I love early June, when summer is full of possibility. The roses and honeysuckle hint at long warm weeks to come, yet as the years go by, one sees again and again that summer is never truly endless; there are only fourteen weekends between Memorial and Labor Day.
In that poignant thought, though, is the key to a summer that feels expansive: Time is too precious to be totally leisurely about leisure. As someone who has studied people’s time habits to see how even the busiest among us can also be the happiest, I can tell you that a bit of planning can go a long way. An ounce of strategy vastly increases the chances that you will spend your summer weekends in ways that feel meaningful and enjoyable, rather than losing them to TV, web surfing, and chores. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to plan the most awesome summer weekends ever.
01. Make a summer fun list.
Every summer, I make a list of activities that will make me feel like I had a great summer when they’re done. They can be big things, such as vacations that I planned months ahead of time, and little things, such as strawberry picking or going for a long bike ride. I find that thinking through what I’d like to spend time doing vastly increases the chances that I actually get around to doing those fun things. Take a few moments to write down six to ten activities that you’d really like to do before autumn rolls around. Keep this list somewhere that you’ll see it regularly.
02. Think through your weekends by Wednesday.
If you wait until the weekend to figure out what you’re doing, you can waste much of Saturday deliberating, and you might not be able to get tickets or reservations. Your friends might be busy. If you have kids, good luck getting a babysitter! Instead, set an alert on your phone for Wednesday evening, and then spend fifteen minutes thinking about what you might like to do during the sixty hours from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Monday. Text anyone you’d like to see. Buy those tickets. Pull something off your summer fun list. A bonus: Doing this guarantees that you’ll spend Thursday and Friday looking forward to your fun rather than being annoyed about being stuck at work.
03. Get the right mix.
If that last strategy—planning ahead—made you nervous, don’t worry. I’m not suggesting you plan every minute of your weekends. Instead, aim for three to five “anchor events” to give structure to this time. Studies of human happiness have found that certain activities rate toward the top of the enjoyment scale: socializing, exercising, and spiritual activities, in addition to the more obvious “relaxing.” So aim to include one activity from each category: maybe a long bike ride, a picnic dinner with friends, and worship services. If you’re not religious, some other meaningful activity could go in this last category, such as volunteering or seeing something awe-inspiring (e.g., hiking up a mountain, watching a sunrise).
04. Do it anyway.
Even if you’ve got amazing activities on the schedule, if you’ve had a long week, you might get to the weekend and think, “I just want to do nothing.” That’s understandable, but energy turns out to be a renewable resource, and we draw energy from meaningful things. If you’ve got an early morning run with a friend planned, get up and go. You can nap later, but chances are the run will fire you up enough that you won’t need to. If some activity truly turns out to be a dud, try to turn it into a good story.
05. Contain the not-so-fun stuff.
Having an awesome weekend isn’t just about spending time on stuff you want to do. It also involves getting rid of stuff you don’t want to do. Try to minimize errands; order stuff online instead. As for chores, set a timer for a short quantity of time (maybe one to two hours, depending on the size of your living space). Do what you can, and if it doesn’t happen during that time, maybe it wasn’t all that necessary. If you need to work on the weekend, designate certain times to deal with it—maybe two hours on Saturday morning—rather than checking your email every twenty minutes and spoiling your off-the-clock sensation.
06. Do something fun Sunday evening.
Even if you love your job, it can be easy to come down with a case of the Sunday night blues as you ponder the workweek to come. One poll from monster.com found that 76 percent of Americans claim to suffer from this syndrome. It may be 4 p.m. on Sunday, but in your brain it’s already 8 a.m. Monday, and if you don’t go to bed until 11 p.m., you’ve lost seven potential weekend hours right there. Avoid this trap by planning something fun for later in the day on Sunday. It can be low-key—an exercise class, a potluck dinner—but knowing you’ve got something coming up will focus your brain on looking forward to your Sunday fun rather than dreading your commute.
07. Extend your weekend.
Want to keep the vibe from each summer weekend going? Do two things. First, cement your memories. It’s one thing to have fun. It’s another to learn to linger in the moment as you are enjoying yourself, and then consciously do things to make the memories stronger. Take pictures and then look at those pictures frequently. Write in a journal about your adventures. Call a friend on Monday to recount everything that happened. The more times you tell your stories, the more clearly you remember them. Second, schedule in something summery and fun for Monday evening. Monday morning won’t be so tough if you know you’ve got an outdoor movie or a rooftop happy hour waiting for you, even as the weekend fades in the rearview mirror.
Photo Credit: Horn Photography