The Science-Backed Schedule for Your Perfect Weekend
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The Science-Backed Schedule for Your Perfect Weekend

Allocate your time into these six categories to build your best days off

Mon, Jan 8, 2024 10:50amGrey Clock 5 min

WSJ’s Life & Work team presents Life Math, a series on how to optimise your time in 2024. Today: The best way to spend your time on the weekend.

Saturday and Sunday are often the most anticipated days of the week, yet optimising them remains an elusive goal for many of us.

Squandered weekends leave us feeling less happy and less motivated at work, research suggests. Those who put planning and intention into their weekends emerge on Monday feeling satisfied, accomplished and more productive throughout the workweek, says Elizabeth Grace Saunders, a time-management coach in Farmington Hills, Mich.

If we don’t plan our time well, we can end up marching through our obligations, or wasting time, without ever focusing on what we really want to do.

How to plan the perfect weekend? Behavioural researchers and time-management coaches suggest breaking it into six components: sleep, hobbies, socialising, exercise, work and chores, and unscheduled time.

Using recommendations from experts and federal guidelines, we came up with this equation. It’s important to remember these numbers aren’t hard and fast—stay flexible and make the math work for your life.

The perfect weekend equation:

Sleep (7 to 9 hours x 2 + ≤ 20 to 60 minutes napping) + Hobbies (~ 2 hours) + Socializing (0 to 2 events) + Exercise (≥ 45 minutes) + Work (≤ 2 hours) + Unplanned time (~ 3 to 4 hours) = A Great Weekend

Here’s how to incorporate those elements to build your best days off.


This part of the “perfect weekend” equation is the most rigid.

Despite the tendency many of us have to take advantage of the time off by staying up and sleeping in later, we should try to keep our sleep schedules as consistent as possible to avoid social jet lag, sleep researchers say.

Sleep researchers generally permit one hour of wiggle room—so if you typically go to sleep at 11 p.m., try not to stay up past midnight. If your weekday alarm goes off at 7 a.m., rise and shine by 8 a.m. on the weekends. Finding yourself sleepy later in the day? Take a 10- to 30-minute nap in the early afternoon.

Most importantly: Make sure you’re getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night, even on weekends. If you’re among the roughly one-third of Americans who don’t get that recommended sleep during the week, you may be able to “catch up” by sleeping a few extra hours on the weekend, says David Reichenberger, who studies the links between sleep and health at Pennsylvania State University.

But don’t count on catching up forever. A recent study Reichenberger co-wrote found that among a small group of people who slept five hours a night during the week, their cardiovascular health measures worsened and didn’t return to baseline even after they were allowed to catch up on sleep over the weekend.


Having a hobby, or an activity we engage in during our time off for pleasure, has been linked to fewer symptoms of depression and higher levels of happiness, life satisfaction and even reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline.

Saunders, the time-management coach in Michigan, generally recommends people set aside roughly two hours for hobbies on the weekend.

Don’t worry if you’re not, say, a dedicated baker, painter or pianist. Hobbies can encompass much more than we might typically consider, says Daisy Fancourt, a professor of psychobiology and epidemiology at University College Londonwho researches the link between social and behavioral factors and health.

Something as simple as reading a book or cooking a tasty meal can serve the same purpose: to give us a sense of happiness, meaning and control in our lives outside of work.

Unplanned time

Scheduling unstructured time may sound silly. But failing to block out free time can leave us filling it with whatever’s right in front of us, like working or mindlessly scrolling, says Laura Vanderkam, an author and time-management expert based outside Philadelphia.

If you can, leave unplanned a chunky part of your Saturday or Sunday, roughly three to four hours, says Saunders. “If you make your weekend as packed and as busy as your weekday is, you will not come out of the weekend feeling refreshed,” she says.

This time is a good opportunity to let our brains enter so-called “default mode,” where our thinking extends beyond the here and now, allowing us to reflect and find meaning and purpose.

“It’s really important that all of us have dedicated, protected time in our lives to just be here now,” says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a developmental psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Southern California.


Robust social relationships are powerfully linked to physical and mental health and longevity benefits, and the weekend is a natural time to take advantage of them.

Social activities often require more advance planning than other parts of the weekend equation, so set aside time during the week to text or email friends and family about getting together, says Saunders, the time-management coach.

People typically spend twice as much time—nearly an hour—socialising on weekend days as on weekdays, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’s latest data on time use.

The amount of time you should spend socialising on the weekend depends on how energised or drained that togetherness makes you feel, she says. Introverts typically benefit from one social event every weekend or every other weekend, she says, whereas two social events per weekend is a sweet spot for extroverts.

If you have kids and most of your socialising naturally revolves around them, try to set some adults-only social time, too, says Vanderkam. You may find it easier to relax without your kids running around, and it can be easier to have uninterrupted grown-up conversations.

Work and chores

Pick a couple of small, achievable projects to see through to the finish line rather than trying to take on five things at once, says Vanderkam. You probably can’t clean out the entire garage, sort through your kid’s closet, vacuum out the car, wash all the laundry and grocery shop in one weekend.

Professional work, too, is sometimes inevitable on weekends. Avoid it if you can, but if a little work will help you feel less anxious, set some boundaries, behavioural researchers say. Stick to a clear time frame and goal, such as finalising one section of a report within a two-hour window.

Physical activity

Federal guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise weekly, plus strengthening activities twice a week. If you’re spreading that out across the week, you may only need to set aside about 45 minutes for Saturday and Sunday.

But there’s good news for people who like to cram most of their exercise into the weekend. People who condensed their workouts into one or two days experienced health benefits similar to those who spread them out, a 2022 JAMA Internal Medicine study found.

The flexibility of the weekend allows for longer, varied workouts that can overlap with “hobbies” and “social” categories, says Heather Milton, a clinical exercise physiologist and supervisor of the NYU Langone Sports Performance Center. Try to incorporate both elements of aerobic and strength training, as well as some flexibility, she recommends.

It can help to plan an exercise block for the same time each weekend—such as a weekly Saturday morning yoga class or Sunday morning jog. Don’t have the time? Just try to move. Ideally, every 30 minutes or so, says Milton.

“Weekends are great for relaxation, but try not to Netflix and chill for 12 hours of the day without getting off the couch,” she says.


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Few of the U.S.’s philanthropic foundations invest their endowment assets—totalling an estimated US$1.1 trillion—to create positive social and environmental change in addition to high returns, potentially limiting or even counteracting the good such organisations do.

Exactly how few isn’t precisely known. But Bridgespan Social Impact, a subsidiary of the New York-based Bridgespan Group along with the Capricorn Investment Group, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based investment firm founded by Jeff Skoll , the first president of eBay, and the Skoll Foundation, also in Palo Alto, attempted to “get the conservation started,” with a study of 65 foundations with a total of about US$89 billion in assets, according to Mandira Reddy, director at Capricorn Investment Group.

The top-line conclusion: 5% of the primarily U.S.-based foundations surveyed invest their assets for impact. Most surprising is that 92% of these organisations, which have assets ranging from US$11 million to US$16 billion, are active members of impact investing groups, such as the Global Impact Investing Network and Mission Investors Exchange.

“If there’s any pool of capital that is best suited for impact investing, it would be this pool of capital along with family office money,” Reddy says.

The study was also conducted “to draw attention to the opportunity,” she said.

“We want to redefine what philanthropy can achieve. There is massive potential here just given the scale of capital.”

Foundations are required by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to grant 5% of their assets each year to charity; in practice they have granted slightly more in the last 10 years—an average of 7% of their assets, according to Delaware-based FoundationMark, which tracks the investment performance of about 97% of all foundation assets.

The remaining assets of these foundations are invested with the intention of earning the “highest-possible risk-adjusted financial returns,” the report said. Those investments allow these organizations to grant funds often in perpetuity.

Capricorn and Bridgespan argue that more foundations, however, need to “align their capital with their missions,” and that they can do so while still achieving high returns.

“Why wait to distribute resources far into the future when there are numerous urgent issues facing the planet and communities today,” argue the authors of a report on the research, which is titled, “Can Foundation Endowments Achieve Greater Impact.”

The fact most of the foundations surveyed are very familiar with impact investing and yet haven’t taken the leap “highlights the persistently untapped opportunity,” the report said. It details some of the barriers foundations can face in shifting to impact, and how and why to overcome them.

Hurdles to making a shift can include “beginner’s dilemma”—simply not knowing where to start—and a misperception on the part of large foundations that impact investing is “too niche,” offering opportunities that are too small for the amount of capital they need to allocate. Other foundations are too stretched and don’t have the resources to add capabilities for making impact investments, the report said.

One of the biggest concerns is financial performance. Some foundation leaders, for instance, worry impact investments lead to so-called concessionary returns, where a market rate of return is sacrificed to achieve a social or environmental benefit. Those investments exist, but there are also plenty of options that offer financial returns.

The authors make a case for foundations to “go big,” into impact to realize the best outcomes, and to take a portfolio approach, meaning integrating impact principles into how they approach all investments. To make this happen, foundations need to incorporate impact into their investment policy statements, which determine how they allocate assets.

It will be difficult for foundations that want to shift their assets to impact to pull out of investments such as private-equity or venture-capital funds that can have holdings periods of a decade. But with a policy statement in place, a foundation’s investment team can reinvest this long-term capital once it is returned into impact investing options, she says.

“The transition doesn’t happen overnight,” Reddy says. “Even if there is a commitment for an established foundation that is already fully invested, it takes several years to get there.”

The Skoll Foundation, established in 1999, revised its investment policy statement in 2006 to incorporate impact. According to the report, the foundation initially divested of investments that were not in sync with its values, and then gradually, working with Capricorn Investment, began exploring impact opportunities mostly in early-stage companies developing solutions to climate change.

“As the team gained more knowledge and experience in this work, and as more investment opportunities arose, the impact-aligned portfolio expanded across different asset classes, issue areas, and fund managers,” the report said.

As of 2022, 70% of the Skoll Foundation’s assets are in impact investments addressing climate change, inclusive capitalism, health and wellness, and sustainable markets.

Capricorn, which manages US$9 billion for foundations and institutional investors through impact investments, constructs portfolios across asset classes. In private markets, this can include venture, private equity, private credit, real estate, and infrastructure. There are also impact options in the public markets, in both stocks and bonds.

“Across the spectrum there are opportunities available now to do this in an authentic manner while preserving financial goals,” Reddy says.

Of the foundations surveyed, about 15, including Skoll, have 50% or more of their assets invested for impact. Others include the Lora & Martin Kelley Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Russell Family Foundation, and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

Though not part of the study, the California Endowment just announced it was going “all in” on impact. The organisation has US$4 billion in assets under management, which likely makes it the largest foundation to undergo the shift, according to Mission Investors Exchange.

Although the researchers looked at a fairly small sample set of foundations, Reddy says it provides data “that is indicative of what the foundation universe” might look like.

“We cannot tell foundations how to invest and that’s not the intent, but we do want to spread the message that it is quite possible to align their assets to impact,” she says. “The idea is that this becomes a boardroom conversation.”


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