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How to make the most of your lunch breaks at work

By Alison Rodericks | 20 November 2018

It’s 12.30pm and there’s an unmistakable buzz in your office. It’s lunch time, after all. Some of your colleagues are milling around the staff kitchen, heating up their packed lunches in the microwave, having a chit-chat. Others are donning their workout gear for a relaxing yoga class or an energising F45 session.

You, on the other hand, are chained to your desk, wolfing down a sandwich, as you frantically type out a report. It’s like this almost every day. Sometimes, you skip lunch altogether – there’s so much to do, you can’t afford to take a lunch break.

Turns out, you’re not alone. We live in a work-obsessed society – gone are the days of working 9 to 5; our smartphones mean we are on call 24/7. Many of us worry that our bosses will think we are not working hard enough or that our colleagues will judge us if we take work breaks.

An alarming number of Australians are skipping their lunch break altogether. In a 2017 survey conducted by Pollfish for TSheets by QuickBooks, of the 500 Australian workers surveyed, 75 per cent said they could not take a break because there was too much work and not enough staff to do it. In fact, one in four employees skipped lunch altogether.

But working nonstop is unsustainable and will lead to burn out. You need regular breaks to boost your health, productivity and clarity. What you do during your office break is just as important. Spending 20 minutes scrolling through Facebook as you absentmindedly feed your face is just not good enough. Neither is checking your work emails or talking about work during lunch. Here’s how can you spend your breaks fruitfully and come back recharged and re-energised and even more productive than before.

Get out of here!

Yes, literally. Go outdoors, take a walk, eat your lunch in a nearby park. Being exposed to sunlight and fresh air helps increase productivity and positivity.

woman outside of work taking a walk with coffee in hand

Staying in an artificially lit, stuffy office is actually detrimental to your health and wellbeing. Give your eyes a break from screens.

Studies show that just spending time in nature can help alleviate fatigue by relaxing and restoring the mind. Recent research has also proven that sitting is the new smoking – it increases your risk of chronic health problems like heart disease, diabetes and some cancers while adversely affecting your mental health.

All the more reason to take a brisk walk during your break and get those endorphins pumping.

Friends with Benefits

Given that you spend over eight hours a day at work, you’ve probably got a couple of colleagues with whom you share a close rapport.

Enjoy your lunch with co-workers you get along with well; it’s a good stress buster, especially if you’ve had a bad day at work. A shared laugh is guaranteed to improve your mood. A work break is a great opportunity to connect with people outside of work – long lost friends from your uni days; a cousin who works in the next building; an old aunt who lives nearby and could do with some company. These interactions strengthen our social ties and improve our mental health – which is impossible to do if you’re holed up in your office cubicle with your computer screen for company.

Eat Right

Choosing the right kind of food to fuel your body and mind also plays a big part in how you power through your work day. A handful of nuts or a fruit salad are healthy snack options. A peppermint tea wins over a fizzy drink. Don’t wait till your tummy is rumbling in protest or you will carb load on rice/pasta and will feel too sluggish after lunch (hello, siesta!). Instead, opt for a high protein meal such as a small serving of chicken, beef, fish or legumes. Above all, eat mindfully and enjoy your meal.

A Class Apart

Join a class or a course and learn something new. It can be for relaxation (yoga, tai chi, meditation), career progression (choose from a range of options at Upskilled) or a skill to get those creative juices flowing (photography, dance, a language, hula hooping). Many gyms offer lunch hour-friendly fitness classes to suit the office goer, so sign up for one and lock it in your diary. You will feel energised, enlightened and ready to plough through the rest of your day.

Free Your Mind

young woman looking at painting in art gallery

If you want to challenge your grey matter, try to find something that boosts your brainpower. Watch a TED Talk, go to the local library, work on a puzzle, visit an art gallery or a museum – the possibilities are endless. The only limitations are the ones you place on yourself.

Do Nothing

Business is a modern-day malaise; we feel compelled to cram in too much into our day and have forgotten the simple joy of free time. According to the Association for Psychological Science, allowing your brain idle time to wander is important for creativity and problem-solving.

business man relaxing outside of balcony

A report published in Science magazine found that letting our minds wander by zoning out or daydreaming has similar benefits to meditation. It gives our overworked prefrontal cortex a well-deserved rest. By allowing our mind to drift, we can actually boost productivity since it allows ideas that have been silently incubating to bubble up into our consciousness. Go on, give it a try.

In the words of poet WH Davies:

“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?”

When you’ve got a to-do list that seems to grow by the hour, it can be tempting to chuck your break out the window and immerse yourself in your never-ending pile of stress and Excel spreadsheets.

As “productive” as this may sound, you may be damaging your progress rather than helping it. Avoid the potential of burning out by keeping your mental wellbeing recharged and refreshed. Your health, and your workload, will thank you.

For more advice like this, be sure to check out more of our health and productivity articles here on SkillsTalk.

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