For many of us, the average weekday goes something like this: fight traffic or mass transit delays to get into work, make small-talk with co-workers, settle in for a few hours of productivity, grab a quick lunch out of the office (or eat solo at your desk while watching YouTube), work some more, leave work, and repeat until you retire or die at your desk.
Okay, maybe that’s a little grim. Hopefully, you’re actually really kicking butt and taking names in your career, while endearing yourself to your co-workers with hilarious anecdotes about your weekend adventures. However, if you’re not taking full advantage of your midday hour-long break, you’re missing out.
Lunchtime is truly your best time to make meaningful progress in any area of your life because it offers some flexibility in your daily routine. By the end of the day, people generally have important plans to spend time with friends or family, hit the gym, or binge-watch Netflix. While those are all important parts of life that help us maintain balance, there’s little room left for self-improvement.
Your lunch break is your opportunity to fit a little something extra into your life. Here are a few ways to take control of your life, one lunch hour at a time.
1. Hone an interesting skill.
Have you always wanted to learn to code or speak Spanish? What if you spent 45 minutes, 5 days a week, working on that new skill? Imagine the progress you could make.
Even better, send out an email inviting co-workers to start a learning group together. Commit to a “brown bag” lunch where each of you brings your lunch and signs up for a course. There are free and paid online courses to teach almost every skill imaginable, and learning with others keeps you accountable.
If you get stuck, co-workers can be a great resource as guest experts. For instance, if you’re trying to learn code, invite the IT person (or programmer) over one day to help your group get over a hump. If you want to learn Spanish, invite a Spanish-speaking co-worker to chat for an hour and correct the group’s pronunciation errors. This will allow you to socialize with co-workers and maybe even develop skills that can boost your career trajectory.
2. Reconnect with old friends.
For many of us, when we get busy or stressed out, the first thing to fall to the wayside are our relationships. We say to ourselves, “I can give them a call next week”, or “I’ll answer that email later.” However, more often than not, time keeps speeding by and it’s been too long since we’ve seen or talked with our non-work friends.
Your lunch hour is the perfect time to catch up with people you care about, be it your college roommate or your mother who’s left you seven messages this week alone. Talking to people outside of the office will remind you that you’re more than an employee. Not to mention, it will ensure your relationships remain strong and you have the support you need during tough times.
Plus, it’s just fun to laugh about old times with friends. Laughter will always make your day better.
3. Develop a 30-minute exercise routine.
No matter what shape you are in, a little midday workout can really impact your day. The exercise can range from a brisk walk to a full strength-training routine (depending on the availability of a nearby gym). If there’s nothing close-by, ask your supervisor if you can use the conference room or another vacant space.
Terrific free resources, such as Fitness Blender videos, exist to help you fit in a great short workout with zero equipment. Just 30 minutes a day allows you to accomplish the entire 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity recommended each week (5×30=150). Plus, it still leaves you time to freshen up before heading back to work.
4. Create something. Anything.
These days, there is so much to consume that we often forego the thrill of creating. Why cook when we can eat out? Why write when we can scroll through Buzzfeed or the New York Times? However, the act of crafting something can boost your ability to think outside the box and inject more positivity and originality into your life as a whole.
The act can be purposeful (following a specific pattern to knit a scarf), or meandering (doodling on a napkin). It can be ambitious (write the first few pages of a novel!), or smaller in scale (keep one of the increasingly popular adult coloring books in your desk drawer).
Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself. No one expects you to recreate the Sistine Chapel at your desk. Doing something creative is just an exercise to help you relax and clear out any cobwebs that might be building in parts of your brain you’re not used to using.
Never underestimate the power of a cat nap, especially if a particularly stressful week has left you sleep-deprived or overworked. A quick lunchtime snooze might be the best thing you can do with your time.
Research shows that a 45 to 60 minute nap boosts brain power in areas like memory and learning ability. What’s more, the ideal time period to take a nap is between 1-3PM (a.k.a. lunchtime). You might be surprised how well this shut-eye prepares you for the rest of your day. While everyone else is pouring their third cup of coffee in the mid-afternoon, you’ll be rejuvenated and ready to go.
Depending on how easily you can fall asleep in strange places, it might take a while for you to be comfortable using your keyboard as a pillow. Follow these 7 steps to take a perfect nap every day. If your boss protests, explain that napping is proven to improve concentration, alertness, and productivity. It also eliminates afternoon lethargy and gets your whole day back on track. If they would still prefer you to not sleep in the office, you can always take a nap in your car.
Simple changes to your routine can do amazing things for your mind, body, and soul. Just remember, your actual job productivity should not suffer. After all, the purpose of these activities is to make you better, not hold you back. You might have to give up eating at your favorite diner and switch to bagged lunches to make everything fit in your hour, but the rewards are well worth it!