A time management coach’s guide to conquering the Sunday Scaries

Sunday scaries

Part I in our two-part series on conquering the Sunday Scaries

Let’s imagine it’s Friday. You’ve conquered the week and finally arrived at the calm shores of your weekend. Settle into that positive space for a second, take a deep breath and exhale the relief of powering through work for five whole days:

Saturday morning is met with sleeping in, trying out that new HIIT-based cardio class your friends have been raving about, and then rewarding yourself with an epic brunch. Yes, in a last minute stroke of genius, the table does decide to add the Nutella-stuffed french toast and the extra pitcher of Grapefruit Rosemary Mimosas. Regrets are felt by no one. The rest of the day is filled with laughter, fresh air, activities and friends. Sunday rolls around and you get some much needed rest, catching up on the novel that’s been neglected on your nightstand all week, enjoying some summer sun, and now you look forward to a family homestyle dinner where all you need to do is bring the bottle of cab sauv. But then, it happens:

Bam, smack, pow. Right between your eyes like a blue-light induced migraine, it hits you. The mental to-do list begins to tick-tick-tick away. The unread emails. The upcoming Wednesday presentation you’ve done no prep for. The project with the big deadline coming up in less than two weeks that you haven’t started researching. The meals you haven’t prepped. The laundry crumpled up in the corner of your room, taunting you. The possibilities seemed endless on Friday, and here you are on Sunday evening, the clock strikes 9 and suddenly the walls are closing in. You need more time, you’re not prepared for Monday. It doesn’t matter if you hate your job. You love your job. Or you’re somewhere hovering in-between. The feeling washes over you and even indulging in a sweet treat or an episode of your favorite Bravo guilty pleasure won’t help. You shudder involuntarily and realize this is going to take a lot more than a five-minute Headspace meditation or your nightly Melatonin gummy to fix. You’re experiencing the dreaded Sunday Scaries.

Sometimes the Sunday Scaries are not just about the apprehension of going to work on Monday (or whatever day marks the beginning of your scheduled work week), but instead is a cultural phenomenon rooted in not considering what the week ahead will look like and suddenly feeling smacked over the head with overwhelming uncompleted tasks. Unplugging and creating separation from work to find that elusive life-balance is important to maintain personal wellness. But sometimes, the trade-off of having a great Sunday but ending up with a terrible week is not worth it. To navigate what exactly is going on inside our brains during a Sunday Scary spiral and learn science-backed methods that work to banish the Sunday blues, MBAchic is recruiting the guidance of productivity experts so you can sit back and truly relax this Sunday. This week we’re connecting with the creator of the award-winning Academic Planner: A Tool for Time Management, student/ADHD and parenting coach, Leslie Josel. 

Unpacking The Sunday Scaries

If you ask Josel, she’ll tell you flat out that she isn’t a fan of the “Sunday Scaries” label. From a young age, she’s had time management baked into her life, and says while she can’t tell anyone – from her children to her clients to simply “stop” feeling uneasy on a Sunday, she can help them to transition and tap into a greater sense of calm and control through a few tactics that consistently work. 

“Most people advise not doing any work on Sundays and setting boundaries, I actually disagree. I think sometimes we need to lean into our feelings and embrace them instead of trying to fight against them,” Josel says. 

Instead of preparing on Sunday night, Josel instructs many young professionals to carve out time on Sunday morning so that the rest of the day will run more smoothly and be less anxiety-inducing. 

“We often experience something called anticipatory scary,” Josel explains. “We spend our day anticipating what we have to do later, which hinders our ability to be present and enjoy the moment. It’s like we’re time traveling to a negative place. So, for my clients, it’s the opposite. Taking care of business, whatever that may entail, whether it’s making a to-do list, doing some meal prep, ordering groceries, or organizing clothes, taking care of it first allows your brain to free up and be present for the rest of the day. Sometimes, we need to work with our feelings instead of against them, as I often see with my students.”

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America categorizes anticipatory anxiety as worry about the future, or the fear that bad things might happen or that you might become unable to successfully accomplish what you set out to do. “It is the anxiety we feel when we are anticipating a difficult decision, action or situation. It is how we feel when we buy into our own creative worry stories. It is the expectation of distress accompanied by a push to avoid.  Anticipatory anxiety seems to predict danger; it feels like a warning,” the ADAA describes. 

Bubble Wrap Time

What comes to mind when you think of bubble wrap, other than a fun stress reliever when you’re about to recycle boxes from your latest Amazon Prime haul? A protective layer. That’s exactly what Josel asks her clients to create for their free time: scheduling the unscheduled. It’s a different approach to getting things done, especially on the weekend. While many of us schedule the tasks we need to do, like going to a doctor appointment or taking a trip to the hardware store, we don’t typically schedule the fun stuff. The result? We find ourselves experiencing Sunday Scaries because we didn’t prioritize our free time and enjoyment.

“Psychologically, I suggest flipping it,” Josel suggests. “I ask my clients to put some bubble wrap around a chunk of time on their weekend that is designated as free time, it’s unscheduled time for them to do whatever they please. Whether it’s relaxing, reading a favorite book, or even doing some work that makes them feel better, it’s okay.”

When people actively protect their free time, they become more motivated to accomplish the essential tasks.

“If a student designates Saturday afternoon and night as their bubble wrap time from 1 o’clock onwards, they don’t even think about work or studying. This allows them to dedicate Friday afternoon to getting work done,” says Josel. 

A lot depends on individual personality and priority when it comes to putting this concept into practice. While some prefer to savor and protect Saturdays over Sundays, everyone can individually frame their weekend in a way that alleviates anxiety and stress. As Josel points out, the Sunday Scaries are not just confined to one day. 

“It’s not just about Sunday for me, it’s about the entire weekend and how we spend the unscheduled time to achieve a better balance and enter Monday with less stress,” she says. 

Create Future Awareness

Instead of viewing and mapping time in small increments, planning a week through a wider lens can actually help alleviate Sunday stress. 

“Future awareness involves looking ahead and realizing that although something may be due on Thursday, I need to take action now to make my entire week easier, it’s like borrowing from the bank,” Josel explains. “Sure, I can take today off, but what will it cost me on Tuesday? You can’t make decisions about your time and productivity in isolation.”

By building future awareness, people become empowered to proactively plan and prepare for upcoming challenges and tasks, fostering a sense of control and confidence in facing the future.

“It’s crucial to have a sense of future awareness and plan your week as a whole, rather than treating each day separately.”

Separate the Setup From the Task

Woulda-coulda-shoulda’s have the power to plague our brains and hinder our productivity, leaving us paralyzed and unable to focus, making procrastination more likely. However, we can turn the tide by setting ourselves up for success and approaching tasks with a gradual ease, rather than expecting to tackle everything at once. This approach allows our brains the space to build a bridge, enabling us to be intentional about our work instead of starting from scratch.

For MBA students ending a long academic week, the idea of diving into the next task right away can feel overwhelming. Decompression becomes crucial to recharge focus and creativity, ward off burnout, and maintain a positive mindset. That’s why taking the time to prepare our workspace for success on a Friday can make a world of difference in having a productive and fulfilling Monday.

“I have clients that don’t do anything on Sunday, but on Friday before they leave, they have future awareness of Monday,” Josel explains. “So when they come back to their offices on Monday, the document needing attention is on their desk, the computer is open to the screen, and whatever they’re writing is in front of them. It makes that Monday transition or any other day easier.”

Essentially, this action eliminates the barrier to entry, saving students and working professionals from draining their brains overthinking the beginning of their tasks for the next week. By doing so, we free ourselves from the shackles of “what ifs” and uncertainties, empowering us to embrace the week ahead with a confident and purposeful stride. Josel also relies on this helpful tactic to deflate the anxiety surrounding the uncertainty of how long a task will take us to complete. 

“When we’re uncertain about how long something will take, it adds to the anxiety. But by chunking it and focusing on time, you see a beginning, middle, and end. It helps activate your brain because you can visualize when the time will end, providing a boundary,” Josel explains. 

Putting a stop to Sunday Scaries is entirely achievable; it just requires a thoughtful and intentional approach to make the transition into the upcoming week smoother. By embracing the power of future awareness and planning our weekends with purpose we can shake off the stress and anxiety that often haunts the end of precious weekend time. Taking a beat to organize, prioritize, and set ourselves up for success not only boosts our productivity but also grants us those much-needed moments of rest and self-care. 

“You can’t talk about the Sunday series in a vacuum or in a vertical,” Josel says matter of factly. “It’s all about guilt. It is about shame. It is about, did I do enough? It is about, did I think about what my week is ahead? Did I plan accordingly? Did I put myself in my week?”

So, as your next Sunday winds down, set yourself up for success by connecting with other students or professionals to swap strategies, and get organized. Bid farewell to those worrisome thoughts and step into the future with a clear sense of direction and calm, ready to embrace whatever the week holds with confidence and poise.

Photo from Malvestida

As part of Amazon Associates, MBAchic may earn from qualifying purchases for links above.

Sign up for The Weekly Chic

Receive the latest from MBAchic, advice, news, jobs and more each week.

Sign up for The Weekly Chic

Receive the latest from MBAchic, advice, news, jobs and more each week.

Related Articles