1. They Don't Keep Spinning
Yes, successful people work a lot. Martha Stewart, for instance, has famously claimed to sleep just four hours a night. But there are times to push and times not to. We need both. "A decade ago, I let my days just sort of all blend together," says James Reinhart, whose San Francisco-based online clothing resale platform ThredUp.com has grown from 30 employees to 140 in the past year. After starting the company, though, he realized that "it's the quality of my decision making that ultimately makes the company successful." Without the time to go into refresh mode, "you never end up with the space to think."
So now he makes a point of golfing from 6 to 8 in the morning before his family wakes up, getting out with his daughter, and running. Reinhart claims to do his best thinking while hitting the trails in a nearby state park. "I come back from runs with clarity on decisions I want to make," he says. (He may be onto something; a number of neurological studies have found that exercise improves brain function.)
Of course, in a world where we tether ourselves to our inboxes, unplugging is easier said than done. You take your iPhone along when you meet a friend for coffee. She's five minutes late. You start checking your email and, boom! Work mode is back. That's part of modern life, but you can still carve out a few hours for a "tech Sabbath," which is time with no electronic devices. Try turning the smart phone off Friday or Saturday night and turning it back on 24 hours later. Probably nothing has changed, save for the level of your energy.
2. They Don't Go Limp
If you spend your workweek running—or worse, flying—from place to place, you may think you want to collapse on the couch all weekend. But resist the urge: First, it's impossible to do "nothing." Second: Think of the logistics. Want tickets to Cirque du Soleil? So do other people. Need a babysitter? She won't show up on a whim. Finally, research into human happiness is finding that anticipation accounts for a major chunk of the mood boost associated with any activity. One well-known Dutch study of vacationers found that holiday-goers were happier than people who weren't taking vacations, but the increased happiness largely happened before the trips, as people anticipated the fun to come. Compare it to opening Christmas presents: The act only takes an hour, but seeing wrapped gifts under the tree stretches out the joy for weeks. If you make a reservation on Wednesday for a Saturday-night dinner at your favorite restaurant, you'll spend the next three days imagining your pasta carbonara to come—which improves your weekend and your week.
3. They Don't Clean the Grout
Using the weekend to catch up on chores is probably the hardest trap to avoid. After all, if you work full-time, when else are you supposed to do the 15.1 hours (for women) or 9.6 hours (for men) of household activities that the Bureau of Labor Statistics claims the average American does each week? But housework will take all the time you are willing to give it. After all, women in 1965 spent more than 30 hours each week on housework...and we haven't descended into complete filth since then.
So consider doing your chores during the workweek; the chores will take less time because you have less time. This will leave your weekends free for more rejuvenating activities. Throw a load of laundry in before dinner and have the kids either do the dishes after or fold. Make a quick trip to the grocery store at 8:30 p.m. on a Wednesday. The place will be so empty you'll zoom through. If a sparkling house is important to you—and sometimes it is—then designate a short cleaning time on the weekend, perhaps on Sunday afternoon. That way, if you find yourself looking at a messy house on Saturday morning, you can tell yourself that there's a time for cleaning, and now is not that time. When the cleaning window arrives, set an alarm and do as much as you can in an hour. When the time is up, it's up.
4. They Don't Lose the Last 15 Hours
I struggle with this trap myself. I love what I do, but sometimes the sheer volume of work waiting for me Monday morning makes me look at the clock come Sunday afternoon and fall into a total Sunday funk. But the thing is: At 3 p.m. on Sunday, I still have 15 hours before I'll wake up Monday morning, including seven hours before I need to go to bed. Why not seize that time?
This is why Sunday nights have become my new favorite time to host parties. Most people are free, and there's a more relaxed vibe than at the formal get-togethers people expect on Saturday nights. Order food, have a beer, enjoy your friends, and you'll be far readier for the workweek than if you spend that same time thinking about your inbox. As Reinhart puts it, failing to relax, run and refresh on weekends "makes me not a good husband, not a good dad and a terrible CEO." Success requires recharging the batteries from time to time—so you can hit Monday refreshed and ready to conquer—if not the world—then your own life.
Laura Vanderkam is the author of What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend: A Short Guide to Making the Most of Your Days Off and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.
More Secrets to Success