A small ice age ago, when I started this site, I wrote original content for a weekly newsletter attached to this site as well as original content for the site itself. The newsletter didn’t seem to appeal to writers, so I quickly ceased producing it. I’ve had to jump to new email service providers several times since then, and in one of the sudden moves, I lost all the emails that I wrote for the email newsletter.
I do have a few posts from very early on that mention the topic of that week’s newsletter, so I thought it might be worthwhile rebuilding those topics as posts.
One of them was “How To Take Charge of Your Weekends”. I can’t remember a thing about the original newsletter, but I suspect it would have gone something like this:
If you work a Monday-Friday day job, then weekends are precious to you. They’re spare time you can use in whatever way you want. For us indie authors, those 48 hours are prime writing and writing-business time.
If you have a variable day job schedule, you may still have one or two days off per week, but they might be split across the week, and land on weekdays, instead of weekends. But the same applies for you, too: Those 24 or 48 hours, no matter where they come in your week, are your primary writing and writing-business time.
If you’re writing full time, weekends get upended for you–if you take them at all. I don’t. I work seven days a week, and barely pay attention to public holidays, unless they involve family gatherings. However, there is a catch for full-time writers who work seven days a week, that I’ll get to in a minute.
If you’re writing full time and have better self-care priorities than me, and take two days off a week, then your weekend priorities flip to work-life balance stuff. Family, fitness, socializing, taking care of the house, garden, and other homebase concerns. But the weekends can still trip you up, too.
The Danger For All of Us
No matter how you approach your “weekend” time, there’s a very good chance that weekend after weekend, you blow your time away on trivial stuff, lazing around, watching TV, and eating all the wrong things. Or you might have a stuffed-full schedule of team sport meetings for you or your kids, while the bare essentials to keep your household function get squeezed in between.
By the time you get to Sunday night (or the equivalent), you stare at the TV and berate yourself for ignoring your writing and wasting yet another weekend.
It’s Not Laziness
You shouldn’t beat yourself up about consistently blowing off weekends. It’s not your fault. You’re not lazy or lacking discipline. The problem is created by two primary causes.
The first cause has the deepest roots. Just about everyone in the western world grew up attending school for five days a week, then playing all through the weekend. Having the weekend off is so ingrained into our culture that our calendars are built around them (Sunday and Saturday are shoved to either side), social events gravitate to them, and our work weeks feature a “hump day” in the middle that represents the downslide to the weekend. All the fun stuff happens on the weekend, and has since we were kids. For most of us, we learned as children that the weekends were free time, without commitments or very much structure. And it is very, very difficult to root out that sub-conscious mindset.
Writers who write full time, and conscientiously take two days off may also find themselves tripped up by this deeply mired belief. They can sometimes find that even though they have the best intentions and schedule lots of essential self-care and socializing for the weekend, they still end up sitting on the couch for two days, binge-watching Netflix.
The other thing that might be causing you to waste your weekends is chronically common to this century: You’re so overworked, and overscheduled during the week, that you white-knuckle your way through it, and arrive gasping at the weekend…when you have nothing left in the tank to give. You need the two full days just to recover and prepare for next week. Even if you find yourself with a pocket of discretionary time and the energy to use it, “I deserve a break” thoughts (which feel fully justified by the draining week you just survived) will sabotage your good intentions, and you find yourself right back on the couch.
For the full time writers who work seven days a week, both these issues can cause chaos. I used to frequently find myself doing this; come Saturday or Sunday, when I sat down at my desk for the full day’s work, the weight of decades of “weekend = time off” conditioning would seep into my subconscious. If I’d worked hard from Monday to Friday, the “I deserve a break” thoughts also filtered through. The double whammy often defeated me, and I procrastinated my way through Saturday, or Sunday, or both. Once I became aware of it, I learned to overcome the insidious thought processes…but they still sometimes trip me up, if I let them get too far into my brain before noticing them.
Hacks to Get Around It
There’s a handful of strategies and tactics that will help you make the most of your weekends.
Watch Your Self Talk and Attitudes
Twenty years of childhood conditioning is hard to overcome–but if you monitor your thought processes, you can correct yourself when you revert back to this thinking. For example, if you find yourself thinking about Friday nights as the “end” of the week, like most of the western world, correct yourself when you spot the thought. Friday night isn’t the end of the week. It’s the transition night that takes you into your primary career time.
Remind Yourself That This Schedule Isn’t Forever.
“Having” to work seven days a week is a mindset that will frequently generate deep resentment that you get to work your butt off while everyone else appears to be having a fun-filled weekend.
But even if that is true, it’s not a situation that will last forever. If you can learn to use your weekends fully, eventually you’ll get to quit the day job, or build up enough revenue that writing seven days a week simply isn’t necessary.
Or you might get to where I am: where writing seven days a week just feels normal, and lets me write all the books I want.
The old saw about death and taxes misses the third constant: Change. Nothing stays the same forever. Use that certainty to help motivate yourself.
Use Friday Afternoon or Evening as Transition Time
Transition time should include one of my favourite P words: Planning. By planning out your weekend, and scheduling in the critical hours for writing and writing business, you help adjust your attitude toward the weekend, and set yourself up for a successful 48 hours.
Transition time is also a good time for mentally preparing for the weekend, and combating negative thoughts. Contemplate what a successful weekend’s work will look like. Set goals for what you’d like to achieve.
Start Fast Out Of The Gate
Just as many full time writers have learned to get their word count for the day done before they do anything else that day, you too can set up your weekend for success by using Saturday mornings for the key activities that will make the weekend a success. For most of us, the key activity is writing fresh manuscript. Even if it’s only an hour or two before you have to break off for more mundane activities, getting those words down will give you a quick boost of dopamine, and make you want to go back to the writing when your schedule permits.
Review and reset on Saturday Night
Late Saturday afternoon or sometime during the evening, take five minutes to mentally review how the day went.
If you’re succumbed to the lure of time off, and procrastinated and ignored the schedule you set for yourself for this weekend, fight the temptation to blow off Sunday because the weekend is “ruined”. Use Saturday night to reset. Reschedule Sunday if you have to. Or recommit to having a successful Sunday.
If you’ve worked as scheduled throughout Saturday, mentally pat yourself on the back, and commit to having an equally productive Sunday.
This mid-weekend review is critical when you first try to get control of your weekends. As you become more practiced at fully using your 48 hours, you may find the review isn’t necessary anymore. But even if you take the length of a commercial break to cast your thoughts back over your Saturday, it will help you shift into Sunday with your sleeves rolled up.
On Monday, Reward Yourself.
During your Friday transition time, you can also decide what your reward will be for a successful and productive weekend. Remind yourself of the reward as you move through the weekend.
However, it is particularly important that you outline the criteria that let you qualify for the reward. I would strongly suggest not making the reward contingent upon a “perfect” weekend, because you’ll rarely reach that ideal, if you ever do.
Aim, instead, for an 80% pass, Or 90% if you want. For example, you might decide that as long as you write for an hour before breakfast on both Saturday and Sunday, that’s a passing grade. Or perhaps it’s a passing grade for you if you write both days and get all the outlines done for a week’s worth of blog posts.
This is a particularly powerful motivator when you first start to grapple with getting your weekends under control. Start small. Make it easy to reward yourself in the beginning. As you master your weekends, you might want to increase the degree of difficulty–but increase the scale of the reward, too. Say, aim for four consecutive weekends that qualify as a pass, for which you will reward yourself by buying that new winter coat you want.
You can gain control of your weekends, despite conditioning and overwhelm, if you tackle them strategically. Apart from short term fun rewards, the long term benefits are enormous: Everything from quitting the day job to increasing your revenue, to finally getting that book you’ve always wanted to write actually published.
Give it a try.