How a week off work helped me rethink leisure, simplicity and order.

A few years ago, during a particularly busy and stressful time in my work life, I did what I thought would be unthinkable: I took an entire week off to be spent at home. You see, I was in high demand at work, but my home life was screaming my name, too. I had piles of clutter waiting to be organized, closets that needed purging, critical work on my car I needed to schedule, and doctors’ appointments I kept putting off. Not to mention, I had friends and family I was eager to keep up with, so I kept a full social schedule.

I couldn’t see up from down, and it was a chicken and egg scenario. I was late for events because I couldn’t find that other shoe, but I couldn’t organize my shoes because I didn’t have time. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done something really relaxing just for me and not under a deadline—like read a book, write in my journal, or play the piano. I’d try to watch a movie and end up thinking about work more than the movie.

The battle was constant and exhausting: So, I called an abrupt ceasefire.

The stakes for this week being productive and relaxing were pretty high, and the one pretty big hitch was that I clearly didn’t know how to keep a sense of order in my life: I needed to learn stat.

So, I wrote out a plan for my week. Now before you write this off as too much work, you should know it took me precisely one lunch break to write this plan. One hour, and I had a formula for not only the best staycation I’ve ever taken, but most of my free time going forward.

If you too are feeling fatigue and burnout creeping up on you, perhaps this approach could help you. It may feel like work at first, but take my word for it, the short term work in the present had big time payoff for my future.

01. Schedule fun and productivity into all free time

One of the best parts of my staycation is that I could take my car to the auto shop, pay bills, and clean my kitchen all before noon. The afternoons were generally spent at leisure: Playing piano, reading, or watching a movie. I realized the combination of productivity and leisure made for a much more peaceful day because I felt accomplished and rested.

In doing this, I realized I couldn’t take a come-what-may approach to my weekends. Now, I start thinking Wednesday or Thursday about what I want to accomplish each weekend—chores, leisure, and fun. I make a schedule, too. It’s not a rigid schedule, and it may change if a friend wants to do something like grab dinner unexpectedly. But if our dinner plans are during a time I was going to go to the store, I make sure to fit my shopping in elsewhere.

I schedule leisure time like reading and treat it like an appointment. If something from work is distracting me while I’m reading or watching a movie, I write it on a piece of paper to remind myself to think about it later. If a friend texts, I respond later. There will always be something else to do, making true leisure the easiest to put off. But leisure is what often restores us most so that we can be generous in our relationships and work. Even a brief period of leisure is better than none, so work to make it happen.

02. Be realistic about your chores

In my time off, I realized I was overthinking basic household chores. Nobody likes doing chores, but nearly everyone really appreciates a clean home. If you’re like me, it’s not that you live like a slob, but there is always one or two closets or cabinets that could use a good cleaning at any given time. And during busy weeks, the dishes and clutter pile up a bit more than they should.

So, I started timing chores. It takes me 3–4 minutes to unload my dishwasher—I can unload it while water for my tea is boiling. It takes me 10–15 minutes to do a basic wipe down of my bathroom—I can clean it Saturday morning before I head out for the day. You get the idea.

When it comes to tackling bigger projects, I can break them into parts. I’ll organize my shoes one evening after work, and save the purging and organizing of dresses for another evening.

I’ll be honest, there are still weeks when my organization decays, but at least now I have the mental knowledge that it’s not that much time, which helps me overcome roadblocks that keep me from cleaning.

03. Don’t overschedule yourself socially

The week of my staycation I ended up canceling a plan with a friend. (Don’t worry, she forgave me!) I’ve always been prone to overschedule myself socially. I love catching up with friends, and I don’t love being alone, and time off work meant surely I’d be ready to get out in the evenings. But as I settled into my week, I realized the quiet of my home was just the sort of peace I needed to be less stressed and more present in my relationships.

Similarly, I feel less rested after the weekends I bounce from social event to errands, with no quiet, alone time at home. It took some getting used to, but I’ve cut down how much I do socially each weekend. Living and working in a city, I’m out so much during the week, that chances are one weekend night is reserved just for me. I may watch a movie, read a book, or just make a nice meal and head to bed early. I don’t pack my days socially either. By creating quiet into my weekends, my brain can recharge, and re-enter into work and relationships with more to give.

Let’s face it, women are juggling a lot of responsibilities in today’s world. Whether you’re married or single, working part time or full time or simply running your family’s household, the demands on the average woman’s time and attention are increasingly overwhelming. It may feel more difficult to reach the balance of responsibilities and peace, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

As Rebecca Corgan wrote for Verily, “If I am always choosing my present self’s satisfaction over my future self’s happiness, I’m always going to feel rushed and frustrated. My present self has to be generous to make this work.” Said otherwise, start with the end in mind.

Maybe a week-long staycation is not on the table for you right now. Start with this weekend. Make a plan, make it balanced, stick to it. Feeling accomplished, rested, and rejuvenated is more within our reach than we think.