I'm writing this on a Sunday afternoon. I've written most of my recent articles on the weekend, along with doing a lot of other work. Lately it seems that Saturday and Sunday have become no different for me than any other day of the week, except that I don't get interrupted as often on those days. Should I try to work less on the weekends? Does success as a consultant bring weekend work along as part of the bargain, or am I just not doing it right?
The practice of taking a day or two off work every seven days or so goes back thousands of years. The reasons for doing so aren't limited to religion; most secular cultures also institute a canonical work-week followed by a weekend in which workers get a break, although the scheduling of those days off often follows the dominant religion(s) of those cultures.
Why do we need such regular time off?
For a majority of workers, the weekend provides time in which they can pursue activities for which they don't have time during the week, because they have to be at their employer's location on a fixed schedule. These include not only hobbies and recreation, but also chores like taking care of their home or doing the laundry. One nice thing about being an independent consultant is that I can choose to do all those things during the week if that's more convenient. Thus, I don't need to reserve the weekend for those purposes.
If the whole family goes to work or school during the week and gets the weekend off, then it's easier to plan family activities for the weekend. On the other hand, with today's hectic school-age schedule in which the weekends get eaten up by extra-curricular activities, that advantage doesn't weigh as heavily as it used to.
Perhaps a cycle of concentrated work followed by regular down time provides a psychological advantage, though. We all should know that declaring official "on time" and "off time" helps us to be more productive and avoid procrastination. By having the weekend to look forward to, perhaps we can avoid burnout and be able to push on through the week. On the other hand, I give myself little reward breaks during the week when I get things accomplished. I find that when I come back to the job, I'm refreshed and usually have my best ideas. I wouldn't want to force myself into a standard work-week if that meant I had to give up those regular breaks in order to put in enough time.
Sometimes I enjoy work more on the weekend than during the week. As I mentioned before, I don't get interrupted as much, so I can get into the zone and get things done. It also feels like I'm moving ahead of my planned schedule. Perhaps the trick to that is not to plan to work on the weekend; otherwise, it becomes just another work day instead of a day to get ahead of the plan.
Back in the 80s, I worked for a software house that expected everyone to work weekends (without extra pay or other compensation) during crunch time, which sometimes ran from September through April. That company chewed people up and spit them out. Ironically, I think they probably could have gotten much more productive effort from their workforce by dropping that expectation. Mistakes often happen at the end of the twentieth 12-hour day in a row. I have no intention of ever working that hard again, because it doesn't accomplish anything. But the question remains: how hard is ideal?
After 20 years as an independent consultant, I still don't have definite answers to that question. I'd like to hear your thoughts. Do you take weekends off? If you don't, how do you give yourself relief from your work schedule?
Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant blog, he also contributes to [Geeks Are Sexy] Technology News and his two personal blogs, Chip's Quips and Chip's Tips for Developers.