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Why We Need to Stop Skipping Our Lunch Breaks

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If you’re anything like me, you know this scenario all too well….emails flying back and forth, voicemails and calls to return, multi-tasking at least two different urgent issues, putting out countless fires….then 12:00 rolls around and you think, “I’ll just do one more thing,” which turns into two or three things and by the time you look up it’s 12:50 and you don’t have time to eat, much less take a much-needed mental and physical break from work.

Well, govies (myself included) we need to stop this self-defeating and unhealthy practice! I know it’s tempting to think that we’re saving time or being more efficient by working through our lunches, but that’s just not the case. Skipping our lunch breaks may be hurting us more than we realize.

Here are three very important reasons we can’t afford to keep skipping our lunch breaks:

1. We need to refuel

It is so important to take mental and physical break from work, and our lunch time is the perfect venue for this.  We need to reenergize and refresh our minds and bodies during this time so that we can come back to our work and responsibilities with more focus and clarity.  Taking a walk during lunch, getting out of your office or cubicle, having lunch with a friend, listening to music, or simply reading a book can do wonders for your mind, body, and your attitude!

2. We need to unplug

Constant connection to technology may cause us to feel more overstimulated and stressed.  When we are connected to technology we may be always on alert for the notifications and alerts that continually distract us and come through our various devices at all hours of the day (read more about the negative side affects of being over connected here and here).  Let’s take a break from the constant attention required by our cell phones and iPads for at least a few minutes during the work day, and instead practice being peaceful, have a face-to-face conversation with a friend or colleague, or enjoy some quality alone time.

3.  We can boost our creativity 

A recent NPR article explained the startling truth that our creativity is in fact hindered when we skip lunch or eat lunch at our desk, day after day, with no change of scenery or environment.   Changing our location, even if just for a short time during our lunch break each day, can spark innovation, creative thinking, and ultimately helping us do our jobs better.

The Challenge: The benefits of taking a lunch break – even if we can just carve out 20 minutes a day – far outweigh the negatives of working through lunch.  Even if it’s just a few minutes and only two or three days a week, I challenge all of us govies to put our mental and physical health as top priority by taking our lunch breaks.  Who’s with me?

In the comments below, please share 1) some ways that you have been able to prioritize your lunch breaks during the work day, and  2) what kind of benefits you have found from taking a break during work each day.

Christina Smith is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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40 Comments

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Jennifer

Such a good piece! I remember as a VISTA working in refugee resettlement our office had a culture of taking lunch break together. Some days it was just the VISTAs but most days the other case managers would join in. Never have I had so many conversations about culture and food as in those days! Even better, I got to know my coworkers beyond what I saw at their desks and made some really great friends. Even though I now work in a place that doesn’t have this culture, you’ve reminded me how indulgent it feels to read a book at noon- and it shouldn’t be so scarce of a treat!

Profile Photo Christina Smith

Hi Jennifer – thanks so much for the kind words! It sounds like you had such an amazing experience as a VISTA (yay, AmeriCorps!!) and those lunch time conversations sound incredible. I’m glad that this post reminded you about the joys of reading at lunch time – hope you get to do that this week! Thanks for reading and posting.

Profile Photo Larry Till

I’m a big believer that much of the best work we do in government comes not from meetings, but form more social interactions. I can learn more about a colleague or a project over a lunch break than I can in 10 hour-long meetings. That information is hugely valuable for informing and strengthening our relationships.

Profile Photo Christina Smith

Thanks for your comment, Larry! I think that you are right – those informal conversations and social interactions with colleagues are very valuable and important for not only good workplace relationships but also for a more productive and team-focused workplace. Thanks for reading and sharing!

Profile Photo Becky Latka

We used to all go out to lunch together, but over time this tradition has eroded and has almost gone extinct in my office. This is a good reminder of all the great ideas and networking that used to take place over lunch before we were “too busy.”

Profile Photo Hanna Cooper

Love your post, Christina! We’re human beings, not robots, and even machines (if we were that) need to reboot now and then! Thanks for the great actionable and practical ideas!

Philip Lane

Government employee or not, the value of a lunch break is underestimated. I really haven’t taken one in three years :/

Profile Photo Christina Smith

Thanks, Wander! Taking a short walk outside also really helps my productivity…whether this is at lunch or during the mid-morning or mid-afternoon slump times. Best of luck with prioritizing your lunch and short walks – we can do it!

Grace

The thing to remember is, even if taking a break seems like a waste of time, the same amount of time is wasted if you slow down and procrastinate because you can’t stop thinking about having a break.

Jane

Christina: Another excellent article! And so true, although I don’t always take my lunch either because “I just don’t have time”! Your article is inspiring me to be more diligent in taking time for myself. I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to print a copy and send it out to my team to remind them all that a break is NECESSARY during the day!

Profile Photo Brenda Dennis

You are definitely speaking to me on this one. I find it interesting that we prioritize ourselves last, over petty work things like email and busy work, yet the fact that we don’t take a break is one of the main reasons we are not productive and do not have the essential work relationships we used to. Like several others, I have been on teams that took lunch together regularly, and it was a huge team building experience. One group I was with had a “no-work” rule during lunch. If you talked about work, you had to contribute a buck to the birthday fund!

Profile Photo Christina Smith

Hi Brenda! Thanks for reading and for your comment. I LOVE the idea of a “no-work” rule during lunch with the $1 birthday fund penalty for talking about work! That is such a great idea! Here’s to prioritizing our health and well-being – we can do it, together!

Jane

Another great article, Christina! Enjoyed reading it and am going to try to remind myself to take a lunch break, and why!! And I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to share this with my team and remind them, too, that it is important to take a breather during the day! Look forward to your next post!

Profile Photo Christina Smith

Hi Jane – thanks for your comment! I would be thrilled if you would share this article with your team…please feel free to share with anyone you’d like to! Thanks again for reading, and I hope you do remind yourself to take some well-deserved time for yourself each day!

E Long Powell

Good article. Is there a printable version of your article? I’d like to post it in our break room. When I print preview, the links to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and e-mail overlay the article.
Thanks.

Profile Photo Christina Smith

Hi E Long Powell! Thanks so much! I’m excited that you would like to post this article in your break room! I would suggest that you select the text and then either print the selected text or paste it into a Word document and print the article that way. Does that help? Thanks again!

MaryGrace Duncan

1) Eating has always been a priority for me, work or not. If my lunch is shortened, I may just eat at my desk, but I make sure that I do get up and walk around some. Plus my position is such that I can take my lunch break anytime between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm. 2) The benefits of taking a full hour lunch is that I have time for a 30 minute walk which puts a big dent in my 10,000 step daily goal and gain energy enough to keep me out of the midday doldrums and finish up the rest of the work day and go for another 5-6 hours with quality family time.

Profile Photo Christina Smith

Hi MaryGrace – thanks for reading and commenting! I’m so glad that you have made it a priority to take a lunch break and to walk during the day – that is awesome! You’re a great example for the rest of us. Thanks for sharing.

Erica Hayden

Our county courthouse has food truck Thursdays, so my co-workers and I always make a point to get food and eat lunch together. This definitely lifts my spirits and allows us to talk about something other than work. I also find that watching TED talks is great because I can pick talks that fit into however much time I have for lunch whether it is five minutes or twenty. It is a great reprieve and feels like a small escape in the middle of the day.

Mark

I almost always take a lunch break, if I don’t I do get hangry and you don’t want to be around me. I also often take a short nap at lunch time. I have a yoga mat and I roll it out under my desk and zone out. I use meditation techniques and deep relaxation from yoga to just fall asleep and then wake up. It takes 15-20 minutes and it’s like a reboot for me. It jump starts the rest of the afternoon. So yes, I totally agree with the notion of taking a break at lunch.

Leslie Andersen

Thanks for the valuable reminder. Eating at my desk through lunch while continuing to work, seems like a necessity on most days. However, I do enjoy an occasional lunch with a colleague from my department or some other department at the university, and I always learn something interesting at those lunch meetings. I will try scheduling at least one lunch per month with a colleague from a different department in the university and one with someone from my program, if at all possible, this year.

Profile Photo David Carr

I have been guilty of working so much that I did not stop to take a lunch break. I vowed when I started as a government contractor not to do that again and I have not done it in over 6 years. I eat lunch most days at my desk because it is cheaper than going out the building but sometimes I go out with other contractors or federal employees who leave to go to a restaurant. Taking a break from sitting in front of the computer is helpful for me mentally as well as physically. My chiropractor advised me to get up and walk around to avoid the serious back pain I was in when I first went to her years ago.

Profile Photo Christina Smith

Hi David – thanks for reading and for your comment! That is SO awesome that you have prioritized your lunch breaks and have done so faithfully for 6 years! We can all learn from your example! Thanks for sharing, and keep up the good routine!