Lunch breaks are an important part of the work day, and for many hourly positions, they're required for a reason – you need a break. However, according to a survey by OfficeTeam, 29 percent of respondents admitted that they work during lunch breaks – which does more damage than good.
"Based on my research, one reason that a lunch break is important is that it allows for a cognitive break and rumination that is important to creativity," said Kimberly Elsbach, professor at the Graduate School of Management, University of California, Davis, who studies workplace psychology.
You need to step away from work and make time for yourself to stay productive and organized. Brandi Britton, district president of OfficeTeam, shares some options for a healthy, restorative lunch break. [Make your brown bag lunch happier and healthier with these tips.]
Leave the office
Staying in one place all day jeopardizes your productivity. Without a change in scenery, you'll likely cycle through the same old ideas. To avoid burnout, plan ways to escape your desk for your break.
"Whenever possible, get out of the office to clear your mind and stretch your body," said Britton. "Take a walk outside or exercise at the gym, and you'll return to work energized."
Elsbach added that being in a natural setting allows your mind to wander and make cognitive connections in the subconscious. If you have errands, don't push them off until after work. Britton recommends using your lunch to grocery shop or pick up toiletries so you have one less task on your to-do list.
Take a nap
Work can be exhausting, especially if you're commuting long hours. By noon, you might question how you'll survive the entire day without shuteye – but you don't have to.
Lunch breaks should serve as time for refreshment, and sometimes a nap is all you need. Britton encourages about 20 minutes of midday, guilt-free rest on tiring days.
Attend a course
Just because you have a job doesn't mean there isn't any room for personal growth and further education. In fact, enhancing your knowledge might be the inspiration you need to channel your passions while keeping busy during work breaks.
"Consider taking a professional development course nearby or online that can help you build new skills," said Britton.
Helping others can act as therapy. If you don't know what to do with your time, spend it on others.
"You may be able to squeeze volunteering at a food bank or tutoring students into your lunch break since they typically require short time commitments," Britton stated.
The best way to escape your own life is by diving into someone else's. Reading gives you a career boost in the long run, so Britton advised packing a novel or magazine for some leisure reading to distract your mind from mundane work tasks and spark creativity when you return.
Catch up with a friend or coworker
"Your lunch break can be a great opportunity to bond with colleagues and make new networking connections," said Britton, who schedules lunch with friends or employees once every other week. Bonding with colleagues outside the workplace can strengthen your bond and build a trusting, genuine relationship.
It's also nice to speak to close friends or family, offering a sense of comfort to your hectic day. Even if it's just a short phone call, hearing a loved one's voice can turn your entire day around.
"Your lunch break isn't just an opportunity to eat," Britton said. "Having time away from work offers a chance to recharge and return with renewed focus."