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In my first office job, 2005-2010, myself and the rest of my team worked early shift, officially 7am to 3pm. It was a very relaxed place, so the bosses were happy for us to give up our lunch break, eat al-desko while working, and go home at 2pm. In reality, some people took the mick sometimes (yeah, occasionally I was one of them), but it worked well overall.
You can do that in a relatively relaxed job, and when you’ve been up since 5am or earlier it’s helpful. But I don’t think this works very well in most places. Breaks at work are actually vital to long-term mental health. The lunch break isn’t just there to allow you to eat lunch – as mentioned above, you can eat at your desk if necessary. It’s there to rest your brain and eyes, allow you the opportunity to get away from work for a little while and refresh.
Take a break!
It sounds obvious, but make sure you actually take your lunch break! It’s easy to carry on just a little longer with a project, just get one more little part done… and next thing you know it’s 2pm and your chance has gone. You’ll be knackered and unhappy for the rest of the day.
You don’t need to take your lunch break at the same time every day (unless your company has a set time), but force yourself to break. It’ll help refresh you, and rest your brain (and your eyes if you work with a computer). You’ll also feel less like 9-5 is totally dead time, during which you’re a slave to your employer.
Get some fresh air
If your job requires you to be indoors, get outside for some fresh air. Even just a 10-minute walk will refresh you and give you a change of scenery, leaving you more energised for the afternoon – and though rain could cut you short, don’t let it stop you completely!
I work from home but I still like to have a quick walk around the village at lunchtime to get outside, away from the computer.
Just be sure to be disciplined, and don’t let that deli or sandwich shop tempt you if you’re trying to avoid such places.
On the other hand, one of the worst things you can do at lunch is to just sit indoors and stare at Facebook on your phone for an hour. Not only might you start suffering social media envy, depending on the content you see, but it will continue to tire your brain and your eyes. You should be getting away from screens during your break!
Unless you’re ringing someone for a chat, put the phone away. Similarly, don’t just sit at your desk catching up on TV, that’s not really a break at all (especially if your email notifications are still rolling in).
Do something productive and energising
So if you can’t look at Facebook or iPlayer during your lunch break, what else can you do? I’ve already mentioned going for a walk, but maybe just sit in the break room with colleagues, talking about common interests. Sport, TV, fashion, literature, your kids, whatever. If that’d be fun, do it!
In one job I was lucky that a good friend worked nearby, so we used to meet for lunch once a week, just go to a café and talk about football. An hour of great fun chatting with him rejuvenated me for the afternoon.
What about calling your mother to say hi?
Just do something that won’t make you feel like you’ve wasted your break.
This is vital. Of course we all like a takeout occasionally, but even then be careful. A big pizza buffet is tasty, but it’ll weigh you down for the afternoon. An additive-laden sandwich or pasta from the supermarket won’t energise you and you could be hungry again by 3pm. Fizzy drinks and chocolate, yeah occasionally but not every day or your energy will crash.
There will sometimes be work lunches go out, that’s fine. But for an average day, a packed lunch that you know is healthy because you’ve made it, and that will energise you because you know the best foods for your body and schedule, is the best (and cheapest) option.
Not all of this will be possible every day. Some days you’ll run to the canteen for a burger and chips, and bring them back to your desk to plough through more work. But this should be extremely rare. Whenever possible, follow the five steps above in the right way for you. Not only will you have an energising lunch break, you might find you enjoy your job more.