“When I was a kid, I thought a lot about what made me different from the other kids. I don’t think I was smarter than them and I certainly wasn’t more talented. And I definitely can’t claim I was a harder worker — I’ve never worked particularly hard, I’ve always just tried doing things I find fun. Instead, what I concluded was that I was more curious — but not because I had been born that way. If you watch little kids, they are intensely curious, always exploring and trying to figure out how things work. The problem is that school drives all that curiosity out. Instead of letting you explore things for yourself, it tells you that you have to read these particular books and answer these particular questions. And if you try to do something else instead, you’ll get in trouble. Very few people’s curiosity can survive that. But, due to some accident, mine did. I kept being curious and just followed my curiosity. First I got interested in computers, which led me to get interested in the Internet, which led me to get interested in building online news sites, which led me to get interested in standards (like RSS), which led me to get interested in copyright reform (since Creative Commons wanted to use similar standards). And on and on. Curiosity builds on itself — each new thing you learn about has all sorts of different parts and connections, which you then want to learn more about. Pretty soon you’re interested in more and more and more, until almost everything seems interesting. And when that’s the case, learning becomes really easy — you want to learn about almost everything, since it all seems really interesting. I’m convinced that the people we call smart are just people who somehow got a head start on this process. I fell like the only thing I’ve really done is followed my curiosity wherever it led, even if that meant crazy things like leaving school or not taking a “real” job. This isn’t easy — my parents are still upset with me that I dropped out of school — but it’s always worked for me.”— Aaron Swartz, in a previously unpublished email exchange with Ronaldo Lemos.
1. Do make a plan. We’re all busy. When we hit the weekend, we think we want to do “nothing.” But it’s impossible to truly do nothing. Instead, you’ll do unconsciously chosen somethings, and you’ll hit Sunday wondering where the time went. As children staring at wrapped Christmas presents know, anticipation accounts for much of the pleasure we derive from any experience. So make a plan for how you want to spend the weekend and—even if all goes wrong in the moment—you’ll still derive pleasure from anticipating your fun.
2. Don’t fill every minute. Just because you’ve got a plan doesn’t mean the weekends need to look like your weekdays, scheduled in 15-minute increments. Three to five “anchor” events—things you look forward to—can make for an excellent weekend. Go for a run, volunteer at a local food bank, and have dinner with friends and you’ll have done plenty.
3. Do stretch yourself occasionally. Weekends are great for exploring. Make a bucket list of activities you’d like to try within a two-hour radius of your house. Maybe it’s biking along the boardwalk. Maybe it’s camping in a nearby park. Whatever it is, remember that life can’t just happen on vacations, so invite in some serendipity.
4. Don’t forget to exercise. One famous study of Texas women’s days found that—after sex, eating, and relaxing—they were happiest when exercising, socializing, and engaging in spiritual activities. Why not aim for anchor events in all three categories?
5. Do schedule downtime. In our distracted world, we have a tendency to putter around the house, turn on the TV, check email and otherwise fill time with things that don’t really relax us. If you want to take a nap on Sunday afternoon, figure out when that’s going to happen, if there are any logistical issues you need to solve, and then commit to doing it.
6. Don’t give in to the Sunday-night blues. Even if you like your job, it’s easy to feel weary by Sunday afternoon as you think about the next morning’s commute. One way around that? Schedule something fun for Sunday night. Knowing you’ve got a potluck dinner or a massage session coming up extends the weekend by keeping your mind focused on the fun to come.
7. Do make the most of other people’s schedules. Read a novel instead of checking your email while waiting to pick up your 8-year-old at swim practice. If your spouse has a time-consuming hobby—like one that requires you to supply sports drinks at the 10-mile mark on her long run—make sure to combine it with something fun for you (catching a movie at a nearby theater?).
8. Don’t do too many chores. Chores expand to fill the available space. If you do them on weekdays, you’ll spend less time doing chores simply because you have less time. Better to spend your weekends checking out a new neighborhood cafe than chained to the washing machine.
9. Do spend some time planning your week. On Sunday night, or some other quiet time, glance at your calendar, and set goals for what you’d like to accomplish in your professional and personal life over the next 168 hours. Schedule these high-value activities in. Once Monday morning hits, you’re in a firefight. So figure out how you’ll advance your troops, rather than just hunkering down.
10. Don’t work every minute. Sure, successful people work a bit on weekends, but they know that weekends are mostly about giving the brain a break. Even if you’re not religious, challenge yourself to keep a Sabbath of sorts: one 24-hour period where you don’t do any of your usual work. You may find yourself so relaxed you’ll look forward to Monday.