How to turn your long weekend into a vacation

Get out of your routine and do something different, like taking a hot-air balloon ride, on your long weekend. It will help you feel fully recharged. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

How to turn your long weekend into a vacation

Long weekends can give each of us a chance to recharge our drained batteries, but only if we make smart choices about how we spend our time away from work. All weekends are not created equal.

Sometimes we return from our weekends replenished, full of vigour and feeling like we can tackle whatever life throws at us.

Other times, when the new week rolls around, we’re still exhausted from the previous week and just want to climb back into bed and hide.

However, a few simple tricks can help you make sure that your weekends fuel successful recovery and help you be at your best.

I learned about the ways in which our leisure time can help or hinder how recovered we feel while doing research for my upcoming book Boost: The Science of Recharging Yourself in an Age of Unrelenting Demands (Information Age Publishing).

A boost is when your leisure time lets you fully recharge your batteries and return to your obligations happier, healthier and more effective at your tasks. Recharging is so important. The stress we experience at work, and the long hours we put in, can cause hypertension, heart disease and even early death.

Boosting prevents this.

Compared to weekends, most people consider vacations better opportunities to decompress and refuel. So here are a few ideas to help turn your Easter long weekend into a break that feels more like a vacation that fully recharges your batteries:

Get out of your normal routine

This weekend, don’t just lie around the house and run errands like you typically do. Do something out of the ordinary. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. It just has to be different.

Go for a hot air balloon ride. Hike through a forest with friends. Or just spend a day as a tourist in a nearby town. The novelty and unpredictability of uncommon weekend activities will lead you to experience strong emotions that help you put work out of your mind and create memories you’ll cherish.

Distancing yourself from your standard routine can make you feel like you’re away from your normal life, which feels like a vacation.

Plan ahead to minimize stress

Negative experiences have a bigger impact on us than positive experiences. Spending many frustrating hours sitting in a traffic jam on your way to meet friends at a restaurant can easily outweigh the enjoyment you gain from the subsequent sparkling conversation.

Not everything can be planned in advance, nor should it be, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the same way you might reserve a boat for para-sailing before you leave on vacation, plan the predictable parts of your long weekend ahead of time so you can avoid unnecessary stress and disappointments.

Instead of leaving for dinner with just enough time to get to the restaurant, leave early, sidestep the evening traffic and spend an extra couple of hours leisurely window shopping or people-watching.

Spread out the pleasure

Research shows that big, uncommon pleasures such as buying a new car or going on a cruise have less of an impact on our level of happiness than frequent, small pleasures, such as regular afternoon tea, or slowly devouring a box of gourmet cookies over a few days.

Sometimes simple pleasures like devouring an entire batch of homemade cookies can be just as life-affirming as an exotic vacation. (Shutterstock)

When you’re on a weeklong vacation in an exotic location, novelty and surprises persist over seven days. On your long weekend, spread out your enjoyment and savour a bunch of small indulgences over three days instead of confining it to one moment.

At Christmas time, some families do something similar by opening one present a day for a number of days instead of opening them all at once. Not only does this prolong the pleasure of opening gifts and seeing people’s reactions, but extends the pleasure of anticipation.

The pleasure that we derive from anticipating experiences can sometimes be even more enjoyable than the experiences themselves. Spreading out your pleasure over a three-day weekend makes work seem a million miles away and helps you recover.

Consider volunteering

When work is uninspiring, meaningless or even dehumanizing, we can recover meaning and purpose in our lives through volunteering. Indeed, volunteering on vacation, or “voluntouring,” is growing in popularity.

Why not volunteer on a long weekend? It seems paradoxical, but one of the ways we can best recover from the demands of work is by voluntarily working for the benefit of others. If you do this, you should volunteer for causes that are personally meaningful to you.

Goals come in two forms. Intrinsic goals reflect pursuits we find inherently rewarding and meaningful. Extrinsic goals are those we pursue to achieve fame, fortune or otherwise impress other people.

Our happiness is enhanced when we focus on satisfying intrinsic goals. So volunteer for causes that you are inherently motivated to advance.

If you make smart choices about how to spend your long weekend, it can feel like a full-fledged vacation and totally recharge your batteries.

Douglas Coupland, the author of Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, recently suggested that because of cloud computing, weekends will eventually disappear from our schedules as work time becomes intermingled with leisure time.

He might be right. And when that happens, we might be able to give ourselves long weekends whenever we want. But until then, we need to make the most of the long weekends we have so that our leisure time not only gives us a break, but gives us a boost.

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