When was the last time you took a proper lunch break during the workday? One where you didn’t hunch over your phone or laptop the whole time, or inhale a slice of greasy pizza between meetings?
I ask because, until recently, I hadn’t taken a lunch break with any regularity for years. And I work for myself! Nobody is breathing down my neck. Yet, there I was, grinding through hectic, overbooked, workdays on a regular basis. And it was totally self-imposed.
I’m ambitious. I like to be productive. And yet I began to wonder if pausing for a proper lunch break might somehow help me be even more productive.
So, I conducted a personal experiment to see what would happen if I forced myself to take an hour-long lunch break for 30 days, and log the results.
Spoiler alert: Worth it. I was more productive than ever (in less time), and, as a bonus, I even experienced an unexpected ripple effect on my life outside of work. Here’s what happened . . .
Deciding what counts as a break
Day 1 — The nagging urge to do little administrative tasks (check my email, tweet out my latest blog post) is hard to resist. Instead, I take a walk and focus on getting a few personal tasks done. I go to the post office and the pharmacy. I buy a Mrs. Potato Head doll for my niece’s birthday. These aren’t riveting tasks, but at least they’re not work.
Day 6 — I’m still struggling with the thought, “You should be working.” I spend most of my lunch fooling around on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, but realize that that doesn’t feel restorative or fun. I’m just bored. Giving myself free time during the workday is such a foreign concept that I don’t know what to do with it.
At this point, I’ve learned that I work best (meaning I’m less stressed and more productive) when I have an hour-long break — one that includes a break from my phone, as well. You may need something different. Experiment.
Can’t take an hour (or think you can’t)? Try 30 minutes. Can’t do 30 minutes? Try 15. Literally, just go outside for 15 minutes. Move your legs. Get some sunshine. Take a few deep breaths.
Can’t manage 15 minutes? You’ve got one of two problems (or maybe both): 1. You’re working for a sadistic tyrant; 2. You’ve put yourself very, very low on your list of priorities (making you the sadistic tyrant). In either case, it’s just a matter of time until you burn out.
Epic productivity: doing more in less time
Day 11 — I take myself out to an all-day breakfast place and go to see some baby goats at an urban farm. Yet I still manage to launch a course and do a press interview. Not too shabby.
Day 18 — I work analog all day, with just a notebook and pen, on an ecological reserve. I stroll the trails at lunch. It’s a massively productive day, with no distractions.
Oddly enough, I’ve done more (in less time) during this month that I ever have. I’ve taken on more clients than ever. I’ve launched a course. I’ve sold a book. I chalk this up to the fact that I wasn’t running on empty by mid-afternoon every day. When you’re working while exhausted (or starving) there comes a point when you’re not even productive anymore. You’re just spinning your wheels.
An unexpected ripple effect
Day 18 — Business partners of mine say they need a quick turnaround on a deadline. Dammit. I take a deep breath and tell them their turnaround will need to wait until Monday. I would love to pretend I’ve mastered my priorities, but really I just don’t want to fail this experiment before the month is over.
Day 20 — I’m beginning to notice that I have more in the tank at the end of the day. I make golden curried lentil soup for dinner. I’ve actually cooked several days this week (and I never cook).
Not only have I been more productive this month, but taking a lunch break has been a catalyst for other healthy self-care behaviors. I didn’t expect this.
I’ve made (mostly) better food choices because I didn’t feel the need to grab the easiest, quickest thing to scarf down while working. I also didn’t wait until I was ravenous to eat lunch (in which case I want to eat everything).
I’ve also had more left in the tank in the evenings, so I’ve cooked more homemade meals (this is big for me) and have gone to yoga class more. Why? I haven’t been dog-tired by the end of the day. I’ve been up for more than just Netflix.
Failure to lunch
Day 21 — Epic fail. I’ve overbooked myself with too many meetings. I ate a greasy breakfast sandwich at 10 a.m. and chicken lo mein at 3. I’m super stressed. I’ve noticed I’m not even breathing properly, as though I’m holding my breath.
Day 22 — I take a lunch break, but “lunch” consists of a giant brownie and some orange juice. Poor choice. Garbage food. Too much sugar. No protein. Crash.
Day 26 – I take a mental break, but it mostly consists of sitting. I’m bored and restless after not moving enough for too many consecutive days.
I realize that I’ve felt the best and been the most productive on days when I’ve gone for a walk (even a short one) during my lunch break. I’ve realized the same positive results when I’ve eaten a proper lunch (*ahem* — in non-brownie form). Big surprise. Clearly I’m no expert at this yet, but I’m noticing what works (and what doesn’t) and adjusting accordingly. I’m getting there.
But I can’t take a lunch! For very legitimate reasons! That’s what you’re telling yourself, right? Things like…
- I have too much to do.
- If I stop to take a lunch, I’ll never go home because I’ll have to work later.
- Everyone else works through lunch. I don’t want to look like a slacker.
- I might lose my focus if I stop working and take a break.
I hear ya, pal. But if you can wrap your head around the idea that momentarily stepping away from your work might actually make you more productive, maybe you’ll be willing to give it a shot. Treat it like an experiment, as I did, and see what you learn.