Don’t half ass your day off

Labor is a craft, but perfect rest is an art. It is the result of an accord of body, mind and imagination. To attain a degree of excellence in art, one must accept its discipline, one must adjure slothfulness. The seventh day is a palace in time which we build. It is made of soul, of joy and reticence. In its atmosphere, a discipline is a reminder of adjacency to eternity.

– Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath

DC has a strong happy hour culture. On Thursday night between 5 and 7 PM the young professionals of Washington will congregate at bars all across the city for slightly discounted drinks and appetizers to let off some steam.

Never mind that Friday is a work day. It’s generally understood that not much will get done on Friday, maybe a light day of meetings and admin work.

But as seriously as they take it, Washingtonians have not elevated this break from the work week to the level of the sacred.

Happy hours, weekends, and vacations are placed in the context of work. Weekends might even be a time to do work (grocery runs anyone?) and vacations can be ruined by the thought that work is piling up in your absence.

Oliver Burkeman, in his book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Mangement for Mortals, shares the insight that we justify leisure “only in terms of its usefulness for other things” so much so that it “begins to feel vaguely like a chore.” 

To combat this modern irreverence and devaluation of rest, Burkeman suggests that we need to embrace habits and rules as “absurd” as the the habits and rules of the Jewish Sabbath (such as pre-tearing sheets of toilet paper so you don’t have to to this work on Shabbat.

He cites the writer Judith Shulevitz to make his case:

Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking. You cannot downshift casually and easily, the way you might slip into bed at the end of a long day. As the Cat in the Hat says, “It is fun to have fun but you have to know how.” 

This is why the Puritan and Jewish Sabbaths were so exactingly intentional, requiring extensive advance preparation—at the very least a scrubbed house, a full larder and a bath. The rules did not exist to torture the faithful. They were meant to communicate the insight that interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will, one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as social sanction.

Judith Shulevitz via Oliver Burkemans Four Thousand Weeks

It is too easy to let a day off be ruined with the idea that you could be checking off a few items on your to-do list or, conversely, use it for sub-optimal pleasures like browsing the internet on your phone.

But, like hosting a party, it requires significant work and preparation. And parties are made more special precisely because of the work.

So as you make your plans for the weekend, consider what you can do to prepare for it, to truly elevate it into something deep and pleasurable.

Don’t half ass your day off.