What Brings You Joy? How to Unplug on Homework-Free Weekend

What are you doing this weekend? If it’s more of the same homework you did all week—if there's no room for joy—something might be out of alignment. The good news: you can realign. These ideas for unplugging can help.

Commonwealth students are nothing if not enthusiastic, throwing themselves into their work, whether it’s solving an axiomatic problem set or carving a linotype or researching Sumerian culture. But the same passion that compels them to push themselves towards academic and creative excellence can engender unrealistic expectations, veer into perfectionism, and make every weekend look like an extra 48 hours in which to work. That’s an unsustainable habit it’s best to break. 

This is part of why Commonwealth schedules a few homework-free weekends each year, where faculty give no assignments of any sort and schedule no major papers or tests for the day they return to classes, so that students can be particularly mindful about how they’re spending their time. One per semester, they’re often scheduled to give the school community a much-needed break leading into the final weeks of the semester, so everyone can come back to their studies recharged for the final stretch. 

“Spend a day relaxing and doing whatever you want, but don’t waste all your time on TikTok or something!” says one Commonwealth student in an anonymous poll. “Use the opportunity to work on a personal project and do something new. Make sure you get out of the house, too. You’ll feel much more fulfilled that way and ready to come back to school.“

After all, taking breaks and engaging in true leisure activities is good for your mental health and productivity, according to, well, science and explored by philosophers from Aristotle to Bertrand Russell to Josef Pieper. And engaging in reaffirming work has become more important than ever in this era of constant low-grade stress of the pandemic. 

High-achieving students can and should divert some of that passion into activities that help them recharge. Maybe that really is solving an axiomatic problem set or carving a linotype or researching the history of Sumerian culture. Whatever it is, “do whatever is going to make you feel the least stressed,” says another survey respondent. 

You’ve spent the whole school year developing strong study and time-management skills—learning how to unplug is just as valuable. 

None of these suggestions will come as a surprise, but we do hope they serve as helpful reminders of the possibilities. 

  • Bookworms unite: Voracious readers, Commonwealth students often unplug with a good book. “I read whenever I have a chance,” says Eliza ’23. Over the homework-free weekend, first-year student Tien will be “finishing a book borrowed from the Commonwealth library. It is called Capitalism: A Ghost Story.” Some favorites among Commonwealth students (book club, anyone?): A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith; The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien; The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan; Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng; Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie; Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Ocean Vuong; One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez; Picture Us in the Light, Kelly Loy Gilbert; Shocking the Conscience, Simeon Booke; Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse; The Starless Sea, Erin Morgenstern; and War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy. Looking for book recs? Spend some time going through compendium sites like Goodreads, Book Riot, or What Should I Read Next?; exploring reviews from publications like The New Yorker or the NPR Book Concierge; or just asking your friends.
  • Craft and create: Sketch, photograph the world around you on your phone, make a sculpture from found objects, fashion a puppet: flex your creative muscles in whatever way makes you happiest and using whatever materials you have at hand. Knitting remains a popular pastime with Commonwealth students, particularly among those in our lunchtime favorite Knitting Cult, and quite a few students will be unwinding (perhaps quite literally) with some yarn over the homework-free weekend in particular. 
  • Play all of the games: “Video games, video games, and also some video games. Oh, and maybe some more video games, but on my Switch outside so I get fresh air,” says one survey respondent. Video games solo. Board games with your family. Virtual games with friends. Play what makes your heart happy. “I play a lot of video games, a lot of strategy games,” says Parth ’23.
  • Hang out with friends: Being together in person feels so rare and precious—but as the weather warms (and COVID rates stay favorable), outdoor gatherings are becoming ever more viable options. Anto ’24 plans to host an outdoor birthday party for a friend over the homework-free weekend. “We’re going to watch a movie in my backyard and maybe make s’mores,” she says. Of course, Commonwealth students have always been keen to organize their own little gatherings, often meeting just outside of school. If meeting in person isn’t an option, there’s always hanging out online. By any chance have you heard of a video chat program called Zoom??
  • Furry friends, too: Alex ’22 spends quality time with his Rottweiler, Denali. “He's really cute, and he's a lot bigger now. But I like walking and playing with him every day. It's a nice break off screen,” he says. For Jo ’23, it’s their cats, Artemis and Apollo. 
  • Go outside: Being in nature has such a profound effect on our mental health that there’s a growing field of ecotherapy. Give yourself a chance to feel it by spending some time—even a few minutes—outside, whether you’re active or quietly appreciating your surroundings. If you can’t get outside, just listening to the sounds of nature can give your brain a boost, according to Harvard Health. 
  • Sleep! Teenagers need about nine hours of sleep, on average, every night. How does that compare with your habits? Plenty of Commonwealth students enjoy sleeping in on the weekends and they appreciate an afternoon nap, too. 
  • Cook comfort foods: Some Commonwealth favorites: shakshuka, mac’n’cheese, cannolis, mom’s chicken mole, clam chowder, congee, chicken and rice, dosa, chocolate, and pure and simple kale. Senior Ryan will be “eating lots and lots of snacks!” as he meets up with friends over the homework-free weekend. 
  • “Chores” but make it fun: Tidying and organizing your space can improve your mood and even ability to focus. “I like to do a bit of cleaning and decluttering to give myself more room physically and mentally for when I need to get back into the flow of working,” says Markus ’21.
  • Attend online events: From community organizing rallies to lectures, there is certainly no shortage of online events to be found these days. Not sure where to find them? Start by checking your favorite organization’s online event calendar. Not the least of these events is COMMUN, a Model United Nations conference for middle schoolers led and organized by Commonwealth students (happening April 17).
  • Constrained "laziness": Want to spend an afternoon glued to the TV? Do it. ”I watch shows [to recharge],” says Ayla ’22. “I'm a huge fan of The Good Place on Netflix.” If that lazing about starts to feel icky, decide in advance how long you’ll be vegging out, whether it's a number of episodes or hours. 
  • Walk: Ah, the walk. The bedrock of pandemic activities. But walks work. You might find a fun route around Boston using an app like walkli.
  • Exercise: Find something fun that elevates your heart rate (in ways a leisurely stroll around the block probably won’t). If you're looking for ideas, check out Workouts with Mr. Benedick, our Athletics Director, on Commonwealth’s YouTube page.
  • Write: Could be a journal entry, a chapter in your novel, a couple of stanzas, or a letter to a friend. Writing for fun, rather than for class, can be a restorative and meaningful creative exercise.
  • Be intentional with your time: “I have blocks where I do work and blocks where I'm talking to people and unwinding. Having a balance has been really helpful to reduce burnout,” says Avery ’23.
  • Music: Listen to it. Play it. Share it. Countless studies have shown music to improve mood (endorphins!) and reduce stress (cortisol!). “It's been really nice to just focus on music,” says Sol ’21 of her time spent playing the cello.
  • Laugh: Have you laughed today? Spend a little time with memes, funny videos, jokes sites, or that particularly witty friend. (This video tends to tickle our funny bone.)
  • Forget your phone: Sure, you might get a quick hit of dopamine from browsing TikTok or Twitter, but you might find yourself far happier once you “unplug” and immerse yourself in something else—at least so says the preeminent voice on “flow,” Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.
  • Put the homework away. Really. Resist the temptation to “get ahead on homework” over the homework-free weekend, warns another survey respondent. If you find yourself with a glut of overdue work, and unplugging feels impossible, perhaps it’s a time to take a step back to think about the underlying causes for the backlog. Talk to your teachers and advisor about time management. And remember that you can always come back to the work—recharged and ready to tackle it—on Monday.  

You know yourself and what helps you recharge best, whether it’s reading quietly at home or playing video games with friends. It doesn't have to be elaborate. Figure out what brings you joy and do it.

P.S. Special thanks to all of our students who shared the ways in which they’re unwinding and having fun during our spring 2021 homework-free weekend

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