Ask LH: How Can I Use My Lunch Breaks More Effectively?

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

Dear LB,

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.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Photos by zphoto (Shutterstock), pichayasri (Shutterstock), Aleksandr Bryliaev (Shutterstock), Blend Images (Shutterstock), Dmitriy Shironosov (Shutterstock) and Matthew Cole (Shutterstock).


Comments

    I'd love to take an hour break. I work as a field tech, and half the time don't even have 5-minutes to eat the lunch I brought from home.

    Unfrotunately I only get a 30 minute break in an office smack bang in a concrete industrial area. 30 minutes isn't enough to drive anywhere and do anything, and sitting in the lunch room watching daytime TV is terrible. I end up taking a 5-10 minute break to toast my sandwich and get back to it.

    Definitely sapped my motivation though since the office moved from an area full of parks and trees making lunch an enjoyable to just spend outside relaxing.

    I used to have a job where the office was accross the road from home, and I had an hour lunch break. I quickly had a huge vegetable garden with a rotating crop of all sorts of fruits and vege's growing. I was pretty healthy for those 3 years....lol

    Go to the lunch room and read a book.. It's amazing how quickly you can get through a book and if it's a good one, you'll regret having to go back to work and it adds something extra to look forward to during the day (instead of just looking forward to going home).

      I stooped reading books at lunch because I get too caught up in them, it's easy to run 10-30 minutes overtime.

      Nowadays I just catch up on google reader or get some shopping done.

    An hour should give you enough time to get to the gym, work out AND shower? Errr, wow? It's a 10-15 minute walk across multiple traffic lights in a CBD to the gym for me (there goes, have to budget for worst case in advance, a half hour). The shower and changing eat up at least 15 minutes if not 20. Seems like a lot of hassle to go through for 15 minutes of cardio. If you're loucky enough to have an on-site gym, it's a different scenario, but most of us aren't.

      I'm glad I don't sweat that much. I can usually skip the shower.

      If that's your situation then it's probably a better idea doing cardio somewhere else. Just go for the run for the 45 minutes and then shower. You may not have a shower at work so you could run past the gym, and then shower at the gym and then jog back to work.

      Another idea is to do a weights circuit for 20-25 minutes. I don't really do circuits that often because they don't match my goals but if I were that time poor it's probably what I'd do. Failing that perhaps a bodyweight circuit.

      I try to either play the keyboard (with headphones of course) or walk up and down the stairs in my building of a lunch time. Otherwise I tend to just waste the time looking at Lifehacker etc.

      ...oh, whoops!

      My gym is across the road and down a block. Takes about 2 minutes, the class if 30 minutes, showing takes 5 minutes, back to the office 2 minutes, and I even have time to eat!

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