Dear Lifehacker, I've developed a habit where I spend every day eating a cold sandwich at my desk for about five minutes and then go straight back to work. I want to reclaim my lunch break, take the time I'm given, and actually put it to good use. What should I do?
Sincerely, Lunch Broken
You need to allocate more personal time during the workday, and it sounds like you've figured that part out already. Breaks are important as they give you enough downtime to refresh yourself, regain some of that lost motivation, and focus for the rest of the day. Once you accept that taking a break and concentrating on you will make you more productive, it'll be easier to think of the work you have to finish as a little less urgent. Then you can start using your lunch break in ways that can help you feel better, be more productive and buy you free time later in the day. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Find Ways to Relax at the Office
For the most part, taking a break means you shouldn't work through it. We're going to contradict that notion just a little bit later on, but actually relaxing is paramount. Whether you've got 15 minutes or an hour, your lunch break is a designated chunk of time for you to unwind and let go of the pressures of work. Sometimes all you need to do is just enjoy a meal and come back when you're done. If you really need to clear your head, rest up and relax.
Meditation is something else you could do in your breaks. You don't have to be too serious about it -- just set aside some time to disappear from the rest of the world and let go of your thoughts. Clearing your head can be enough to remove any stress you built up during the morning and help you approach your work in the afternoon more clearly. If you want to explore your meditation options, check out our guide. It's even something you can do from your car if you don't have a private area at the office.
Your lunch break is also a good time for a power nap. While the term may make it sound like snake oil, science actually backs up the efficacy of the power nap -- if you do it right. You need to be sure you don't sleep for too long or you'll feel groggy when you wake up. Around 20-30 minutes is right for most people, and the best time of day to take your nap is between 1pm and 3pm.
Use Your Lunch Breaks to Buy You More Free Time Later
Although actually taking a break is the most important aspect, you can still get things done during lunch without adding stress. The important thing to remember is that you're using your time to do things that help you. Even if that involves a bit of work in the process, doing that work during lunch can buy you more free time when you get home.
You could use the time to squeeze in a bit of exercise. Obviously you can't go running in a suit, but you should be able to hit the gym, shower and get back within an hour. One of the biggest deterrents to exercising is that you often have to do it early in the morning or after work when you're tired, so it can be hard to find the motivation to get in shape. If you take care of this during your lunch break, you won't have to find time to do it outside of work, and you'll earn yourself some extra energy during the day.
You could also bring your bills and use your lunch break to pay them all. It might sound tedious, but you can make it less of a chore by combining the task with a good meal and a podcast. Again, this will give you extra free time when you get home.
If you want to do the least work possible and still be able to cross something off your to-do list, pick a fun project you've been meaning to work on in your spare time. Your break is a great time to explore and try new things, even if it's as simple as checking out a new smartphone app. Give yourself something fun to do and you'll have a good time and feel accomplished.
Don't Forget to Eat!
When you're trying to use your lunch breaks effectively, it can be easy to forget that the actual purpose of a lunch break is to eat lunch. You don't want to work when you're hungry, so be sure you actually remember to eat. One way to make lunch breaks more fun is to start a cooking club at work. If you can find four other people, each of you can cook a meal for everyone else one day of the week. It's as easy to cook for five people as it is for one, and every day you'll have a home-cooked meal while only putting in 20 per cent of the effort. You also won't have to remember to eat because you'll have others to remember for you.
Hopefully this has given you a few options for making the most of your lunch breaks. Remember, you don't have to do anything special so long as you make enough time for yourself.
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