I take saturdays completely off. I might take the evenings of a few other days off, but saturdays I *have* to take off. Jim Davies, a hardworking, successful cognitive scientist, showed me how this works; definitely read about his philosophy here. It struck a chord with me because I'd read a Garison Keillor advice column years ago about a man who was being driven almost to insanity, on the tenth year of his PhD, stressed out every single day and yet no longer making any progress at all. "Mr. Blue" advised him to take one day completely off, to reconnect with life and at least briefly lift the burden of his career worries.
So that's what I've done every week for about 10 months now. I kept it up all through the writing of my masters thesis, through many other scary deadlines, breaking my rule only twice that I can remember and that was when I was just getting used to it. It *is* possible, and a glorious thing.
Some saturdays end up being about rest and self-indulgence, like spending most of it catching up on some tv show, but many are about having adventures and trying new things. What I've really come to treasure is the looseness of the day. Saturdays are for serendipity and digressions, randomly running into people and spending the next 3 hours hanging out. On saturdays my theme songs are "The 59th Bridge Song" by Simon and Garfunkel and Mr. Tambourine Man: "I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to."
Today was a great example. I slept in late after going dancing last night (friday nights are the other time that I almost always take off), then wandered downtown to get my hair cut. Afterwards I strolled on Princess St, as I often do of a saturday - it's the long main street in Kingston and offers constant interest in the form of shops and people. I lunched at a deli I'd never been in before, and tried a czechoslovakian pickle recommended by the counter lady. Then I went with Jamal and Michelle for a matinee of the ridiculous, wonderful spectacle of Ghost Rider. For dinner I ate enormous amounts of sushi served in a wooden boat with Meghan and Tyson. And now I'm writing in this blog. Soon I will watch an episode of Friday Night Lights, or read my book about Baltimore homicide detectives. All these things I do because I feel like them, without the tiniest bit of guilt or having any obligation to think about work once (although it's not uncommon that I get good ideas on my day off! That loose mindset is great for creativity)
I can justify this not just for my sanity, but for productivity. The flipside is that I put in a nearly-full day of work on sunday (often getting a slightly later start). It's nice and quiet in the office, completely free of distractions. Sunday is frequently my most productive day of the week. I used to have weekends that were two days where I could never fully enjoy myself and yet got hardly anything done. Instead I have a great time on saturdays, and on sundays get more done than I used to in two days - usually more than on any other day of the week.
Give it a try!