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Is Working On Weekends The Secret To A Successful, Happy Work-Life Balance?

Seriously. Read on to find out how it could work for you.

[Image: Flickr user Hiroyuki Takeda]

Last week, the financial world was abuzz with some interesting news: Goldman Sachs was easing up on its junior analysts. Specifically, the firm announced that it wanted its young bankers to take weekends off. As David Solomon, co-head of the investment banking division, was quoted saying, "This is a marathon, not a sprint."

It’s probably a smart move. Goldman no doubt knows that burn-out isn’t profitable, and a lot of weekend work is unnecessary. When weekend work gets built into a culture, it’s generally because someone isn’t managing workloads properly.

That said, as I’ve studied people’s schedules, I’ve come to think that there’s nothing inherently wrong with working on weekends if it’s done within some limits. For many people, working on weekends is actually the key to making work and life work together.

Last year, when I wrote a short book on how successful people spend their weekends, I found that—no big surprise—many successful people worked on days starting with "S."

The biggest reason? People who achieve great success in their lines of work often like what they do for a living. "I love what I do so it doesn’t really feel like work," says Debbie Sterling, an engineer turned founder of GoldieBlox, a toy company that makes engineering toys marketed specifically for girls. Looking at her to-do list, she’ll think "Over the weekend, I need to come up with new product ideas for Goldieblox. That’s awesome." Or even better, "I need to watch cartoons to get inspiration." Checking out a toy store for brand positioning? Also work—but lots of fun. Successful people often find the problems associated with their work compelling. Weekends present a great opportunity to spend time brainstorming away from the office, to do creative work, read for work, and so forth.

Work isn’t separate from life. It’s part of life, and weekends are part of life too.

What I did find is that people who worked on weekends tried to contain it. "Usually I’ll pick one day instead of both" to work, says Sterling. "So that way there’s at least one day off."

Harsh Patel, a Teach for America teacher turned ed-tech entrepreneur told me that while teaching, he couldn’t make himself do anything Friday night, but "I found myself wasting Saturday mornings sleeping in too long, so I started getting up earlier and finishing my work—which allowed me to do whatever I wanted worry-free Saturday night and Sunday." Parents of small kids might use nap time to do a bit of work without taking time away from family. Sunday night was also a good time many people mentioned—time to prepare for the week ahead and make sure Monday started well. As Michael Soenen, the former CEO of FTD (the florist network), and current CEO of EmergencyLink, told me, his best work habit was working half a day on Sunday. "I think through any questions I have, what are the important projects. If those are made clear Sunday night, coming into Monday morning, everyone really knows what to do."

Choosing a specific part of the weekend to work gives you the ability to have time off—to use different parts of your brain—yet still use your weekend hours for things you want to get done.

But perhaps the biggest reason not to write off weekends as work time? Working on weekends is the flipside of having flexibility during the week. Many of us wind up trading off time during the traditional workweek as part of achieving work-life balance.

I see this on time logs all the time. A parent takes time off to go to a preschool program at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, or leaves the office at 5:00 p.m. a few nights a week when others leave at 6 p.m. Why wouldn’t he make that time up on Saturday morning? That’s time that’s available. Why not use all of the 168 hours we have each week to build the lives we want?

There is a huge difference, of course, between working on weekends to achieve work-life balance and working on weekends because your boss expects you in the office on "days off"—not for any real emergency, but for a manufactured one. That is likely a big chunk of what had been happening at Goldman. But there’s nothing wrong with working on weekends. Indeed, there’s often a lot that’s right.