Monday 18 August 2014 8:04 pm

How to make the most of weekends

Highly successful people seek inspiration, think long term and don’t waste the last 15 hours.
It's tempting to imagine that successful businesspeople see the weekend as an extension of the working week – a time for catching up on emails, reading market reports and troubleshooting process documents. Not so, according to time management expert Laura Vanderkam, author of What the Most Successful People Do On the Weekend. She’s interviewed scores of chief executives, politicians and other high-flyers, and finds more than a hint of normality to many of their routines. 
Take Dominique Schurman, chief executive of giant US stationary firm Papyrus, who told Vanderkam that she spends part of the weekend gardening – “she likes to move her pots around, studying different ways to combine colour and texture.” 
But alongside the generic, relaxing activities (family time, socialising) that surely none of us need an excuse to do more of, Vanderkam also finds a host of quirkier habits that she thinks helps these leaders stay ahead. Here are three of them.


The ubiquity of smartphones and tablets has made it harder than ever to completely unplug from emails and the like, so Vanderkam recommends deliberately stepping back from it all: “I’m not saying the whole weekend, but even just a walk without the phone can feel liberating. I advocate taking a ‘tech Sabbath’.” Booking the whole of Saturday and Sunday off from technology is obviously impractical for many, but even avoiding emails for a specific window (Saturday evening to Sunday afternoon, for example) can help re-charge your brain’s batteries, she says. 
Disconnecting completely from the daily grind is an age-old trick (Mark Twain would never write on a Sunday, preferring to daydream in some shady spot on a farm), but even high-flyers in today’s tech-intensive industries follow suit. Padmasree Warrior, chief technology and strategy officer at Cisco Systems, told the New York Times in 2012 that she recharges with a Saturday “digital detox”. “It makes me so much calmer when I’m responding to emails later.”


Even when thinking about work, many high achievers seek a completely different perspective at the weekend. Pete Cashmore, chief executive and founder of Mashable, wrote in a blog for LinkedIn: “What I love about weekends is that they allow me to purposely broaden my views on topics typically outside my wheelhouse of knowledge.” He especially likes to watch TED Talks, seeking dense topics outside of his industry to avoid tunnel vision. 
According to Vanderkam, activities that stretch your perspective at the weekend (she calls it “using your brain in a different way”) can be immensely beneficial, helping you stay focused on what’s really important, and stopping your thoughts from being dominated by your nine-to-five responsibilities. As Spencer Rascoff, chief executive of online real estate database Zillow, says, “weekends are a great chance to reflect and be more introspective about bigger issues.” Even Schurman’s seemingly trivial Saturday plant pot arranging helped put her in the shoes of those on a different side of her firm – it’s “not unlike what she asks her card designers to do during the week,” Vanderkam says.


For many, the weekend effectively ends on a Sunday afternoon, as thoughts turn to the week ahead. This is a mistake, thinks Vanderkam. “At 3pm on Sunday, I still have 15 hours before I’ll wake up Monday morning” she says. “Why not seize that time?” James Reinhart, founder of online clothing resale platform, says socialising on a Sunday evening means he’s more refreshed come Monday. Just avoid having too much wine.

Make notes by hand

Smartphone keypads have improved recently, but they can still be clumsy (especially for those of us with oversized thumbs). Penultimate, by Evernote, claims to be the “most natural digital handwriting experience on iPad”, and is ideal for quickly jotting down notes and lists to yourself. And it’s not prone to the usual keypad autocorrect errors.