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Allocate your time into these six categories to build your best days off

Thu, Jan 18, 2024 11:52amGrey Clock 5 min

WSJ’s Life & Work team presents Life Math, a series on how to optimize your time in 2024. Today: The best way to spend your time on the weekend.

Saturday and Sunday are often the most anticipated days of the week, yet optimizing them remains an elusive goal for many of us.

Squandered weekends leave us feeling less happy and less motivated at work, research suggests. Those who put planning and intention into their weekends emerge on Monday feeling satisfied, accomplished and more productive throughout the workweek, says Elizabeth Grace Saunders, a time-management coach in Farmington Hills, Mich.

If we don’t plan our time well, we can end up marching through our obligations, or wasting time, without ever focusing on what we really want to do.

How to plan the perfect weekend? Behavioral researchers and time-management coaches suggest breaking it into six components: sleep, hobbies, socializing, exercise, work and chores, and unscheduled time.

Using recommendations from experts and federal guidelines, we came up with this equation. It’s important to remember these numbers aren’t hard and fast—stay flexible and make the math work for your life.

The perfect weekend equation:

Sleep (7 to 9 hours x 2 + ≤ 20 to 60 minutes napping) + Hobbies (~ 2 hours) + Socializing (0 to 2 events) + Exercise (≥ 45 minutes) + Work (≤ 2 hours) + Unplanned time (~ 3 to 4 hours) = A Great Weekend

Here’s how to incorporate those elements to build your best days off.


This part of the “perfect weekend” equation is the most rigid.

Despite the tendency many of us have to take advantage of the time off by staying up and sleeping in later, we should try to keep our sleep schedules as consistent as possible to avoid social jet lag, sleep researchers say.

Sleep researchers generally permit one hour of wiggle room—so if you typically go to sleep at 11 p.m., try not to stay up past midnight. If your weekday alarm goes off at 7 a.m., rise and shine by 8 a.m. on the weekends. Finding yourself sleepy later in the day? Take a 10- to 30-minute nap in the early afternoon.

Most importantly: Make sure you’re getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night, even on weekends. If you’re among the roughly one-third of Americans who don’t get that recommended sleep during the week, you may be able to “catch up” by sleeping a few extra hours on the weekend, says David Reichenberger, who studies the links between sleep and health at Pennsylvania State University.

But don’t count on catching up forever. A recent study Reichenberger co-wrote found that among a small group of people who slept five hours a night during the week, their cardiovascular health measures worsened and didn’t return to baseline even after they were allowed to catch up on sleep over the weekend.


Having a hobby, or an activity we engage in during our time off for pleasure, has been linked to fewer symptoms of depression and higher levels of happiness, life satisfaction and even reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline.

Saunders, the time-management coach in Michigan, generally recommends people set aside roughly two hours for hobbies on the weekend.

Don’t worry if you’re not, say, a dedicated baker, painter or pianist. Hobbies can encompass much more than we might typically consider, says Daisy Fancourt, a professor of psychobiology and epidemiology at University College London who researches the link between social and behavioral factors and health.

Something as simple as reading a book or cooking a tasty meal can serve the same purpose: to give us a sense of happiness, meaning and control in our lives outside of work.

Unplanned time

Scheduling unstructured time may sound silly. But failing to block out free time can leave us filling it with whatever’s right in front of us, like working or mindlessly scrolling, says Laura Vanderkam, an author and time-management expert based outside Philadelphia.

If you can, leave unplanned a chunky part of your Saturday or Sunday, roughly three to four hours, says Saunders. “If you make your weekend as packed and as busy as your weekday is, you will not come out of the weekend feeling refreshed,” she says.

This time is a good opportunity to let our brains enter so-called “default mode,” where our thinking extends beyond the here and now, allowing us to reflect and find meaning and purpose.

“It’s really important that all of us have dedicated, protected time in our lives to just be here now,” says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a developmental psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Southern California.


Robust social relationships are powerfully linked to physical and mental health and longevity benefits, and the weekend is a natural time to take advantage of them.

Social activities often require more advance planning than other parts of the weekend equation, so set aside time during the week to text or email friends and family about getting together, says Saunders, the time-management coach.

People typically spend twice as much time—nearly an hour—socializing on weekend days as on weekdays, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’s latest data on time use.

The amount of time you should spend socializing on the weekend depends on how energized or drained that togetherness makes you feel, she says. Introverts typically benefit from one social event every weekend or every other weekend, she says, whereas two social events per weekend is a sweet spot for extroverts.

If you have kids and most of your socializing naturally revolves around them, try to set some adults-only social time, too, says Vanderkam. You may find it easier to relax without your kids running around, and it can be easier to have uninterrupted grown-up conversations.

Work and chores

Pick a couple of small, achievable projects to see through to the finish line rather than trying to take on five things at once, says Vanderkam. You probably can’t clean out the entire garage, sort through your kid’s closet, vacuum out the car, wash all the laundry and grocery shop in one weekend.

Professional work, too, is sometimes inevitable on weekends. Avoid it if you can, but if a little work will help you feel less anxious, set some boundaries, behavioral researchers say. Stick to a clear time frame and goal, such as finalizing one section of a report within a two-hour window.

Physical activity

Federal guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise weekly, plus strengthening activities twice a week. If you’re spreading that out across the week, you may only need to set aside about 45 minutes for Saturday and Sunday.

But there’s good news for people who like to cram most of their exercise into the weekend. People who condensed their workouts into one or two days experienced health benefits similar to those who spread them out, a 2022 JAMA Internal Medicine study found.

The flexibility of the weekend allows for longer, varied workouts that can overlap with “hobbies” and “social” categories, says Heather Milton, a clinical exercise physiologist and supervisor of the NYU Langone Sports Performance Center. Try to incorporate both elements of aerobic and strength training, as well as some flexibility, she recommends.

It can help to plan an exercise block for the same time each weekend—such as a weekly Saturday morning yoga class or Sunday morning jog. Don’t have the time? Just try to move. Ideally, every 30 minutes or so, says Milton.

“Weekends are great for relaxation, but try not to Netflix and chill for 12 hours of the day without getting off the couch,” she says.


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Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

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