September 8, 2019

What we’ve learned about taking lunch breaks

Reading time: 4 minutes

If you have the luxury of choosing when to take your lunch break each day, you might sometimes find it appealing to cut it short to “get more done”, or worse… just work through. We set out to take our full lunch break every day to see what would happen. So what did happen? Read on…

A duotoned dark purple and beige version of the Apple 'bowl and spoon' emoji, in front of a bright green zig zag shape across the bottom of the image

Jess

Look, I know taking a lunch break shouldn’t warrant this sort of experiment, but far too often I find myself eating at my desk or wolfing down my food so I can get back to work. I recognise how lucky I am to enjoy the work I do, and to be in a position to choose when I take my lunch break, however the common rushed feeling is something I wanted to deliberately address, and stamp out.

So here we are.

I started with a three week trial. The goal was for every lunch break to include three things:

  1. Food eaten away from my desk
  2. A walk outside
  3. A full hour off work

Let me break these down…

1. Food eaten away from my desk

I’ve mused on this before, but how we eat can be as important as what we eat. Mindlessly munching through last night’s dinner while you’re simultaneously trying to proofread a proposal and field questions from your teammates doesn’t send your body the right signals. While it might feel like “saving time” in one sense, I’ve learned the cost of that time is just being paid by something else (like my body, or my mental state).

Leaving my desk to eat, if nothing else, is the best way to detach from work mode… and here’s the clincher: finding that headspace often means I’m better able to tackle my work when I return to it 💥

2. A walk outside

The restorative power of nature is real, y’all. I recently came across this short piece on The Healing Power of Gardens in which they describe neurologist Oliver Sacks findings that being in nature was proven to restore some function to neurologically impaired patients.

Think about that for a moment.

We can refresh our minds by getting into nature. I’m lucky that my office is close to a river, but any old park will do.

A photo of a girl wearing a white t-shirt taking a selfie in a park, with a man walking towards the camera in the background
This is me on a recent lunch break walk!

We are creatures enmeshed with the great web of being, in which, when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

John Muir

3. A full hour off work

The way my work days are structured, if I want to take a full hour for lunch it usually means stepping away from my computer an hour before the next meeting. In other words, if I take too long to stop working, I’m eating into my lunch break (har har har).

This goal for me is about recognising when I need to stop working in order to allow enough time for the full lunchbreak, and avoiding my tendency to “try and squeeze in one more thing” – instead delegating that task to another time or day.

Reflections

The bad news is, I didn’t succeed in doing all three things every day, but setting the intention did have an impact. I hit at least two out of three most days, which was better than my average.

I’ve since decided to graduate this ‘experiment’ into a permanent fixture by making these three lunch break rules my daily non-negotiables, as though they’re in my Personal Charter – and I’m hoping for an even better hit rate!

Aimee

I’ve noticed a pattern that I want to curb: the days I work from home, I will often take my full hour lunch break. I’ll leave my working space for more than 30mins, and I’ll be sure to get some sun on my bones. Whereas, the days I work from the office, it’s common for me to not leave the office at all. Nor will I take a full hours break.

Similar to Jess, this challenge for me was about making sure to:

  • Step out of my work space (whether at home or in the office) for a full hour
  • Eating lunch away from my desk
  • Getting outside

Reflections

I’ll be honest with you, I found this much easier said than done. 

When I started to make a conscious effort of getting outside for a full hour and questioning myself on the days that I didn’t, I started to realise why I tend to only achieve it when working from home. I put it down to guilt. Irrational, subconscious guilt, if you will.

In my office, most people won’t leave the office for a full hour, and most will eat lunch at their desk. As a team player, I realised that when I’m seeing others around me working through their lunch I feel it necessary to do the same.

Once I was able to get to the bottom of this, it did make it easier for me to achieve my goals. Once I was able to make peace with any guilty feelings, I found I was much more successful at taking a full hours break away from my work space. I will admit, I still haven’t been able to average a full 4/4 days yet. Particularly on the last day of the week, when it feels I’m in a mad rush to wrap things up for the week. But I’m working on it.

This was a very useful exercise as it had me reflect and question why I wasn’t doing this in the first place. Now on the days that I don’t manage to achieve this, I make sure to reflect on why.

Image take of Lake Ginninderra, Canberra on a crisp autumn day.

Here’s a photo I snapped on one of my lunch breaks. I took a walk around the lake near my home, and felt so refreshed returning to my desk afterwards.

A gentle reminder: as part of a team, we still need to make sure we’re looking after ourselves mentally and physically so that we can bring our best self to that team environment. Taking a full hour break and stepping out of my workspace helps me to be my best self. Like Jess, this too needs to become a non-negotiable as part of my working day.

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Producing Paradise

Three ladies of digital producer ilk: Jess Allison, Aimee Cowie and Lilith Palmer.

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