Are you hunched over your desk shoveling salad again?
A number of surveys indicate that a leisurely lunch isn’t a universal perk. A 2012 Career Builder survey found that 10% of workers reported getting lunch out of the vending machine at least once a week. And a 2010 Monster study discovered that 21% of people reported always eating lunch at their desks (7% denied eating lunch at all) and 32% took a lunch break "only if I’m not too busy."
But failing to take a real break is a recipe for needing a lot of unofficial and inefficient breaks—like random web surfing—later. "You don’t have time to skip your lunch break," says Tom Rath, author of How Full is Your Bucket?, whose next book—Eat, Move, Sleep—examines healthy habits. "What you do at lunch can either make or break the rest of the day."
"Our energy wanes and we make poor decisions," agrees Kim Wilson, founder of the two Tranquil Space yoga studios in the greater Washington, D.C., area. "We’re just not as fresh as we are in the morning." Successful people know that, done right, lunch can make you far more productive. Here are some ways to make the most of that time:
Matt Hall, cofounder of Hill Investment Group in St. Louis, reports that for his team, "lunch is where I believe we bond best. The company pays for lunch as long as at least two of us are present. Normally all five of us are together." They talk client work and office details so they don’t have to hold separate meetings over such things later, and try to have fun too. "We track our expenses and last year spent over $4,000 at a local Thai restaurant that is half a mile from our office," says Hall. "When I told the owner of this family-run operation that last year we spent this much with him, he didn’t miss a beat. ‘Next year’s let’s make it 5k.’" Everyone likes free food—and the cost of lunch might be pretty small in the grand scheme of trying to keep employees happy.
There are lots of bad reasons to eat lunch at your desk, but one good reason is to buy yourself time to slip away for an hour to work out. Wilson’s studios have lunchtime yoga classes, and she reports that "It’s very popular." To be sure, "We have a lot of people who sneak away. It’s a one-hour class, and people will leave 50 minutes or 55 minutes in." But, "They’re still totally different human beings than they were when they walked in the door at noon. They are so much happier. They’re almost glowing. It’s amazing." If you’ve got access to showers, a run or bike ride can be great, but if not, even a short walk can help you solve problems that have been vexing you all morning. Rath reports that he often walks to the second closest location of Chop’t near his office in D.C.—not the closest—so his Fitbit registers additional steps. Even just going outside can boost your mood. "I try really hard to make it outside for a healthy, sun-filled break on our gorgeous campus," says Gina Lazaro, chief marketing officer at eyewear company Foster Grant. "I take in the rays"—carefully protected of course—"and enjoy the few minutes of reflection to balance me out and prepare me for tackling my usually jam-packed afternoon."
Greg Moore, the minister of All Saints United Methodist Church near Raleigh, N.C., has lunch dates with his wife. "At first, they were mostly used for shop talk (budgets, schedules, etc.)"—which didn’t feel so much like a date—so Moore and his wife moved these administrative discussions to Saturday. "That frees us up to actually reconnect as human beings when we have lunch." To keep things fun, "we don’t have the lunch at the same time and place every week. We switch it up. But we do have it every week."
Ask friends to introduce you to new people, or invite new people at the office to lunch. Or try meeting someone completely random. Tim Gutwald developed a service called Network Shuffle that assigns members a new connection once a month for a face-to-face conversation. "The randomness ensures people’s networks are constantly expanding (beyond just friends of friends)," he says.
Jessica Roscoe works in a consultant role a few days a week, and runs The Creative Mumma, a U.K.-based online writing school and coaching business, on the side. She also writes novels. On her workdays, "I take my laptop into work, along with the notebook I use for everything related to my personal business. I leave the office and sit in the kitchen or in another part of the building out of earshot. I've already got my three most important things I need to get done written in my notebook from the day before," she says. She works as fast as she can. "I always think, ‘What can I do in this small window of time that will move my business further? What will have the most impact?’"
Thirty minutes might not seem like much, but it adds up. Do it every workday, and that’s 2.5 hours per week, or 125 a year and—more importantly if you’re running a side business—30 minutes you don’t have to stay up at night to get stuff done.
So: What do you do on your lunch break?
[Image: Flickr user Steven Depolo]