Claim back your lunch hour: 5 health reasons why, 6 ways to do it

Do you work through lunch, staying at your desk checking emails whilst stuffing down your sandwiches? Perhaps you intend to catch up on your daily round of blogs/news sites/online comics … but, since you’re at your desk, you end up taking a couple of phone calls and cutting your lunch break short.

Maybe you feel that you’ll look lazy if you insist on your full hour – especially if your office has a culture of people working through lunch. But there are huge health benefits to taking a proper rest from work in the middle of the day:

  • Time to eat, appreciate and digest your food properly
  • Gaining perspective on difficult problems – getting completely away from your desk often means you come back with a sudden insight.
  • Unwinding: if you’ve been dealing with “URGENT!” email since 9am, taking an hour out can do wonders for your stress levels.
  • Fitting in some exercise: if, like many people, you know you should be more active but struggle to find time, your lunch-hour is a great chance to move around. (And I’ve written lots of tips for exercise you can do at lunch-time.)

I find it interesting that so many people seem to suffer with work related guilt about their lunch breaks, despite the amounting evidence that its good for productivity.
(Romany, commenter on the Guardian’s blog post Let’s do lunch.)

So, if you only ever stop for long enough to grab your healthy packed lunch out of the office fridge, how can you go about claiming back your lunch-hour?

  • Schedule it in: treat lunch like a meeting, and put it in your calendar. Leave your desk at whatever start-time you’ve decided, on the dot. This is good for your productivity, too: I’m always surprised how much I can get done in the ten minutes before grabbing my rucksack and heading to the gym…
  • Get together with a friend at work. Arrange to go for a walk together at lunch, or just to sit in the breakroom with your sandwiches and the paper.
  • Build up slowly: if you’re convinced it’s impossible to take an hour out of your working day, every day, try it a couple of times a week. Of course, emergencies do come up, but try to plan in advance what you’ll do at lunch-time.
  • Take up or continue with a favourite hobby. Having an incentive to set work aside for an hour really helps. Try looking for lunchtime concerts in your city, get a book group together with colleagues, take your camera out onto the streets … I’ve even cross-stitched at lunch-time!
  • Catch up with chores. If you really don’t have anything you want to do at lunchtime, get all those annoying things out of the way. Sort out your bills online, ring up to find out about that hotel deal you’re considering, buy your groceries, get your watch strap mended, have a hair-cut …
  • Get well away from the office. This is my best tip for ensuring that workmates don’t interrupt you while you’re on your lunch break. Go to the gym, the nearest park, or just to the shops – turn off your mobile, and forget about work for an hour.

And don’t worry about your boss thinking you’re lazy compared to colleagues: taking an hour’s break at lunch-time will leave you refreshed and ready to face the afternoon, when those who’ve ploughed on through lunch will be slower and likely to make mistakes.

(Image above by dogwelder)

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