Do you really need to work at weekends?
OPINION: Making and keeping New Year's resolutions has never been a strength. But this year I pledged to stop working weekends and have so far kept it. The results have surprised.
Like many small business owners, I spent years working weekends. Probably four to six hours on average, sometimes more if work demanded it. Occasionally all weekend in an emergency.
Weekend work was partly because of ambition – wanting to get ahead, earn income and help clients. And partly from work commitments: several recurring tasks had Monday or Tuesday deadlines, meaning work inevitably spilled into the weekend.
And partly because of habit – you get conditioned to starting work on Sunday night in a good week and Sunday morning in a bad one. No weekend work felt strange, a sign of slackness and a portent to an unproductive week. Crazy, I know.
In truth, some work was more interesting than weekend chores or events one cannot get out of, such as a lunch or random catch-up, for example. Work was a convenient excuse.
This year I stopped. Commitments with family and friends were making weekend work harder and there was a growing sense of false economy – taking it easier on Friday afternoon, for example, because work could be mopped up on Sunday.
Even a few hours of mandatory weekend work could leave a little cloud over the rest of the weekend. No Saturday should be spent thinking about work on Sunday.
Stopping weekend work meant no checking or sending emails unless in an emergency. No reading weekend newspapers or finance magazines as a subterfuge for background research and ferreting out story ideas. No invoices or checking diaries.
Work now stops late Friday afternoon and starts early Monday. There have been a few weekend work interruptions, but so far, so good. For the first time in a long time, Sunday is day of relaxation rather than a stepping stone to the next working week.
Giving up weekend work was harder than it sounds. Those in corporate jobs might wonder why anybody would work so much on weekends (I know plenty in company jobs who habitually work weekends – or tell everyone they do!).
As every small business owner knows, work can be unpredictable, so you take it when it's there. Resources are usually stretched and you have to do everything. Tax and other admin creates a layer of extra work, meaning weekends are often needed for catch-up.
I would never criticise any business owner or entrepreneur who works weekends. New ventures require sacrifices. Weekend work helps owners leverage scarce resources; they turn themselves into two workers because they can't afford a second wage.
The question is, what is your return on weekend work? If it's detracting from productivity during the week and sapping your creative and innovative juices, it may not be worth it.
STOPPING WEEKEND WORK HAS WORKED
As an aside, I've changed my views on weekend penalty rates, having favoured lower rates given a 24/7 economy. Weekend time to unwind is precious – no other break during the week comes close. Workers who give up their Sundays and time with family should be paid more.
An entrepreneur friend told me he "has to earn the right to have a weekend". That's code for saying he has to work his butt off during the week to have a full weekend off.
He strives to complete enough work by Friday, to justify the weekend off. Non-working weekends, in his world, are not guaranteed. They are earned through productivity. Such is the life of aspiring entrepreneurs who run cash-strapped ventures.
I've become far more organised during the week to compensate for the loss of weekend work. No more unnecessary meetings and fewer Friday lunches or coffees with friends or former colleagues. A busy, productive Friday makes the weekend more enjoyable, knowing you are up-to-date and have earned time off.
The weekdays are more of a blur. Compressing weekend work into weekdays ups the workload and pressure. But it's amazing how the work still gets done when you resist the urge to work weekends and push harder on Mondays.
Yes, I feel more productive and relaxed. Whether that translates into a bigger business is yet to be seen. For most business owners, no weekend work means less work and income. They don't slave away on weekends to impress the boss.
My weekend work will never vanish entirely. Occasionally, I enjoy doing a tricky project on Sunday and always prefer work to mindless TV watching. Occasionally I need the excuse of weekend work and the feeling that I am getting ahead on the week.
Like many business owners, I like to be available for clients and do work at short notice if needed. Availability is a precious business asset.
But for now, habitual weekend tasks have gone. Weekend work, if done, is about icing the cake, not making it. And not because society has conditioned people to blur work across weekdays and weekends, in the name of "flexibility".
- Sydney Morning Herald