A woman working through lunch. She’s holding a sandwich in one hand and writing notes with the other in front of a laptop.
Image: © nelen.ru/Stock.adobe.com

How to avoid working through lunch

31 Jan 2019

Working through lunch is a nasty habit to get into at work as it can leave you feeling drained and actually make you less productive.

We can all be tempted to work through lunch when we have a massive workload to do. Especially in the depths of freezing cold weather, it can be tempting to bring in a sandwich and stay warm at your desk.

However, working through lunch is a terrible idea, even if it is to avoid the winter weather outside the office. And, if you’re doing it in order to get more done, you may be left very disappointed.

We already know that overworked employees often deal with chronic stress and this can easily lead to job burnout. Striving to work really hard for every second of the working day without taking a break will not lead to positive productivity or even a decent output.

There is plenty of research out there that proves stepping away from your desk improves how your brain works and gives it that much-needed boost for the afternoon slog.

Think about it: can you run a longer distance by slowing down every now and again, or by sprinting non-stop? Working through lunch is the mental equivalent of forcing your brain to sprint a marathon at top speed.

As a self-confessed lazy person, it can be so tempting to stay sitting at my desk, especially if I have brought my lunch from home and the weather isn’t particularly enticing. But when I stay at my desk, even if I don’t intend to, I find myself working through lunch.

An email here, a checklist there, a couple of queries that will take five minutes. But those five-minute tasks add up fast and suddenly it’s time to get back to work. Did I really stop working?

Of course, it’s obvious to most of us that working through lunch is a bad idea, but in practice it can be hard to discipline yourself. I have some tips that may help.

Split your lunch in two

Some people really struggle with the idea of taking the full hour away from their desk, especially if they feel like they’re on a roll. At this point, I need to remind you that even if you are on a roll, that will crash to a halt if you don’t take a break of any kind.

However, you might prefer to take two half-hour breaks instead of one big hour. If that suits you better, that’s OK, but make sure you schedule them in. Don’t just say that you will and then power all the way through to hunger, only taking one of your half-hour breaks. The system only works if you take your full hour one way or another.

Move away from devices

Even if you’re a fiend for your phone, one hour away from it won’t kill you. Unplugging during your lunch break is an easy way to avoid working through lunch.

The danger of only stepping away from your desk is the work emails or Slack notifications that can trickle into your phone, and you find yourself back in the same situation – an email here, a query there …

If you have a bad habit of answering every notification like I do, go somewhere else to take your break and leave your devices behind.

Listen to a podcast

There are plenty of podcasts that are 50 to 60 minutes long, perfect for lunchtime listening. Having a podcast to listen to while taking your lunch is a great way to ensure that you don’t head back to your desk too early.

It also makes it easier to do other tasks at the same time. Whether you’re prepping or buying lunch, you can still have your headphones in. This also means you can listen to a podcast while on the move, which brings me on to my next point.

Take a short walk

OK, my intention was to make this the lazy person’s guide to not skipping lunch. However, it’s still important to point out the value of going for a walk and getting a little fresh air.

Obviously, I don’t expect you to go out in torrential rain or blistering winds. But if it’s in any way possible to step outside and do a single lap of your building or car park, it will be enough to boost your brain.

If the weather’s too bad to go out, take a walk around the interior of the building. You won’t get the fresh air, but you will get your legs moving, which is especially important for office workers.

Plan a task for your lunch break

No matter what you like to do on your break, make sure you do actually plan something. Write down your plan, whether that’s a page of a colouring book, a podcast episode or reading one chapter.

If you’re checklist-oriented like me, writing down your lunchtime ‘task’ can be a good motivator to get it done. Even simply writing down ‘lunch’ and refusing to cross it off until you’ve come back from your hour-long break can help if you’re a slave to your to-do list. Again, you’re not alone there.

Finally, there’s a lot to be said for being present while you’re physically eating your lunch. Eating your actual lunch rarely takes longer than 10 or 15 minutes, so consider leaving those minutes as sacred and just concentrate on eating before you relax with a good book or a podcast.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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