some boxes at the back of a closet, where it stays for the weekend. If a work issue pops into her head, she writes it down in a small notebook she carries and purges it from her brain.
This frees her mentally to immerse herself in play and outings with Luke and their two children, Evelyn, 5, and Max, 3. “When those relationships flourish, you feel that refreshment, joy and true peace that comes with being present in the moment with your family,” she says.
To Turn Your Weekend Into a Vacation:
- Finish your Monday to-do list by Friday evening and set it aside.
- Engage in new, refreshing pursuits you can’t do during the week.
- Revel in happy moments and make them last.
- Notice and savor the sights, smells and sounds around you.
- Strike a balance between invigorating activities and relaxation.
- If negative thoughts intrude, let them go.