Here’s How the Swedish Concept of Lillördag Can Improve Your Workweek

published Jul 13, 2022
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Confession: The highlight of my winter was pouring myself a glass of wine and watching “Joe Millionaire” on Thursday nights. I told my husband that comments about how ridiculous the show is were not necessary. I knew it wasn’t cerebral content. That was the whole point.

I’m a health writer. I spend my days reading scientific papers, thinking of just the right way to explain complex concepts, and rewriting sentences to add impact. A delicious show I didn’t have to think too hard about was just the midweek treat I needed.

At the time, I didn’t realize I was practicing the Nordic concept of Lillördag. Lillördag (pronounced liller-dog) is a Swedish word that translates to “little Saturday.” It’s about breaking up the monotony of your workweek and infusing some weekend vibes. Lillördag is usually practiced on Wednesdays and often involves going for drinks with colleagues.

Therapists around the world endorse the idea of giving yourself something to look forward to in the form of a little break. There are no rules for how to take a break or what to do on your break. Your lillördag doesn’t have to be on a Wednesday, involve any particular activity, or even be very long.

“Not everyone has time for a full getaway vacation,” said Belle Liang, Ph.D., a psychology professor in the Lynch School of Education and Human Development at Boston College and co-author of “How to Navigate Life.” “Even taking your weekend seriously or taking breaks in the middle of your work is a little mini vacation.”

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Breaks help prevent burnout.

When you take breaks for rest and recovery, you’re able to return to your work with freshness. Taking a break also extends how long you can do your job, explains Tim Klein, LCSW, an urban educator, clinical therapist, teaching fellow at Harvard University, and co-author of “How to Navigate Life.”

Think about it like a pro athlete, Klein says. Athletes who power through day after day are likely to get hurt and could have their careers cut short. Athletes who take time to rest between games let their bodies recover and might be able to compete longer.

The same is true for any type of work. Burnout is very real — as evidenced by the number of people who are pleased to announce on LinkedIn that they’re starting a new job

Taking a break from work allows your brain to rest and recover. It can also help renew the passion you once felt for your line of work. “If you view life as a never-ending race, it’s not a question of if you’re going to burn out, but when,” Klein says.

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Take the break YOU need.

When thinking about how to spend your break — whether it’s lillördag, a lunch break, or a full week of vacation — ask yourself what you need a break from, Klein suggests. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for what you should do with your time.

Here are some ideas to consider:

  • If you work from home, you might need to take a break from being in your apartment. Getting out and running errands might feel refreshing.
  • If you have a boring job, you might need some adventure. Maybe going paddleboarding or volunteering would feel good.
  • If you have a stressful job, spend your downtime finding relaxation.

Let your break elicit good feelings.

Your break is an opportunity to infuse more of what’s meaningful to you in your life, Liang says. If you’re looking for connection, you might want to use your downtime to visit a loved one or call a friend.

But sometimes calling a friend doesn’t feel good. If you need a break from thinking about troubling world events, calling a friend who is prone to deep political discussions probably won’t leave you feeling refreshed. Similarly, if you need a break from thinking about your dysfunctional workplace, going to happy hour with venting coworkers might leave you feeling worse about your 9 to 5 situation.

If your break feels like a chore, you probably aren’t getting what you need from it.

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Don’t confuse a distraction for a break.

Distractions are shifting focus from one area to another, like scrolling through Pinterest or texting a friend. “A break is not just turning your brain off or distracting yourself from your everyday life,” Klein says. “It’s actually intentionally taking a break from what you’re doing to use a different part of your brain.”

Get more from your break by paying attention to how you feel. My lillördag included watching TV, which is a distraction. But I made it intentional by mindfully preparing. I changed into comfy clothes and pulled a soft blanket over my lap. When I think back, I don’t remember the made-for-TV drama. I remember my cat cuddling close and feeling cozy and rejuvenated.