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3 Ways to Make the Most of Every Day

3. Disrupt your weekly patterns.

Key points

  • New research shows how easy it is to fall into the entrainment cycle, where you only live for the weekend.
  • Living in the moment can help you refocus your attention so that you break that entrainment pattern.
  • Once you're free of the TGIF mentality, you can enjoy and be productive for all the days in between.

The phrase “Thank God It’s Friday (TGIF)” exists for a reason. For people who don’t work on the weekend, Friday has the special status of serving as a gateway to good times. Whether those times are spent relaxing, socializing, or taking time to be with family, there is an aura to Fridays that can lead you to wait for them with great anticipation.

Ironically enough, you can be busier on the weekends than you ever are at work, saddled with errands, children’s schedules, or household chores. Nevertheless, the idea (even if illusory) that you are off the clock is so enticing that you probably don't let yourself be bothered by the reality of your hectic "days off."

When you take a hard look at the notion of living from weekend to weekend, though, does it ever strike you that by doing so, you’re writing off 5/7 of your actual life? Think about how many years this could amount to over the decades. Might it not make more sense to find a way to derive as much pleasure as you can from this large chunk of your time on earth?

What’s more, by trying to zip through your daily grind as quickly as possible, might you also be missing out on your ability to maximize your productivity and, as a result, your feelings of fulfillment?

The Concept of Entrainment

According to Miami University’s Scott Dust and colleagues (2022), there’s surprisingly little research into the week's high and low points of enthusiasm as expressed in people's attitudes toward their work. Dust et al. begin by noting that “the days of the week serve as a temporal map by which we plan our lives.” The term for this “cyclical behavior” is “entrainment,” or what happens when “human activity begins to synchronize with the pattern and rhythm of social systems, norms, and institutions” (p. 222).

Is this true for you? See if you can track your own motivational patterns during the week. Even if you don’t have a Monday to Friday schedule, you can still become entrained over the course of whatever pattern your work happens to follow. If you’re not employed outside the home, then there may still be a cyclical pattern that applies to the people you live with, such as a partner and/or children, whose schedules can serve to entrain you.

Try now to imagine yourself at the beginning of that week after having had two days off. You might need a short time to get back into the groove, but after that, you are probably at your high point of motivation for the week. Perhaps there’s even a formal kickoff to the upcoming five days with a meeting or check-in for everyone in the group, whether in the office or around the kitchen table. Everyone's excited and ready to get going. Over the coming week, however, its end starts to loom larger and the countdown begins.

Controlled Motivation and the TGIF Mentality

As compelling as it sounds, this scenario might not apply to you. Perhaps you are able to pace yourself pretty regularly throughout your workweek, and even leave some of your biggest projects for its end. Other people rejoice when they hit Wednesday (which they celebrate as “hump day"), but you can’t relate to this idea at all.

If so, you might be high on what Dust et al. call “motivational control” in that you never lose your focus. Related to self-determination theory, this concept in the psychology of motivation refers to the feeling that you are not swayed by external forces but instead immerse yourself in your work enough so that the day of the week becomes irrelevant.

People high in motivational control, the Miami U. team propose, should stand out from everyone else in the way they engage their attention and awareness. Living in the moment, or mindfulness, would mean that you would shut out everything else except what you’re doing. It’s especially important, as Dust et al. point out, when your job is a demanding one. You’ll need that high level of motivation to get through your week.

To test whether mindfulness and high job demands would influence entrainment, the authors recruited a sample of 165 workers at a Chinese medical device sales organization. The participants completed twice-daily surveys over their 5-day workweeks, yielding 742 daily measures from the 151 individuals who turned in usable data (all measures were in Mandarin). The sample itself averaged 29 years of age, were nearly equally divided by gender, and had worked at their jobs for three and a half years, on average.

To get a sense of what the authors measured, here are some sample items:

  • Trait mindfulness (reverse-scored): I find myself saying or doing things without paying attention.
  • Job demands: I have to work fast.
  • Motivational control: Despite difficulties that passed my way today, I was able to stay focused on my job.
  • Daily job performance: Today I fulfilled all the requirements of my job.

Participants also rated their sleep quality each day, along with their levels of happiness and feelings of so-called “ego depletion,” or feeling drained. These, plus age and gender, served as controls in the statistical model the authors tested.

Looking now at the results: The findings supported the concept of entrainment overall, meaning that motivation and performance did, in fact, wane over the workweek. However, there were individual differences in line with the motivational control theory. People higher in trait mindfulness and job demands showed more consistent motivational control. As the authors concluded, “when job demands are high, the self-regulatory capacities associated with trait mindfulness help stabilize motivation and performance across the workweek” (p. 234).

How to Avoid Being a TGIF Person

As you can see from these findings, your ability to perform to your maximum is affected by your tendency to fall prey to the entrainment principle. Indeed, given the role of job demands in the study’s results, it would seem particularly important to resist becoming brought down by entrainment if your job isn’t all that physically or mentally engaging. Try these three ideas:

  1. Try some mindfulness training. There is a growing body of evidence showing that it's possible to learn to focus your attention away from distractions and more intensely on what you’re doing in the present moment.
  2. Build in more challenges. If your work isn’t particularly stimulating, give yourself your own deadlines or turn the difficulty level up a few notches by tweaking your job tasks.
  3. Disrupt your weekly patterns. If you're a full-time homemaker, do your laundry on a Thursday instead of a Monday. If you’re working outside the home, consider proposing that employees celebrate not with a Happy Hour on a Friday afternoon, but with a Taco Tuesday instead.

To sum up, breaking an entrainment cycle that has built up for years may not come all that naturally to you, especially if you’re easily distracted. However, engaging your mind in what you’re doing can help you ensure that each and every one of your days reaches its maximum fulfillment potential.

LinkedIn image: Dragana Gordic/Shutterstock. Facebook image: davide bonaldo/Shutterstock

References

Dust, S. B., Liu, H., Wang, S., & Reina, C. S. (2022). The effect of mindfulness and job demands on motivation and performance trajectories across the workweek: An entrainment theory perspective. Journal of Applied Psychology, 107(2), 221–239. doi: 10.1037/apl0000887

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