#ZeroWorkWeekends, or Why You Should Learn from My Stupidity
This is how dumb I am: I began my life as a freelance writer in January of 1995, and it took me until May of 2021 to finally give myself permission NOT to work on weekends. To be fair, that might be less about being dumb and more about being an obsessive perfectionist putting too much pressure on myself, or perhaps loving the nickname "The Machine" a literary agent once gave me and trying to prove to the world that I could crank out books at an inhuman pace with no cost to body, mind, or spirit.
Whatever. Working all the time was a bonehead move. Stipulated. Let's move on.
My point is, don't make that mistake. No matter how much work you're lucky enough to have, it will eat you alive if you make your work the entire point of your existence. I have written as many as eight full-length nonfiction books in a single year—yes, eight—which is an insane workload. And for a while, I liked being "the man," the ghostwriter everybody could turn to for good work at a fast pace.
The trouble with that is that burnout is really a thing. And if you let it, it will eat you and spit out your bones. If you let it, work will consume your time with your family and your friends and leave you sullen and exhausted and stressed out and insomniac. Worst of all, it will make you hate writing, and this is the coolest profession in the world! We get to write for a living, work with all kinds of cool people, work from wherever we want, and not have a boss? WHAT? Yes, it's the best work there is...but not if you despise it.
I wasn't quite at that point, but I was struggling to stay motivated in 2020 and 2021. I felt scoured by the volume of work, jaded and indifferent. After a few months of struggling, I finally hit on some essential goals for the coming 2-3 years:
I would go after more books that fired my passions or authors who were fascinating, and not worry about the financial compensation so much.
I would write or co-write my own books as a way of building my income in a different way.
Most important, I would stop working on weekends.
Like a lot of driven, successful people, I put a great deal of pressure on myself. I worried that I had set such high expectations for my authors that if I didn't work on the weekends, the blowback and outrage would singe my eyebrows, scare my beagles, and end up forcing me to work even longer hours to catch up. But I had to do something. I wasn't getting enough sleep, and I was desperate for a break. So, my wife, Dawn (who's an educator, so she spent plenty of time herself in the pressure cooker in 2020 and 2021), and I sat down and agreed: No more working weekends, period. No writing, no answering emails, no updating student schedules. Weekends would be for sleep, gardening, reading, cooking, hanging out with our daughters, seeing friends...relaxing.
That was months ago, and to my shock, I have not gotten a single atom of pushback from anyone. Nothing. All my fears that clients would react with consternation were completely unfounded. Turns out they like their weekend time as much as I do! I also found that I was more motivated to crash out work M-F if it meant I could get up Saturday morning with a clear conscience and look forward to a two-day mini vacation. It's been glorious.
So, if you're finding work to be a seven-day grind that's eating you from the inside, maybe it's time to try #ZeroWorkWeekends. Here's what I did to make it happen:
Informed my clients. I simply told them in an email what I would be doing. Again, I got no pushback and even some messages of support.
Shut down my laptop on Friday night.
Made weekend plans. I wanted to stay busy so I wouldn't be tempted. That lasted about three weeks, because after that, I didn't need to worry. I was happy to not work.
That's it. It was easy. The hardest part about not working on weekends, it turns out, is giving yourself permission. But you're your own boss, so why not? Try it. Now, go write.