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Take a Lunch Break, Especially if You Are Too Busy


Too busy to leave your desk to eat lunch? If so, you aren’t alone, as only 1 in 5 office workers regularly takes lunch these days.

It’s counter-intuitive, but feeling short on time makes it even harder for us to manage the limited time we do have. That’s according to Harvard behavioral scientist Sendhil Mullainathan and Princeton economist Eldar Shafir.

So eating at our desk isn’t usually a good time-management decision if we want to be productive, creative, or just plain happy — but the pull to keep working, or to feel like we are working, can be huge.

Here’s what to do instead of eating in front of your email or Facebook feed:

1. Leave your office, or at least leave your desk. A change in scenery is a research-tested way to increase creativity.

2. Step away from your smartphone. Really: Leave your phone at your desk. You won’t be needing it. If you take it with you it will take too much willpower to resist. Even if you turn it on silent, seeing it light up or hearing it vibrate will sabotage this effort. This quick lunch break is for restoring depleted willpower, so that you return to work better able to focus, make decisions, and exert your self-control. If you spend your lunch break trying to resist the 1 million temptations on your phone — or if you give in and just check it — you’ll return from lunch more depleted, not less.

3. Take a few minutes to eat mindfully. Here’s how:

  • Sit in a quiet space. Earn bonus points for eating in nature, as that provides us with additional benefits.
  • Turn your attention to your five senses.-What do you hear in your environment? Can you hear yourself chewing?

    -What do you see in your environment? How does your food look?

    -What do you smell in your environment? How does your lunch smell?

    -What do you feel? Can you feel your feet on the ground? Your back on the chair? How does the food feel in your mouth?

    -Finally, pay attention to how your food tastes.

  • Notice the impermanence of your lunch — how the food travels into your mouth, is there for a bit while you chew, and then it’s gone, down the gullet.

Like meditation, mindful eating brings loads of benefits. For example, Elissa Epel, director of the UCSF Center for Obesity Assessment, Study, and Treatment, led a study that showed that the more mindfulness women in her study practiced, the more their anxiety, stress, and deep belly fat decreased.

Even when (actually, especially when) we feel too busy to stop working for lunch, we tend to gain increases in our productivity by doing so. And in the process, we are able to better access the part of our brain that makes us more creative and better problem solvers. But you don’t have to trust me (or the science) on this one: Just try it and see.

Let us know what happens in the comments, below.

Photo credit: Phil and Pam Gradwell