Lunch

“I eat at my desk.”

“I grab a sandwich on the run if I have time.”

“I usually don’t take a lunch break.”

These are typical responses to the question: How do you spend your lunch hour? A 2012 survey by Right Management, a business consulting group, found that 81% of the 1,023 North American workers polled were not taking what used to be considered a real lunch break. Fewer employees are feeling comfortable enough with their work loads and demands to actually take time away to enjoy breaks for meals, according to Michael Haid, spokesperson for the study.

Many American professionals have the misconception that taking a midday break is unproductive or shows somehow that you are a slacker.  Studies show, however, that the opposite is true. Nutrition and health expert Sarah-Jane Bedwell, R.D reports that taking a real lunch break helps make you more productive by  giving your mind and body a chance to rest and recharge.

Maybe you have gotten into a bit of a lunchtime rut. Many of us spend the noon hour at our desks playing catch-up with e-mails and texts. Or maybe you grab a sandwich or a slice of pizza from the same place on the corner every day and hustle back to work. Maybe you brown bag it in the company lounge or in your car on your way to an afternoon appointment.

Thing that can be done during lunch

It’s time to change things up. You can improve your work productivity and your lifestyle by using your lunch hour to its full benefit.  Here’s how:

Claim the time

Every job is different, but if you are given an hour or a half-hour for lunch, then take it! You can make better use of the time, if you plan ahead for it. Let office staff know when you are going and when you will be back. Change your voice message to indicate when you will be “away from your desk.”

Plan your morning and afternoon schedule to allow for your break. Then have an idea of what you would like to accomplish during your break. Don’t over-schedule the time. The key here is to use the time to refresh yourself, so cramming a large to-do list into 30 minutes will have a counter effect.

Now – here’s the important part – get away from your desk. Yes, that’s right. That means you need to actually get up and go. Turn off your computer screen, silence your phone and walk out the door. Resist the urge to constantly check your phone for calls and messages. Most experts agree that for both our physical and mental health, we need breaks from technology.

One of the reasons we fell guilty for taking a lunch break is that we are used to eating quickly. After we wolf down a salad or a burger, we think we had better get back to work. Think again. You can have your cake and eat it too, so to speak. Sure, grab Thai food from your favorite spot if you like, but you still can use the rest of your break time to recharge. Here are some ideas:

  • Read a book or a magazine. Focusing your eyes on a page rather than a screen can be restful for them. Also when you immerse yourself in something that is totally unrelated to work, your brain has time to recharge itself. Chances are you will return to your work project with new ideas without even realizing it.
  • People watch. Find a park bench and just watch the world go by for 15 minutes or so. Let your mind wander. It is amazingly refreshing.
  • Window shop. If you work near a downtown or a mall, take some time to gaze at store windows to see the latest fashions and styles.
  • Work a crossword puzzle. Once again, your brain will rest in certain ways while you refuel it in another way.
  • Learn something new. A new language, perhaps? You could listen to lessons on your iPod.

After a rest, you will return to work more ready to take on that looming project or report. Often our most creative ideas come when we’re taking a brain break or focusing completely on something else, according to Margaret Moore,  co-author of  the book Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life.

Exercise

One of the best ways to use your lunch hour is to exercise. Once again, remembering that you don’t need to take an hour to eat, you can use the rest of your break to get in some activity. Can you take your bike to work and take a ride at lunchtime? Are their walking paths near your office? Ditch the heels and lace up your sneakers. How about a 20-minute swim at your health club?

Just getting outside and moving can do wonders for your afternoon energy and for your outlook on life in general. And don’t let weather keep you down. By dressing for it, you can take a noontime walk on all but the most inclement days.  In fact, when you are prepared, walking in the rain can be especially refreshing.

Some health clubs offer exercise classes especially for professionals on their lunch breaks. Check around. Maybe that yoga or Pilates class you have always wanted to take but haven’t had time for is now an option.

Network

Lunchtime can be a great time to expand your business contacts. Take your team out to lunch. Invite a new co-worker to visit that new cafe with you. Lookup your old boss and re-connect over a sandwich. Visit a competing business to see how things are going there.

If you are new at your job, seek out a respected long-time employee as a potential mentor. Ask him or her to join your for lunch while you ask about his or her experience. By the same token, lunch can be a great time to help a new employee adjust to the new environment. Offer your advice and friendship over a shared lunch.

Are you thinking of expanding your horizons? Use your lunch break to brainstorm ideas or to check out new classes offered in your field.

Refuel

Finally, you need to make sure you eat something. Our bodies are not intended to fast while we work. In fact, it is natural to get hungry when we exercise our brains. If you are experiencing frequent mid- to late- afternoon energy slumps or headaches, it can be because you are not eating right.

Here are some tips:

  • Eat a light lunch combined with a small snack a few hours later.
  • Avoid alcohol until after work. Even a glass of beer or wine can be enough to zap your alertness for the afternoon.
  • Whole grains, fruit, veggies, nuts and lean meats are good sources of fiber and protein and will keep you full longer.
  • High-sugar foods may give you a quick energy boost, but you will crash afterwards. It’s best to avoid them on the job.
  • Don’t forget to hydrate
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