Bring back the lunch break!

I’m on a mission to bring back the lunch break!

It almost feels like the lunch break is a bit retro now. Back in the day everyone took a lunch break. When the clock hit twelve people left their desks or wherever they were working and took an hours break and had something to eat. My dad even talks about how people used to go the pub at lunch time!!!

But more and more people have gradually been moving away from taking a formal lunch hour for a while now. With flexible working resulting in people often choosing to work through and finish an hour earlier instead. 

The pandemic and the increase in home working has actually resulted in less people stopping working at lunch time. Despite being at home and able to more easily prepare something to eat, without the structure of being in the office, or around others, I speak to lots of people who are often forgetting to take any breaks at all.

But just like the Mini Cooper and Dr Martens, the best things always come back around.

Not only do I want to bring back the lunch break, I want you give you back something we all need more of…time!

And believe it or not, your lunch break might be the secret to getting it!

Firstly we need to stop thinking about breaks as just time away from work. When we think of it like this it’s almost as if they get in the way. They stop us doing stuff. 

In fact taking breaks and appropriate rest is about helping us do more and not just do more, to do more – better!

Breaks are performance enhancing! It’s a time to refuel, to rest, to recharge our batteries, to get away from work and give ourselves that time to mentally relax too.

Greg McKeown says “Relaxing is a responsibility” and it’s a great way to look at it. Most of us are paid to do a job. As professionals it’s our responsibility then to position ourselves to perform and that means taking rest seriously. I describe it to clients as the discipline of doing less. Appreciating that rest and recovery plays a vital role in performance.

During a wellbeing and performance programme I ran for an organisation earlier this year, one of the employees commented that just removing herself form her desk for 30 minutes at lunchtime really improved how she felt in the afternoon. She noticed she wasn’t feeling as drained or stressed.

It’s obvious really, by taking a break during the day we’ll feel better and get more done in the afternoon. But as the saying goes, common sense doesn’t mean common practice. We need to move away from the grind mentality, and make it more about being efficient, looking after ourselves and doing our best work.

I love the ‘sharpening your axe’ analogy. 

Rather than battering away all day with a blunt axe and getting nowhere fast. Your lunch break is the equivalent of stopping to sharpen your axe. Meaning you return to work able to ‘chop down more trees’, more easily.

That’s one way a lunch break can give you back time. By allowing you to work more effectively in the afternoon and get more work done in less time.

The other way is by using that lunch break to get something done that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Finding time to exercise is a struggle for a lot of people. And with the nights getting darker, and mornings too, exercising at lunch time might be the ideal solution. Particularly if you like to go out jogging and don’t always feel safe doing so in the dark. Why not take the opportunity to get out at lunch time instead.

Ideally you could get a 30-40 minute run or workout in and have time to get showered and grab something to eat too before returning to your desk. Even if that means you’re staying at work slightly later as a result, you can then leave work knowing your work and training is done. You’re not then having to drag yourself to the gym or out on that run in the dark when you finish.

If you’re concerned about coming back exhausted and being less effective in the afternoon, the opposite is likely to be the case. Most people I work with who exercise at lunch time actually find they are more effective in the afternoon as a result.

If you hit a roadblock with something you’re working on, leaving your computer and getting out to exercise is one of the best things you can do to help facilitate that breakthrough.

In his book, ‘Rest’, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang describes English psychologist Graham Wallas’ theory of how the creative process works. 

There’s the preparation phase where we are working on the problem, then there’s the incubation phase where we work towards finding the solution. This incubation phase can take seconds or weeks and months depending on the particular problem. Interestingly, what Pang explains is that more and more research is demonstrating that performing automatic tasks – tasks that allow mental relaxation – can actually assist with the incubation phase. Leading to the illumination phase which is where we come up with the solution, and then finally the verification phase where we fit it all into place.

You’ve probably experienced this where you’ve been driving, ironing or out for a walk and you randomly come up with the answer to something you’ve been struggling with. It seems random but perhaps it’s not random after all. It could actually be as a result of you creating an environment that assists with the incubation process.

Exercising or simply getting out for a walk not only gives you a break from your work, improving circulation, blood flow to the brain and increasing your general exercise levels. It could also be a great way to improve the work you produce too. Assisting with that incubation phase and helping you come up with solutions to the tasks you’re working on.

Winner winner!

The other big way in which taking a lunch break can help you is mentally. 

If you often finish work feeling stressed and overwhelmed then you probably also feel like much of what happens each day is out of your control. 

A very simple but effective way of regaining some control is through breaks and meals. In doing so you’re providing pockets of time to pause, to literally take a breath and do something for you. Stepping out of high intensity situations – like your working day – even briefly, makes the world of difference.

As Pang also says, “deliberate rest helps organize your life. It also helps calm your life.”

Rather than your day being a blur of relentless non-stop work you can create some structure through a short mid-morning and mid-afternoon break, and a longer break at lunch time. You can then organise your work around these and begin to feel more calm and in control.

There you have it! My lunch break pitch!

If you want more time, to work more creatively and effectively, to feel less stressed and to potentially create time to exercise, take a lunch break!

And if you’ve benefited from getting back to consistently taking a lunch break I’d love to hear about how it’s helped you.