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 up 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 I was grinding through hectic, overbooked, workdays on the regular. And all of it was totally self-imposed.
I’m ambitious. I like to be productive. And yet I wondered if pausing for a proper lunch 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, it even had 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) was hard to resist. I took a walk instead and focused on getting a few personal tasks done. I went to the post office and the pharmacy. I bought a Mrs. Potato Head doll for my niece’s birthday. It wasn’t riveting, but at least it wasn’t work.
Day 6 – I still struggled with the thought “you should be working”. I spent most of my lunch farting around on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, but realized that it doesn’t feel restorative or fun. I was just bored. Giving myself free time during the workday is such a foreign concept that I don’t know what to do with it.
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 with it.
Can’t take an hour (or think you can’t)? Try 30 minutes. Can’t do 30 minutes? Try 15. Just literally 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 or 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 took myself out for all-day breakfast and went to see some baby goats at an urban farm. Still managed to get through my work and do a few press interviews. Not too shabby.
Day 18 – I worked analog all day, with just a notebook and a pen on an ecological reserve. I strolled the trails at lunch. Massively productive day with no distractions.
Oddly enough, I did more (in less time) during this month that I ever have. 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 – Some business partners needed a quick turnaround on a deadline. Dammit. I took a deep breath and told them it would need to wait until Monday. 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 began to notice that I have more in the tank at the end of the day. I made golden curried lentil soup for dinner. I’ve actually cooked several days this week (I never cook).
Not only was I more productive during this month, but taking a lunch break was a catalyst for other healthy self-care behaviors. I didn’t expect this.
I 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 had more left in the tank in the evenings, so I cooked more homemade meals (this is BIG for me) and went to yoga more. Why? I wasn’t dog fucking tired by the end of the day. I was up for more than just Netflix.
Failure to Lunch
Day 21 – Epic fail. I overbooked myself with too many meetings. I ate a greasy breakfast sandwich at 10:00 and chicken lo mein at 3:00. Super stressed. I noticed I wasn’t even breathing properly, like I was holding my breath.
Day 22 – I took a lunch break, but “lunch” consisted of a giant brownie and some orange juice. Obviously a poor choice. Garbage food. Too much sugar. No protein. Crash.
Day 26 – I took a mental break, but mostly sitting. Bored and restless after not moving enough for too many consecutive days.
I felt the best and I was the most productive on days when I went for a walk (even a short one) during my lunch. Also when I ate proper lunch food (*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, like I did, and see what you learn.
Published at Entrepreneur