Ah….the weekend. Over 48 hours of possibilities and opportunities. The chance to sleep, to get outdoors, to spend time with family and friends, to eat good food, to catch up on chores, to enjoy hobbies…
...to get stressed out?
For some, yes. A recent study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology looked at the overall mood, stress levels, and cognitive performance of individuals working “on-call.” For four straight days, 132 people from 13 different organizations were measured each day they worked on-call. They were then assessed for four straight days of regular work; and then assessed for four straight days “off.” Additionally, 51 of these people took daily blood tests to measure their cortisol levels.
What they found was that the mood, stress levels and cognitive performance of people working on-call looked very much like their results when working regularly. It was only during/after resting and taking time off that people’s mood and stress and cortisol levels improved. For those of you unfamiliar with cortisol, we'll probably write more in the future about what it's doing in the brain and how it relates to the Lizard Brain. For now, you can think of cortisol kind of like cholesterol: some is good. Too much has some serious consequences for both body and mind.
Now, when I see findings like this, I see a giant flashing sign that says “Lizard Brain.” And one of the main ways our Lizard Brains get us on the weekend is through our smartphones. Every email a smartphone pings us with on the weekend sets off a cascade of chemicals in the brain (similar to the ones reported in this study) that sets the Lizard Brain into action. It might not be regular working hours, but (it turns out) the Lizard Brain doesn’t know about “working hours.” And so it kicks into gear engaging in habits (good and bad), and using energy to exert control over whatever situation we’ve become aware of during the weekend.
My colleague, Joe Shaffner, spent a number of years in the technology industry and I would highly recommend his recent piece on how technology both saves and steals time from us. In the meantime, my goal is not to get us to throw away our smartphones (although I have seen a few savvy executives intentionally buy “not-smart-phones” to try to carve out space for work-life balance), but to give three starting points to make sure our weekends are serving us and our work well.
1. Awareness and metacognition:
Before we take any sort of action related to work on the weekends, we want to look at our own thinking. And though we have a few concepts for this general process of looking at our own thinking (mindfulness, metacognition), the basic idea is that we notice (without judgment) what’s going on in our bodies, emotions, and thoughts during an important moment in the day. So, when your phone pings you with an email from work (or you, by force of habit, go to get all your emails from the email server), simply take a few moments to notice how you’re thinking and feeling: Anxious? Happy? Tense? Angry? Excited? Does your heart beat faster? What’s your breathing like? And then (and this is the important part) just ask yourself “What’s that about? Where is that coming from?”
This habit of noticing and questioning what's happening in the moment will be a great source of insight about how we're relating to our work on our "off" time and whether or not it serves our sustainable growth.
2. Understand Parkinson’s Law:
My colleague, Jason Abell, will occasionally remind us of this law as the team works on events and projects for clients. For those of you unfamiliar with Parkinson’s Law, it is this:
Work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion.
Deep, right? I hadn’t heard this law before I met Jason, but the more time I spend with it, the more I recognize its truth. This means something truly transformational relative to our Lizard Brain on the weekends: If our work will expand to fill the time allowed for it, then our freedom is really just about which hours it fills. All hours? Work week and weekend? Or specific hours we allot for work? If we don’t have boundaries and parameters for work, our work will expand to fill those (weekend) hours as well.
3. Give yourself permission to do the important work of rewiring:
When I started out this article, I listed off a number of things people do with their weekends. Those are all really beneficial things for your thinking, work, and life! Some of our most transformative work with clients involves how to increase the amount of attention they give to these sorts of activities. Whether it’s resting, or enjoying hobbies, or activities, or good food, or getting active and exercising, or investing in people and relationships. These are all pathways towards improving our work-life balance and rewiring how we think. And this rewiring pays dividends in transforming how we approach growing our work.
What about you? How do you recharge and rewire on the weekends? Do you have any rules or boundaries for carving out time for weekends? Any questions I can help with? Let me know in the comments section!