I’ve struggled with Sundays for most of my adult life. This is probably because I am an anxious person and anxious people have anxiety about things, often irrational things like the heavy sight of even one unread email in my inbox (bold, yuck!) and whether the soles of my new sneakers are getting too dirty and what the heck to do with my free time.

And we never have as much free time as we do on Sunday. For most of us, Sunday is made of free time, fundamentally, the same way that hours are made of minutes; books made of words. Unlike workdays or even Saturday, Sunday’s cousin, on which we recuperate from the week and tackle our to-dos, Sunday is a long question mark stretching interminably before us. Do you work? Do you write? Do you rest with a good book or a nap? Or do you throw up your hands and settle in for a delicious eight-or-so hours of Buffy? (Not that I do that. It’s just a for instance.)

The question looms: What is Sunday for?

Craig Harline, historian and author of Sunday: A History of the First Day from Babylonia to the Super Bowl, tells CBS of a famous early 20th century psychological diagnosis called Sunday neurosis: “It’s the person who couldn’t bear the coming of Sunday, because it threw them out of their routine. Sunday is timeless and it’s open. There isn’t that schedule that you have the rest of the week. And some people can’t bear that.”


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No, we can’t! Even when we intend to use our Sunday productively, we end up doing nothing when we can’t decide what specific something to do. It’s not laziness but indecision that leads to anxiety that ultimately paralyzes us for the day.

Whether you’re like me, spending Sunday nibbling your nails to nubs, or you embrace Sunday’s inherent lack of structure, here are a few tips for balancing restfulness and productivity on the one day a week on which we’re left to our own fickle devices:

Plan ahead.

On Saturday, make a list of what you want to accomplish on Sunday. If necessary, break the day into hour-long chunks of time and assign specific tasks to each. Because leaving your Sunday open-ended is a surefire way to spend it with Buffy, Mulder, Carrie Bradshaw, or whoever you choose to hang with.

Make Sunday the rule, not the exception.

For activities you do daily, like writing or exercising, do them on Sunday, too. Sunday is the week’s natural outlier, so it becomes the break day, the one day a week we don’t do the things we normally do. The thing is, if we did them, we’d feel a hell of a lot better about ourselves and our day.

Do now, rest later.

Sunday’s siren song is irresistible. Take a load off, it coos. Sit back, relax. You have all day to do. Why not rest now? Because your couch is a bottomless pit of comfort, that’s why. Because once you sit down, you will not—I repeat, will not—get back up. Because you won’t have all day to do if you potato out now. So be productive first, then rest as a reward. A real rest, free of the coulds and shoulds to which you’ve thankfully already attended.

Shake it up.

Whatever you usually do on Sunday, do the opposite. If you usually work, rest; if you usually rest... you guessed it: work. This tactic will come in especially handy for those of you who aren’t yet sure about your relationship with Sunday. In shaking up your routine, you leave your comfort zone and learn what’s uncomfortable for you. Only then can you begin to negotiate for the rest or productivity your strange Sunday needs.

How do you spend your Sundays? What schedule do you keep? Let us know in the comments!

On Sundays and every other day, Justine Tal Goldberg owns and operates WriteByNight, a writers' service helping folks to write more, write better, and accomplish their goals. For more practical advice into tricky issues writers face, check out WBN’s free writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”