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Why You Need a Lunch Break and How to Take One

Did you take a lunch break today? If you feel like you can't step away from your desk, you're not alone. Research shows that fewer and fewer Americans feel comfortable leaving their desks for a lunch break. In our "always-on" world, it's fast becoming the norm to work right through the lunch hour ━ answering emails, jumping into meetings or putting out the latest fire.

Two co-workers sitting down having lunch.

Staying inside in the same location all day, however, is detrimental to creative thinking and productivity. Doing so ultimately makes us less effective at our jobs, reports Harvard Business Review. When you work straight through lunch, you're no longer operating at peak productivity. You may squeeze in 20 more minutes of work, but your overall performance quality may diminish.

Even a short 15-minute break can help give our brains the time to reflect, process and reach that "a-ha!" moment. To get the most out of a lunch break, consider the following:

Head outside for fresh air and fresh ideas.

Even if you only have 10 minutes, heading outside for a quick break can be energizing and refreshing. You don't even need to eat lunch ━ you just need to move. The American Heart Association recommends incorporating movement into every workday and scheduling it on your calendar. Treat this time just as you would a business call or team meeting ━ it's an appointment you can't break or miss.

Depending on the location of your office, you could walk down the block for a cup of coffee, sit on a bench at a nearby park, or take a 10-minute stroll on a walking trail. Time spent outside in nature, even for a brief break, can have a positive effect, boosting creativity and productivity.

Create a workplace culture that prioritizes taking a break.

As an employee, it can feel risky stepping away from your desk for lunch if no one else is doing the same. Invite co-workers or your team to join you for a break. This could mean walking down the street to a coffee shop or meeting in the break room for lunch. To maximize the benefit of stepping away from your desk, try to put down the phone and avoid checking email.

If you are a manager, set a precedent by blocking 30 minutes on your schedule every day for a break and encouraging team members to do the same. There's a perception in corporate America that eating at our desks means we are more dedicated and effective. By prioritizing a quick break, you give your team permission to do the same.

Connect with co-workers across your company.

Chatting about the latest must-see TV episode or weekend plans may seem like small talk, but these casual conversations are important. Talking about life outside the office strengthens camaraderie and team bonds, which can have a productivity-boosting effect on group projects. These conversations also help employees feel more engaged and connected to their workplace, helping to increase employee retention rates.

If possible, schedule a weekly all-company lunch with different themes, like "Taco Tuesday" or "Sushi Friday." When the whole company takes a break together, it's a great opportunity for co-workers to interact who might not normally do so. Building relationships across departments creates opportunities for the innovation and idea exchange that drives business success.

Still on the fence about taking a lunch break? Try adding a short break into your schedule twice a week and see how this change affects your thinking, productivity and engagement.


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