We all know the feeling: Friday evening has finally rolled around, and all we want to do is collapse.
After a long stretch of work, the onset of the weekend or vacation might entice us to do nothing but nap and watch Netflix. But how often is doing nothing all day actually restful? As strong as the urge might be to plop on the couch and let time drift by, planning a schedule for days off can actually maximize relaxation, enjoyment, and peace of mind.
Of course, too much planning can be stressful, which we want to avoid! So how do we make the most of down time without getting overwhelmed? Here are five ideas:
01. Keep a list of dream to-do’s.
To truly rest during a day off, lounging the hours away can actually be counterproductive. Though some afternoons might call for a nap, “rest” does not necessarily mean “bed.”
In his work Leisure: The Basis of Culture, philosopher Josef Pieper notes that while leisure might not be active, it is a positive human activity. “Leisure lives on affirmation,” he writes. “It is not the same as the absence of activity; it is not the same thing as quiet, or even as an inner quiet. It is rather like the stillness in the conversation of lovers, which is fed by their oneness.”
In other words, our idea of resting should not be idleness but an intentional experience that rejuvenates us.
To make that happen, think of some activities that bring you joy and help you relax. Maybe there’s a book you want to read, a scrapbooking project you’ve been dying to start, or a new coffee shop you’d like to try. Keep a running list of “dream to-do’s” so that when a day off approaches, you have a set of ideas at the ready to make the day pleasant.
02. Approach the day in segments.
How many leisurely activities should fit into one day? An empty schedule might invite boredom, but an overcrowded one invites stress. To decide how much of your dream list is practical per day, try segmenting your schedule into broad categories.
Several years ago, my mom started doing this on family vacations by posting a schedule for the day on the fridge. Each day had two or three activities, which were based on our ideas from a pre-vacation family meeting and generally fit into the morning, afternoon, or evening. On a given day, you might see that we were planning to go to the beach in the morning, mini golf in the afternoon, and have spaghetti and meatballs for dinner that night. Though general, the schedule added a sense of rhythm to our vacations, as well as a reminder of what to look forward to each day.
The same approach can add structure and interest to any time off, even if it’s just a weekend or a single day. Rather than plan out each hour, consider what you’d like to do in each phase of the day. A Saturday schedule might look like this: “In the morning, I’ll make my favorite breakfast and have some reading time. After lunch, I’ll go on a walk while calling my friend from college. In the evening, I’ll meet up with friends for happy hour, and then before bed, I’ll watch my favorite rom-com.”
That’s a list of several fun things, but it spreads them out and offers things to look forward to throughout the day.
03. Wake up at a fixed time.
Making that dream-day framework a reality requires starting strong. It’s true, alarms and morning routines sound like they don’t belong on a vacation. Even on days off, however, the early hours deserve attention. All of us have experienced the depressing feeling when we’ve slept half our vacation day away. You don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn, but getting up at a set time (before noon), helps ensure you make the most of your leisure time.
Dr. Kevin Majeres, a psychiatrist and teacher at Harvard Medical School, has commented on how the first moments of the morning set the tone for the day. In an episode of his podcast The Golden Hour, he explains that getting out of bed promptly at a fixed time “frame[s] your entire day as an opportunity. You have this one moment with which you can color the entire day. It’s a unique moment, the moment your alarm sounds. If you approach the day eagerly . . . then that whole day actually is going to have a kind of momentum of positivity.”
Momentum of positivity . . . that sounds like a great way to start any morning, workday or not!
Think of your free mornings like a getaway room you’re building for yourself: it requires structure and design, but those things create a comfortable place where you can breathe easily.
You can also work in creative ways to make those mornings off special. Make your alarm your favorite song, do a yoga routine instead of your usual morning sprint, or put a little extra sugar in your coffee. With a pleasant start, you’ll set yourself up for a pleasant day.
04. Mix solitude and socializing.
Depending on where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, you may want more solo time or more time with loved ones during your days off—but a mixture of both solitude and social time is healthy for everyone.
Quiet time alone (such as journaling, reading, or doing a craft) lets our mind unwind and gives us the time and space to reflect and appreciate life. Meanwhile, friendship feeds our need for emotional connection and support, so a phone call with a friend or a game night with family could also enhance a day dedicated to leisure.
So when making your day-off dream list, sprinkle in a bit of you-time and time with others, and you’re likely to find the day both enjoyable and memorable.
05. Be flexible.
However perfect a plan might seem, sometimes when the day arrives, it just doesn’t fit. Anticipating those sudden changes and responding with calmness helps preserve the peace of the day.
When my husband and I visited Rome during our honeymoon, we allotted one day to visit the Forum. Our original plan was to get up early and arrive in the morning so that we could see as much as possible. But when the sun came up that day, we were just too tired to budge. So we decided to take it easy that morning, have lunch at a nearby café, and make our tourist visit later that afternoon. Despite the change, the day turned out to be lovely! Had we forced ourselves to stick to our initial agenda, we might have seen more, but we probably would have been more tired and cranky. Allowing ourselves to adjust gave us a greater sense of freedom and enjoyment.
When it comes to making a free day truly restful, a little planning goes a long way. Happy relaxing!