Do your weekends feel too short? And -- like 80 percent of Americans -- do you suffer from the "Sunday Scaries," feelings of anxiety or sadness as Sunday goes by and Monday approaches? 

Just as there are ways to be more productive during the work week, there are ways to make your weekends more "productive" as well. Which in this case means getting the maximum benefit from those two days off and returning to work refreshed and ready to be your best. While there are many, many things you can do to make your weekends better, these are the absolutely most important:

1. Have at least one full day with zero work.

Do you work on weekends? I do and I know I'm not alone. But a few years ago, I learned about an ad agency employee named Mita Diran who literally worked herself to death. At the time, I was working very long hours myself, and through most weekends. My performance, my relationships, and my mood were all suffering for it. 

I took Diran's death as a wakeup call. Around the same time, I began hearing from experts that working too long without a break is harmful for brain function and that it's a productivity killer. And so I made a firm commitment to take at least one full day off every week, usually a weekend day. 

It's one of the best decisions I ever made and I've stuck with it, even when it meant missing deadlines. The truth is, I probably would have missed those deadlines anyway because there's a point of diminishing return. Research shows that if you work too many hours, it takes you so much longer to complete every task that you get the same amount done as if you had quit at a reasonable time. I've experienced this myself.

I've also experienced the brain-changing effects of forbidding myself to do any work at all for an entire day. It forces you to let go of the busyness and return to your true, non-work, more essential self. 

2. Get some exercise.

You already know that exercise benefits your body, your brain function, and your mood. If you're in the habit of working out five days a week, then it might make sense to take one or even both weekend days for rest and recovery. But if, like most of us, you don't get as much exercise as you would like Monday through Friday, it's smart to spend some weekend time making up for that, if only because exercise will make you happier.

In an ideal world, you should also spend some time out in nature, which has such huge physical and mental benefits that in Japan it can be covered by health insurance. So, a walk, a run, a hike, a bike ride, skiing, skating, or even some vigorous yard work can all be particularly good for you. But the most important thing is to do something you enjoy. Personally, I love a Saturday morning yoga class as a way to kick off the weekend because it forces me to transition from my anxious, work-obsessed weekday self to my more relaxed and serene weekend self.

3. Spend at least some time doing something you really want to do.

This can be a challenge if you have a busy social life, or kids, or family obligations, or housework and other chores to do. It's all too easy to fill up your weekend with people-pleasing commitments or with trying to live up to some ideal of a perfectly clean house, perfectly cooked meals, or perfectly educational pastimes.

Don't. Yes, you have social and household obligations, and yes you need to keep your other family members well cared for and happy. But you also have to keep yourself well cared for and happy. So if it's humanly possible, carve out a few hours to do something that you know you will thoroughly enjoy, whether it's shopping at a farmer's market or reading, or working on crafts, or even binge-watching something trashy. It truly sucks to arrive back at work on Monday feeling like you haven't had any fun or true relaxation over the previous two days.

4. Connect with family and friends.

If you work long hours during the week, chances are you don't spend as much time with your family, friends, or significant other as you or they would like. So correct that imbalance over the weekend by doing something fun with the people you care about most, even if it's having coffee while doing the crossword puzzle. 

At the same time, spending time alone has been shown to bring real mental health benefits. So if you don't get enough as much alone time as you'd like during the week, carving out a little time to yourself can be really beneficial as well. In two days, there should be time for both these things.

5. Do something that takes you out of your normal routine.

Research shows that we experience time more slowly when we do something novel and memorable. So your weekend will feel longer if you do something that takes you out of your everyday routine.

Some experts advise that the best time to do this is Sunday evening. This is when many of us are in the grip of the "Sunday Scaries," fretting about having to go back to work so soon. It's also a time when some of us are already working on the coming week's tasks. You can fight both tendencies with a fun Sunday evening outing, which can make you feel like you've extended your weekend. An added bonus is that, since more people stay home on Sunday evenings than on Saturdays, places like restaurants and movie theaters are likely to be less crowded.

You may just find yourself back at work on Monday feeling rested, refreshed and stimulated at the same time. And ready to take on whatever the week may throw at you.