As a parent, it’s tempting to work through your lunch hour each day, hoping that you’ll get a few extra things done to allow you to leave the office on time, or maybe even a few minutes early. But working through lunch doesn’t always guarantee you’ll leave at 5 p.m. Instead, here are six non-work-related tasks you can tackle during your lunch hour that will make your evenings and weekends at home easier.
There are dozens of routine tasks you can knock off your to-do list, either at your desk or during a quick trip out of the office, freeing up your evenings and weekends. Keep an ongoing list on your smartphone of five-minute personal tasks such as making a doctor’s appointment, skimming over 401 (k) options, or paying bills online, says life-balance consultant Marie Levey-Pabst. Use this list as a holding place for all those little tasks you have a hard time remembering to do, she says.
If you use a dry cleaner or pharmacy near your office, you can also use your lunch hour to run quick errands. “Trips to the library, the post office, and Target can be done during your lunch hour to free up your weekends,” says Rosemarie Groner, founder of The Busy Budgeter. Shop for nonperishable items during lunch, she says, and you’ll only need to pick up meat and dairy in the evenings or on the weekends. You don’t have to do everything on your list. Just doing one or two things each day during lunch will free up valuable time at home.
Take five or 10 minutes during lunch to plan your dinner, and you’ll avoid chaos and wasted time figuring out what’s for supper when you get home, says registered dietitian Thomas Ngo. Order groceries online during lunch from a grocery-delivery service, and schedule items to arrive when get home. Or peruse menu options from a local restaurant or a meal-delivery service, and decide what to order for dinner tonight.
Take 15 minutes during your lunch hour to prioritize your tasks, regardless of whether they are related to work or home, suggests Heather Walker, founder of Functional Spaces Organizing. “Most likely, there’s a multitude of tasks floating in your head,” she says. Start by making a list of all your tasks and prioritizing them, then block out the necessary time to accomplish your most important goals for the week. This could include working on a presentation for work, or filing an insurance claim before the deadline.
Not sure where to start? Do a brain dump, says Maura Thomas, founder of Regain Your Time and author of Personal Productivity Secrets. “Try a few minutes of stream-of-consciousness writing to clear your head,” she says. “Then decide on the specific action items from your thoughts, and transfer those to your task list to do later.” You can also use lunchtime to organize your calendar and your family’s calendar, and respond to invitations.
Do something that makes you happy, like reading a book or listening to music or a favorite podcast, even if it is just for 10 minutes, Levey-Pabst says. “Taking five or 10 minutes to do something that you like will make you feel more in control of your life,” she says, “and more productive later.”
“Many people feel they have to always be doing something in order to save time,” Thomas says. This is especially true of working parents who often multitask to gain more quality family time, she says. Instead of filling every moment, including lunchtime, with activities, errands, and work, use this time to take a mental break. By zoning out and letting your mind wander during lunch, Thomas says, you’ll make connections and generate important insights you might overlook when you’re busy.
Being busy can prevent us from getting our real work done, Thomas says. It’s not the same as being productive. “What is really needed to achieve our significant results is time when we aren’t reacting to the demands created by other people and technology,” she says, “so that we can be proactive and move our own goals forward.”
Take time to go to lunch with your colleagues at least once a week, Thomas says. Spend some time enjoying the people you work with and relax. “Successful people know when it’s time to take a break,” she says. Don’t forget to give yourself a break from work.
Lisa Rabasca Roepe writes about women in the workplace, parenting, and food and drink. Her articles have appeared in Daily Worth, Men’s Journal, Eater, SheKnows, and Yahoo Parenting.