Unless your office strictly enforces lunch breaks, you might have fallen into the unfortunate habit of skipping your lunch break in order to squeeze in a little extra work. Or maybe you quickly scarf down a yogurt in the dimly lit break room to save time. And you aren’t alone! Only one in five office workers reports taking a lunch break. But taking time to step away from your desk to eat and recharge is hugely important for your productivity.
Employees who take breaks throughout the workday have more energy, more motivation to return to work, are able to concentrate, and manage their stress levels better.
Employees who take a break during the workday have more energy, more motivation to return to work, are better able to concentrate.
Psychologists have found that people actually work best in 90 minute spurts with a break in between, so taking a substantial break halfway through the day can do you a lot of good. Studies show that this break helps you to re-group, prioritize, and manage your stress levels better.
In fact, a lunch break will help you accomplish more than if you work through lunch and skip a meal in favor of a quick granola bar. The longer you are at work, the more important it becomes to step away from your desk because creativity is stifled if you don’t change environments. Creativity and innovation are fueled by a change in environment, especially if you head outside. Which means both you and your company will benefit from you taking a lunch break.
Employees who take breaks throughout the workday have more energy, more motivation to return to work, and are better able to concentrate. Workers who take breaks also have fewer symptoms of common workplace maladies such as headaches, eyestrain, and lower back pain when they return from a break.
Sometimes a lunch break can feel like an extra hour of work just tacked onto your day simply because you are not at home. But by looking at your lunch break as personal time (which it is!) and not professional time you might start to really enjoy that hour!
Here are a few tips on how to use your lunch break to your benefit.
Stretch your legs.
If the idea of spending a whole hour eating lunch sounds like a waste of time, eat quickly then get moving! Physical activity can improve concentration, sharpen memory, quicken learning, prolong mental stamina, enhance creativity, and reduce stress.
Full hour: Working out may seem impossible on your lunch break but if your office has a gym or if there is one nearby, it is doable. You can squeeze in a high intensity thirty-minute workout and still have time to freshen up.
30 minutes: No time to make it to the gym? Or is the desire to sweat too much? Skip the gym and take a brisk walk outside. On top of the exercise, a little vitamin D will boost your mood and do you a world of good, as will the fresh air.
Quick 15: If you are on a real time crunch, do a few quick stretches and feel the tightness in your back and neck melt away.
Step away from the screen.
While you may be tempted to scroll through social media on your phone, try to break away from the screens at lunch. Too much time spent staring at a screen can leave your eyes feeling dry, irritated, tired, and out of focus. You may also suffer from head, neck, and back pain. These symptoms are a result of “digital eye strain,” which nearly 95% of Americans are at risk for and more than 60% experience.
Full hour: Escape into a fantasy world or get caught up in a non-fiction book on your lunch break. How many times have you said you wish you had more time to read? Your lunch break is the perfect time to retreat with a page turner.
30 minutes: Not enough time to get invested in a book? Flip through your favorite magazine or newspaper. If you frequently complain about the demise of print, this is your chance to put your money where your mouth is!
Quick 15: If you don’t have enough time to read, at the very least, eat lunch away from your screens and give your eyes a much-needed break. And if you know you will be tempted to look at your phone during lunch, leave it at your desk and high tail it to the break room.
Call a friend.
As much as you love your coworkers, sometimes you need a little break from them and on a particularly hard day you might feel like you really need your best friend. On those days, see if your pal is available for a lunch date.
Full hour: Treat yourself to lunch at your favorite restaurant with a friend and it will be the highlight of your workweek, we promise.
30 minutes: No time to escape the office? Call a friend, your mom, or your partner for some catch-up time. With everyone’s busy schedules, it might be best to plan a call in advance, which means you will have something to look forward to all day! Bonus if you do it while walking the block.
Quick 15: Send a few texts to your nearest and dearest saying you are thinking of them and want to see them soon. And actually say when. See if anyone is available for after-work drinks or a weekend hike—just the act of planning something fun will brighten your mood.
Don’t worry about work.
While sometimes you need a good venting session with co-workers, try to avoid talking about work too much on your lunch break. You need to escape your workplace worries during lunch and by talking about work you may end up even more stressed about office drama or a looming deadline.
Full hour: Stop in the cute boutique you drive by every day and have always wanted to check out, treat yourself to a latte, or find a peaceful park to sit in and enjoy nature.
30 minutes: If you can’t leave the office, spend your lunch break getting to know your co-workers on a more personal level. You’ll end up having more interesting things to talk about than how no one ever cleans the break room microwave.
Quick 15: Between all of the phone calls, water cooler chatter, and emails sometimes you just need a few minutes of quiet where no one is asking you for anything. Sneak out to your car for a few minutes of solitude if you can’t find a quiet spot to retreat to.
We know what you are thinking: Running errands sounds like work, not a break! But hear us out—you will have to do these errands after work when you are tired or on the weekend when you would rather be doing something fun anyways. By doing them on your lunch break, your free time will become a lot more free.
Full hour: You’d be surprised what kind of tasks you can accomplish on an hour-long lunch break. Need to wax a more discreet area like your underarms? It will only take fifteen minutes! Pack and ship that present to your grandma, drop off your new jeans at the tailor, or take your car to the car wash.
30 minutes: Stop by the pharmacy or dry cleaner so you can head straight home after work without stopping. As a bonus, you will avoid waiting in long lines with the after work crowd.
Quick 15: Make any phone calls you have been putting off (such as making doctors appointments or those dreaded calls to your cable company).
Do something totally mindless.
If your mind is on constant overdrive during the workday, try and shut off after you finish your lunch. Do something fun that requires little thought, but will keep you distracted from the work waiting for you after lunch.
Full hour: Tackle a project like knitting a scarf, sketching, or anything that will get your creative juices flowing. You will have to focus, but just enough to stop you from thinking about work.
30 minutes: If you had thirty minutes to kill at home you could find something fun to do, so why not at work? It can be time for a quick crossword puzzle, to practice a foreign language with an app, or to listen to a podcast.
Quick 15: Lean back and close your eyes or try meditating for a few minutes. Checking out during your lunch break will help you feel rested and ready to tackle the rest of your day.