Garfield may hate Mondays, but I hate Sundays...
April 4, 2010 1:51 PM   Subscribe

Almost every weekend, I end up depressed and feeling useless at the end of Sunday night. No matter how I try to fix the pattern leading up to it, it always seems to end up in the same place. If you have a problem like this, how do you solve it? Or, if you don't, how do I keep myself from falling into this cycle every week?

The situation generally goes like this: I make a resolution to get a bunch of stuff done over a weekend. I have lists! I clear time! I make sure that I have some fun activities spread out so that it's not just a giant block of work.

I'm a graduate student, so the things that need to get done have actual deadlines. It's not so much stuff like "I should paint the house" but "I need to get these graded so my kids know how they're doing." There are some of the other type on there as well, and those weight heavily on me as more things on my list that seem to never get accomplished.

Friday, I don't do anything, because hey, it's Friday.

Saturday, I try to do things, but I end up running errands, and saying, "No worries, I'll get it done on Sunday."

Then Sunday comes. I start feeling guilty for not having done more over the weekend. The apartment starts to look like more and more of a mess. I start getting into a negative thinking spiral which ends up with me feeling useless and like a complete failure.

Sunday nights are awful - I just beat up on myself for hours, frustrating my wife and myself. I'll try to do things like clean the apartment before I start working, but then I just get mad that I didn't do that earlier. No matter what I do, it doesn't feel like enough, and I never feel like I start the weekend with a good start as opposed to starting yet another week behind, perhaps even further behind than I was last week.

What do I do? How do I change this process and get out of this self-fulfilling rut?
posted by SNWidget to Human Relations (28 answers total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
Start a nice Sunday night ritual with some of your friends. Potlucks, movie nights, that kind of thing. Something that involves hanging out at someone's place and eating and hanging around. This is the best possible way to spend a Sunday night.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:56 PM on April 4, 2010 [10 favorites]

I think the answer is in the question. Get something done on Friday, even if it's just cleaning the kitchen and living room or something. On Saturday, when you think, "No worries, I'll get it done Sunday," remember how you never do and grade some papers before you run errands. Then, because you'll have already tackled a few things, Sunday won't seem so daunting and you won't waste hours beating yourself up. Instead, you can finish up what you have left to do and relax a little.

This all requires a tad bit of self-discipline. But you can do it.
posted by amro at 1:59 PM on April 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

This is my exact same situation and I wish I had a good answer for you but I'm really just working through it myself. It's slow going, but I've found the following things help A LOT:

1) make time DURING THE WEEK to get that shit done. For me, this means waking up at 7 am and getting at least one thing done before breakfast and also doing some mindless thing while watching TV with wifey at night. Wifey is into historical drama--me, not so much, but I like sitting next to her on the couch--so I get a lot done during Masterpiece.

2) this is related to #1 but, DON'T PILE ON FOR THE WEEKEND. the weekend is for relaxing, doing PHYSICAL things, and (ONLY) in an emergency, working on papers or whatever. But have you looked outside lately? Fuck, it's beautiful! Get out there! ...or stay inside and clean the apartment, just keep physical stuff for the weekend and brain-y stuff for the week.

3) if there are things that MUST get done on the weekend, try to get up early and do them before noon so you can relax the rest of the day.

There it is, those are my goals ha ha ha. I wish I had better advise or a better success story for you...
posted by johnnybeggs at 1:59 PM on April 4, 2010 [9 favorites]

I have this exact same problem. (In fact, I shouldn't be on Metafilter right now as I have homework and laundry to do... but at any rate.)

I obviously haven't solved it, but one thing that may help is to just start by doing a little bit each weekend. I think the main problem is we don't realize how quickly the time spent not-doing the work adds up.

For example, say you needed to do laundry. Friday night, put the laundry in the laundry room. Saturday night, load it into the washer. Or if you have to read something, force yourself to read a chapter each day.

Yeah, I know it sounds extremely trivial, but when I've done this I've found that I'll often end up completing the activity anyway or at least doing a lot more than I'd intended, and if I don't I at least got more done than I would have.
posted by biochemist at 1:59 PM on April 4, 2010

Commit to doing something that has a definitive time period involved during the weekend. Perhaps you could sign up for a shift volunteering nearby or take a weekend class in something fun or participate in some sort of intramural sport. Whatever it is, it needs to have a set time where others are expecting you to be there. This way, at least you're getting out and doing something useful every weekend, which might help break you out of that self-fulfilling rut a little bit.

Also, talk to your wife about this. It sounds like this is an issue you can tackle together. If your wife says "hey let's clean up the apartment now" and grabs a trash bag, you're probably going to help, right? See if she can be the one that pushes you to action, and once you get going, it sounds like you'll be more motivated to keep it up yourself.
posted by zachlipton at 2:02 PM on April 4, 2010

When I was in graduate school, I dealt with things like grading and writing papers by breaking it down into small, manageable amounts, and then rewarding myself after each chunk completed (something I learned to do in my sixth grade "study skills" class). So instead of saving everything for Sunday--which, intentional or not, is what you're doing--I'd grade 10 papers Friday, 10 Saturday, and 10 Sunday. After each one, I'll reward myself with something I actually want to do. If there are several things I need to get done, I start with the most unpleasant, and work my way through more moderately unpleasant tasks. Usually, that would be, like, grade 10 papers, clean my desk area, do the dishes, vacuum, have sex with the SO.

This is all a little mental game with myself to fool myself into feeling like the bad stuff is more bearable. But clearly, your current system of putting everything off until the last minute and then beating yourself up about it (while simultaneously putting stuff off further--why do you need to clean before you get your grading done?) isn't working for you. Remember that you're choosing to put stuff off until the last minute on Sunday (no one is forcing you to do this)--and that whatever temporary respite you get by accomplishing nothing on Friday is to the detriment of your feelings of self-worth and your relationship with your wife.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:02 PM on April 4, 2010

Do something on Friday, because hey, you're not doing it later.

Be more positive. When you get around to doing something, appreciate the fact that you're doing it rather than focusing on how you're doing it "too late".

I know this sort of thing is easier said than done. Just give it a try and be mindful. What's done is done, and all you can do is try to be better in the future.

Some specific links and techniques that could help:

- 43 folders
- Getting Things Done (Google results because I'm not sure of the best point. 43 folders is largely about this.)
- The Pomodoro Technique
posted by ymendel at 2:03 PM on April 4, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the good ideas already.

I should say that I've tried things like GTD and Pomodoro, but have had incredibly limited success with them. Generally, I get a full head of steam going for about 2 days, and then as soon as one thing goes off-kilter, I'm done. My iPhone is full of half started ToDo lists and aborted productivity attempts.

I'm willing to try something else, but this is more about trying to pull myself out of this self-perpetuating pattern of Sunday night misery.
posted by SNWidget at 2:09 PM on April 4, 2010

Are your lists long enough? I think if your list is something like -

1. Clean the house
2. Grade the papers

that's too short. I think it should be something like.

1. Make the bed
2. Pick up the clothes from the floor and put them in the hamper.
3. Put the first load of laundry in the washer.
4. Vacuum the floor
5. Grade paper #1
6. Grade paper #2

and so forth.

Check marks help me. If I did #1, made the bed, and then put a check mark next to it, I find that really encouraging.

I also think you're giving yourself *too much* time to do all this stuff. Say on a given weekend, your two main tasks were to clean the apartment and grade your paper. I think 2.5 days is way too much time for that. How long would it reasonably actually take you if you worked straight through? I think you should schedule that much time and ONLY that much time (though you can break it up). None of this, doing it sometime on Saturday. If it takes you 2 hours to clean the apartment, I think you should mark out cleaning from 10 am to 11 am on Saturday, and then again from 1 pm to 2 pm. Or whatever you like.

If you have trouble getting yourself to start, you might find my hat technique helpful.
posted by Ashley801 at 2:11 PM on April 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

Hmmm, upon seeing your follow up, it sounds like what you're really actually struggling with is perfectionism, not so much time management per se. I saw someone suggest this recently, but - have you ever tried deliberately doing a half-assed job on everything you have to do?
posted by Ashley801 at 2:13 PM on April 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm willing to try something else, but this is more about trying to pull myself out of this self-perpetuating pattern of Sunday night misery.

Respectfully want to suggest that, in light of your posting history, you might be using metafilter as another means to procrastination, because you have plenty of suggestions in that thread that you could be implementing right now. Particularly seeing as it's Sunday afternoon as we speak. Have you graded those papers yet? Consider turning off the computer for an hour, just working to get one or two things done in that hour, and then coming back to check on your answers.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:20 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Last thought - you might want to try scheduling in advance how much *time* you want to spend working instead of how much work you want to finish. It might be helpful to decide to work, say, 10 hours from Fri-Sun, and (as I said in the earlier comment) specifically schedule which hours they are going to be. Don't just give yourself an open time block.

This is something you still have time to do now. Say you would have wanted to spend 2 hours working Friday, 4 Saturday, and 4 Sunday. You still have the chance to schedule yourself for the Sunday hours.
posted by Ashley801 at 2:29 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Pick out some small tasks to assign to each day. Whereas thinking "Oh, I've got to get the house picked up on Friday after work" can seem grueling, boring and a night-ruiner, thinking "I've got to throw a load of laundry in before I go out Friday" or "Let me plan to spend 20 minutes picking up and vacuuming before dinner" are harder to procrastinate. There are a lot of great hacks, but after a certain point you've just got to turn off the TV (or whatever) and do it. Getting organized into smaller, more achievable goals spread over the duration (rather than piled onto Sunday evening) helps you bite the bullet. I've gotten good at eliminating the thought of telling myself I have to clean the apartment - which sounds so time consuming and awful that I just don't do it - toward focusing on a few key tasks each weekend. Step down the level of perfection required, break up the task, and try to live by the mantra that you'll enjoy your free time more once you get the responsibilities over with.
posted by bunnycup at 2:31 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Two suggestions: Use the negative vibes as motivation to work fast whenever it comes up. It's a horrible feeling. Respond to it so you don't have to keep feeling it. "God this house is trashed, I have to get it clean now." You can work fast when propelled by that feeling. Don't let the "it's hopeless anyway" thought have an impact; fuck that thought, you're about to prove it wrong; work until you feel satisfied with the improvement you see.

Try something really cheesy. Picture yourself as worthy of living in a clean household with all of your work done, relaxing in peace. Imagine yourself living in that clean and stress-free environment. Then, imagine yourself creating that world as a gift for yourself; want to give yourself that peace of mind. Do this on Thursdays or Fridays. Then, when you're sitting on the couch when you actually meant to be working, let yourself feel propelled to go do those good things you wanted to do for yourself. "I will feel so good when I get all this done early" and "I really want to have some time to rest later, without this stuff hanging over me." I fully realize how annoying and cheesy this idea is. But for me it actually works. In contrast, you've been beating yourself up on Sundays for, what?, months now? To little avail, obviously. Maybe you should try something new even if it feels weird. And think about it, what do you need? A reason to feel like you suck on Sundays? No. You need a reason to get off the couch on Fridays. Maybe a clear image of yourself enjoying the reward could be that reason.

These two things are a self-reinforcing cycle: want to do something, do something. The more you do it, the more the action will give you a sense of satisfaction and pride ("I am good, I am getting my work over with, this is going to be awesome when I'm done"). The more you feel satisfaction during the doing, the more you will want to do it again next time. But right now, you're trapped in the negative reinforcement cycle (not have done anything makes the task overwhelming and a reminder of personal failings and full of self-recrimination, which makes you want to do it even less). The two interventions are (1) to picture how happy you will feel when it's done until seeing yourself enjoying that calm lifestyle becomes part of who you think you are, and (2) in the meantime, dig yourself out of the hole of piled-up undone work by doing something using whatever motivation possible, whenever possible, and particularly by harnessing those negative feelings you talk about.
posted by salvia at 2:59 PM on April 4, 2010 [7 favorites]

Following up on PhoBWanKenobi's suggestion... I struggle with this too, and a while back decided to do an experiment of completely unplugging from the internet on Sundays. No internet whatsoever. If I've got some reason to think there might be something critical going on I'd need to deal with, I can glance at my Blackberry for messages a few times, but no responding to anything that's not a serious urgent crisis.

That simple step, which I don't do every week (obviously) but try to do at least a couple of times a month, makes my Sundays seem at least twice as long. I get a ton done, I still have relaxation time, I feel happy about how I've spent my day, and when Monday comes I am generally not nearly as bummed out. It's been kind of a revelation. I'm thinking about being totally wild and crazy and implementing entire internet-free weekends sometime soon.
posted by Stacey at 3:06 PM on April 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

Do you enjoy your work week? Maybe it's the looming Monday that's getting to you?
posted by scruss at 3:09 PM on April 4, 2010

Following up on what has already been said about scheduling specific blocks of time for work, I find that it helps if I have a non-negotiable end time for a task. When my time for the task is up, I'm done, no excuses. It makes work seem to go a lot more productively, and once you get on the I'm-making-things-happen high, it's much more easy to stay on it.

Also, get away from the computer RIGHT NOW. Leave the room with work. Don't come back until the work is done. A change of venue can really jump start your mind, so make use of coffee shops and dining room tables instead of hanging out near the tempting internet.
posted by _cave at 3:18 PM on April 4, 2010

I'll let others address how to actually Get Things Done, as it's a personal struggle of mine as well. However, I think it's important to address the rut you mentioned.

I dated someone who described these feelings as "The Sunday Disturbies". Our solution was "Sunday Night Is Taco Night!" Finding a task that we could share together (purchasing, prepping, eating) served multiple purposes: we finished the weekend with a sense of accomplishment, we created a new ritual, we were having fun, we were actively engaged in an activity that prevented us from wallowing in anything else we weren't doing.

Long term, I'm still working on a solution to GTD. However, I'm pretty sure beating yourself up isn't the answer.
posted by funkiwan at 3:38 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think you would be happier if you worked an extra hour or two on weekdays and let your weekends be days of rest instead.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:48 PM on April 4, 2010

One of my tricks is to have a few "sacrificial tasks." Saw this somewhere on the interwebs a while back, but can't dig up the link. Similar to things others have mentioned, too.

The idea is that frequently I find myself with things on my list that I don't want to do, and after a while I'll end up with a list that only has things I don't want to do on the list, which makes it hard to get started and get any momentum going.

So I put items on the list that I don't necessarily mind doing and need to do anyhow, but normally wouldn't bother putting on a list. Like doing the dishes or a load of laundry. They go on the list for the weekend.

Friday evening before heading out for fun, I get one sacrificial item done from the list, and once I'm making progress, I tackle another item from the list. Ditto on Saturday. And again on Sunday. The nice thing about the sacrificial tasks is that I'd be doing them anyhow. But by having them on the list and crossing them off when I get them done, I feel like I'm making progress, and it's easier to get to one of the tasks I really needed to get done and didn't want to. Yeah, it's just a mind-game I'm playing with myself. But I find that it works for me.

I also tell myself "I'll get around to procrastinating tomorrow," when I need a chuckle.
posted by DaveP at 4:07 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think your fundamental problem is that you have no mental downtime. Because at every moment you intend to start working on productive items, your brain has to stay on higher alert. It has no chance to rest, and ends up exhausted.

There is a phenomenon where asking knowledge workers to do overtime on Saturdays will at first result in higher productivity. Some managers then ask them to work on Sundays as well, and productivity nosedives, sometimes worse than just working 40 hours per week. Morale also tanks.

You need to allocate at least half a day per week where you expect to be completely unproductive. When your brain trusts that it doesn't need to stand guard for shifting into high gear, it can "swap out" all your complex knowledge and go into rejuvenation mode.

I think the other suggestions for spreading tasks out and doing little pieces throughout the weekend will just make the problem worse.
posted by cheesecake at 5:03 PM on April 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

Lack of structure kills my ADHD self and I have often hated the weekend, solution is meds and keeping myself very very busy with activities.

Do you have a "buddy" who you can set time with to do grading/chores/whatever together? It has to be a specific time and someone who is positive but who will hold you to it.

You might also ask for help with chores and less-necessary duties so that you don't feel the need to do them.

The last solution is simply to stop feeling bad about yourself--have a sense of humor about it if you can, forgive yourself. You are not a bad person for having an unproductive weekend. You really aren't.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:01 PM on April 4, 2010

I found GTD, other stuff like that, just makes me feel bad about myself. I will probably never be organized, super efficient, good at structuring my day...after accepting that and working with it (and meds) I have room to find out what I AM good at and do that. Work with your strengths instead of constantly beating yourself up over your weekends.

Did you see the recent ADHD thread? Lots of good stuff there.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:09 PM on April 4, 2010

I accidentally linked to my comment, scroll up there's a lot of good stuff
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:18 PM on April 4, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the advice. I bit (a) bullet tonight and cleaned out my office, so that I at least have a desk to work at.

I've always been very bad about self-abuse. I was in therapy for a bit in college and that kept coming up, but I never really fixed it/dealt with it. Guess it's time to look at that in the eye. GTD and those kinds of systems give me this ideal that I keep failing to hit, and I beat up on myself because I don't hit that standard.

Whoever mentioned perfectionism is also correct - that's been another issue of mine.

I don't have anything to do tomorrow until the evening, so I'm going to give myself a break and call it a night, and hopefully find some better head space tomorrow morning.

I'll mark best answers tomorrow, but thanks again for all of the advice. It's good to know that not only am I not alone, but that other people have defeated this beast.
posted by SNWidget at 7:39 PM on April 4, 2010

It seems that your lists aren't prioritized as they should be. If you have a lot to do, and you know you will be hitting a shame spiral on Sunday, then give yourself a head start and do some of it on Friday. Be reasonable about your list - don't load it up with optional work.

Saturday, I try to do things, but I end up running errands, and saying, "No worries, I'll get it done on Sunday."

Ask yourself truthfully, are these ALL important errands? Can you do some of them during your spare time on the weekdays? Are you doing errands instead of the things on your list? Are the errands even on the list? (they should be).

Then Sunday comes. I start feeling guilty for not having done more over the weekend.

I know the Sunday freakout, which is why Sunday is ONLY for those things that MUST be done by Monday and that weren't finished during the rest of the weekend. Sunday night is sacrosanct - no work, a nice dinner and early to bed. Do the housework in little pieces over the week. The world won't end if Sunday dinner's dishes wait until Monday night.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:34 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Something that's helped me a bit with procrastination is to pick a task and set a timer for 20 minutes. Once the timer goes off, you can stop doing the task, even if it's not finished yet.

If it's housework, usually what you've done so far is 'good enough', and will be a distinct improvement on the old situation. Yay! Set the timer for 40 minutes and goof off. Rinse and repeat.

If it's work-work, then I often find that the 20 minutes is enough to get me over the difficulty of starting, and I can continue on anyway until the task is done. But if it's really not coming together and I'm very distracted, I abandon that task and pick another one. Usually whichever one was bugging me while I was supposed to be doing the first task.

It sounds like your Fridays are free during the day? I'd probably make a rule that the weekend doesn't start until noon, in that case. You have to be productive in some way - housework, errands, grading, exercising, it doesn't matter as long as it's tasks that are actually useful to you or to your wife or someone.
posted by harriet vane at 4:38 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Google "eat a frog", as a Mark Twain quote.

Otherwise, just do the very worst thing on your list first thing Saturday morning. Otherwise, stop screwing around on Friday.
posted by talldean at 8:58 PM on April 5, 2010

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