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.

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.

[Image: Flickr user Hiroyuki Takeda]

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  • Spook SEO

    When you are in a place where all you do is be with pandas all day and
    night, then, it is a good choice to work during the weekends. If your job is
    somehow a cause of stress, then, do not do it. It is as simple as that. When
    money is involved, the story becomes entirely the opposite.

  • Henrique Ventura

    This might be true to freelancers, entrepreneurs or top execs, that usually live a chaotic schedule. I don't think it works that well for your average underpaid Joe who uses weekends to take a deserved break from a job that sucks.

    As an entrepreneur myself I do some more contemplating and planning work on a chunk of my weekend, but most of the times I like (and need) to have my leisure time to keep balanced. And I'm a guy that loves what he does.

  • Tiffany

    I believe that the common thread for most successful employees lies within understanding the priority of task assignment. For example, all tasks do not lie within a hot priority zone, therefore all tasks do not need to be completed within the same window of time. It should be carefully and methodically determined what should be done and by when so employees are able to properly categorize activities. More often than not, we are caught in a vicious cycle of trying to multi-task and conquer multiple items at once which is not only counterproductive but mentally exhausting.

  • Sarka

    While I appreciate work flexibility and realize that people do not need to work hours that have not changed since the industrial revolution, this is a terrible terrible idea. People need time away from computers and jobs to explore nature, read books, talk to people (and not just about work), learn to cook great food, exercise, and do myriad other things that make life memorable, interesting, and diverse. This is why when you get together with a bunch of Americans everyone just talks about work, this is why the when you one first meets an America, the first question out of their mouths is "where do you work?" What a terrible idea.

  • Kyril---

    I'm somehow much more efficient on weekends and love working on saturday or sunday morning, when everybody's asleep;
    I'll sometime work sunday all day till midnight and take monday off :) when every body is grumpy and i'm at the beach.
    I say work when you feel like it and more importantly do something you love, you'll never work a day in your life!

  • Alfven

    I struggle to remember if I had ever read something dumber or more sold to companies and other exploiter types.

  • James Strock

    Excellent post. To find one's calling, to achieve work that one loves, that meets a need in serving others, and is what one enjoys, is a spectacular accomplishment. If the work includes play, if the work is varied, so, too, a change can be as good as a rest..... this is all quite different from what workaholics do, which is, one way or another, unsustainable....

  • RON K.

    Great post. Love it. Why restrict work to 35 or 40 hours if you love what you do and you are achieving your overall life goals as a result. Why do weekends need to be different than weekdays? Who came up with this 'manufactured' system anyway. Brilliant post and 'bang on'. I adopted this philosophy a year ago and am loving my life 100 times more.

  • bsaunders

    As a freelancer, I have found it very productive and stress- relieving to hole up on weekends and work while other people are out. Then I can shop while the market is empty, use the gym on off hours, etc.

  • Sandra

    I think the point here is that having the freedom to choose when to work (Sat/Sun, day/night, home/office etc.) helps immensely with work-life balance (and that's also assuming you have a life outside of work!) However, the company you work for (if you aren't self employed) needs to fully support this freedom of choice for it to be effective otherwise it's self-defeating. On that note I think that we've done it to ourselves. By wanting to be connected all the time we've pushed the boundaries of work and personal life to the edge. I actually think that in the not too distant future there may not be a weekend or even a holiday, and that business will operate 24 x 7 x 365 to accommodate our work-life demands!

  • AllisonOKelly

    Love this piece, Laura. When in pursuit of work/life balance, indeed flexibility is key as it allows us to trade off time during the traditional workday, or even workweek, as you mentioned. I couldn’t agree more, instead of looking at our week as a ratio of workdays to off days, why not use all 168 hours to build the work/life alignment that makes sense for us?

    I love how you mentioned choosing, as it’s not necessarily about flexibility or alternative work options, but rather simply having the choice to control our own time. This is the differentiator and what fosters a happier and more productive professional. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and findings, and putting them into perspective for those seeking a better sense of work/life balance. –Allison O’Kelly, founder/CEO Mom Corps

  • Don Joseph Goewey

    This is an interesting account of people who have the kind of freedom Laura described. I liked it ... but it's not the typical profile of corporate people these days. The vast majority of people putting in time on the weekend is because their company downsized three departments to one, cut by a third the staff in the one department, and combined the to-do lists from all three departments into an impossible strategic plan. I've coached people who sit on the couch at night and weekends with their spouse, both with their noses in their laptops, and feeling so disconnected, and helpless to do anything about it. There are things they can do, and that's what could use an article.

  • Miguel Reynolds

    Generally, I don't see a clear evidence that working on week-ends will increase work-life balance. But it all depends on each person activity, profession and personality. Even if you consider your work as a hobby, at the long term you are conditioning your options. Work life balance means managing your personal, familiar, social and profession life - being healthier and happy.

    Take the weekends for enjoy life beyond work is a must to full equilibrium.

  • Sam

    So basically if you enjoy what you do, then working over the weekend makes you happy...well yeah. Maybe the headline should be renamed - Don't do your mind numbing daily grind job, and find something more meaningful.

  • enzomedici

    No, it is a stupid idea. Americans work too much and don't get enough vacation as it is which is why the country is obese, depressed, and on every kind of drug imaginable. We need to move to 35 hour work weeks like Europe and start enjoying life.