Whether you view your weekends as a bright shining moment in an otherwise arduous week or an inconvenient barrier to your productivity, they offer all of us the opportunity to explore life outside of work.
But many of us just squander them: spending the spare hours doing boring chores and sifting around feeling slightly dissatisfied when Monday morning arrives and work begins again.
A recent study that appeared in the Harvard Business Review tried to gauge whether changing our mindset around weekends could make them more enjoyable. The survey's authors studied 400 subjects — half of whom were told to treat their weekends like a holiday and the other half told to treat them as they would any other weekend.
The subjects who were asked to treat their weekend as a holiday reported significantly higher levels of happiness than those who didn't. And though it seems likely that the holiday-type activities undertaken by the holiday group were what led to the happiness, this isn't accurate. The respondents said that the fact they were mindful of their "vacation" helped to create a greater sense of wellbeing on their days off.
There's no denying that our brains need a break — the pressures of life can become too much if we push ourselves too hard. But if we don't use our weekends in a way that engenders greater life satisfaction, they can be a wasted opportunity.
Alan Pettersen, from human resources company Positive People, says he can see the usefulness of viewing weekends as mini-holidays. "By deliberately planning for weekends, you can help to prioritise your time off and allow yourself the space to rest," he says.
Pettersen says that in the working world there is often a sense of competition to see who works the hardest and the longest.
"I've heard conversations in which people are saying, 'I worked till 10pm last night,' then the other person says 'Well I worked until 11.15pm.' I find it ridiculous."
Many corporate environments actively encourage overwork, which can lead to burnout and highly elevated stress levels. Pettersen says that if the importance of breaks is enmeshed in company policy, this can help mitigate such damaging behaviour.
"In our company, for example, we promote healthy work/life balance as an employment promise."
One of the key issues many of us have over weekend periods is switching off completely from technology. Planning for weekends, as if they are a holiday, can help.
"You might want to make it clear to your colleagues and employers that you won't be checking emails or be available on your phone for Saturday, but will be checking in briefly on Sunday," says Pettersen.
Communication is key. By being clear about your actions over the weekend period, you can avoid guilt around not being "on", while at the same time reassuring others that there is a window of possibility for contacting you if anything major occurs.
Things can get a bit blurry when it comes to social media use, however. A lot has been written about the importance of "digital detoxes" but for many of us, social media is another way of relaxing. This being said, you can try to avoid clicking on anything that is likely to trigger guilt around being off duty.
Treating each weekend as a holiday may sound rather expensive. But it doesn't have to be. Healthy "resort" style activities such as yoga and meditation can be incorporated into your weekly schedule, and the relaxation derived from them has benefits outside the class. Having a "holiday" in your own city is also useful — check out online city guides and see if there are any events, activities or locations that you would be keen to attend if you were an out-of-towner.
Physically moving location — even if it's just to a neighbouring suburb — can help you reengage and refuel.
Pettersen says that employers should actively promote the importance of time away from work. By being visible in their "scheduling of a non-schedule" they can model behaviour that others can emulate.
Having break times made overt in policy is one way in which to spread the message. But even such things as out of office messages can be an excellent way in which to convey your company intent.
By including statements along the lines of, "I am taking a break for the weekend as work/life balance is a priority for me," employers can give a clear message around how they view the importance of break time.
While it may be impossible to treat every weekend as a mini-vacation, it makes sense to be mindful around how we view these two, precious work-free days.
By "scheduling a non-schedule" (in Pettersen's words) we can prioritise the time we have to spend with friends and family, rather than viewing weekends as an inconvenient adjunct to the working week. And this in turn can lead to a greater sense of gratitude during the moments we are away from work.