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Lunch Away From Your Desk: Office Heresy?

All of the cool kids look so productive when they’re eating at their desks. So why would you want to step outside?

David Drake has committed time-macho heresy: the San Francisco software engineer has openly declared that he’s never eating lunch his desk again.

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Why does such an everyday act feel so iconoclastic? Because, as Drake mentions, we eat lunch at our desks 80% of the time. Keyboard-munching is bad news for your coworkers–especially if your kimchi, tuna fish, or lamb over rise is stinking up the place–and terrible for your workday, as brains need breaks.

Yet the leave-your-keyboard crowd was easy to dismiss. He’d laugh off the advice; after all, he liked to browse the internet whilst lunching, he could get things done, and it would be a waste of time to step away. But then he did.

The results?

He was able to pay attention to his food

Which leads to greater enjoyment and less snacking.

He wasn’t in a building

“Just spending time not inside the office is amazing in and of itself,” he says. “Not only is it just nice to have a different environment for a little bit during the day, exposure to other people and their activities is quite stimulating and fun. I find inspiration from others and what they do so being around others completely outside my realm of normal activities in the office is a great bonus too.”

He wasn’t eating the same thing

Being tied to his desk meant being tied to the same range of restaurants.

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He was more productive

“The quality of the productivity I was getting during those 30-60 minutes was peanuts compared to the actual productivity I feel upon returning from lunch,” he says. The psychology behind it: even if we think we’re awesome at multitasking, we’re actually terrible at it. Because quality work is deep work, and deep work is free of distraction. Sandwiches included.

He felt more balanced

The reason that checking your work email on the weekend makes your whole week miserable is because of what organizational psychologists call segmentation: the feeling of being completely immersed in–or totally removed from–work. Research shows that if you’re constantly in worker bee mode, then you’ll be more likely to get fatigued or burned out.

People who are burned out tend to not be so good at their jobs. So actually taking lunch away from the desk allays any chance of burnout–and correspondingly increases how stoked you might be to return to your desk.

And your life, from what Drake says:

Exercising my choice in the matter gave me a sense of freedom and entitlement that I wasn’t ever getting from eating at my desk. … This feeling has allowed me have greater sense of ownership over my time when I’m “at work.” Summing it all up: I’m enjoying work more and I’m enjoying life more.
I can’t think of any good reason to go back to the way I was.

Would you?

Hat tip: Random Drake

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About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.

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