Nearly 7 in 10 American employed adults are now working from home all or some of the time in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a May Gallup survey.
With so many of us no longer reporting to the office every day, how can we use this new work setup to our advantage? One way to do that: By actually taking a break at lunchtime.
“When you’re working from home, it’s easy to become unaware of when lunchtime is or to just power through it,” Lynn Taylor — a workplace expert and founder of the accessory company Behind The Buckle — told HuffPost. “But that habit can hurt you in the long run.”
Tempting as it might be to work through lunch to get more done, doing so may actually make you less — not more — productive.
“We only have the capacity to work deeply on tasks for around four hours of each day, so there is little value in stealing time from your lunch, as it may give you more time, but it makes you less productive, less creative and more likely to make mistakes, as well as pushing you towards burnout and an unhealthy work-life integration,” said Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist and well-being consultant.
You may also want to avoid “breaks” that keep you glued to your laptop or smartphone — like reading personal emails, catching up news or scrolling on social media, Chambers said. You won’t feel refreshed after; plus, you’re more likely to get sucked back into work that way.
To that end, we asked workplace experts to share some of the best ways to spend your lunch break while you’re WFH.
1. At the bare minimum, step away from your desk.
... Or the kitchen table, couch or wherever it is you do work at home. A change of scenery can be beneficial.
“It’s easy to do everything at your desk: eat lunch, make social calls, check the news and social media and so on,” Taylor said. “But removing yourself from your regular environment helps you clear your head, hit the reset button and experience a more positive, balanced day.”
Getting some fresh air is ideal, but if you can’t go outside, just moving to another part of the house can make a difference.
2. Make a healthy lunch. Then sit down and actually enjoy it.
“One of the potential benefits of working from home is access to all ingredients and appliances in your kitchen,” Chambers said. “Cooking is a mindful activity, which helps us disconnect from work and have a lunch break, which takes you out of your working environment.”
At the office, you might have been in the habit of ordering a greasy takeout meal or eating a sad, prepackaged salad at your desk. Now that you’re home, it may be easier to prepare something fresh and nutritious that won’t spike your blood sugar, leading to the inevitable afternoon slump.
If you’re someone who often forgets to eat lunch or feels too time-crunched to whip something up midday, consider preparing it the night before or in the morning, said clinical psychologist Jessica DiVento, mental health program manager at Google.
Practicing mindful eating — rather than scarfing down a sandwich while attempting five other tasks — can improve digestion and reduce stress.
“We should also aim to eat mindfully, making the space and time to enjoy our food, the flavors, smells and textures, engaging our senses and slowing us down,” Chambers said. “Being aware of our eating and being connected helps us to feel more grounded, breathe and certainly aids digestion.”
3. Step outside.
One of the challenges of working from home, especially during a pandemic, is feeling claustrophobic. You’re spending a lot more time in your house and your living space is now your workspace, too. That’s why it’s essential to get outdoors. During lunch, take a walk around the block or just sit outside to get some fresh air.
“By getting outside, we get the full sensory experience of the sun shining in our eyes, our feet hitting the ground, the wind blowing against our cheeks, the sounds of nature or neighborhood and the smell of new surroundings,” Chambers said. “The natural light stimulates serotonin production, making us feel happier. And by walking, we get our blood pumping, boosting our cognitive ability and getting rid of any brain fog.”
“This clarity helps us to tackle the afternoon with vitality while boosting our health and reducing our environmental stress,” he added.
4. Move your body.
“Working from home has many benefits, including no commute time,” Taylor said. “But one of the downsides is being too sedentary because everything is virtually within reach.”
To counter this, use your lunch time to get moving: Walk outside or stay inside and do some stretches or put on a good song and dance around your bedroom.
“Among the countless benefits: You‘ll be able to think more sharply and creatively,” Taylor added. “And it will improve your mood, too.”
You could also use the time to do a quick physical chore — like vacuuming or sweeping the floor. Any type of movement that gets the blood flowing “gives you more energy, both mentally and physically, to be productive the rest of your day,” DiVento said.
5. Spend time with a loved one — in person or virtually.
If you used to eat lunch with your colleagues pre-pandemic, WFH life might leave you hungry for that midday burst of connection. But it’s possible to recreate this at home, even if it means doing so via a more social distancing-friendly option like phone or video call.
“Whether it be the family, a pet, or even a telephone call, it is essential to find ways to socially connect that disconnect us from work,” Chambers said.
Parents who are now working from home can also spend this time with their kids.
“Involving them in the routine to eat and move during your lunch can help you not only get a break, but also give you time to connect and be present with them,” DiVento said.
6. Meditate or do some other grounding practice.
Use part of your lunch break to slow down, breathe deeply and check in with yourself. You can meditate in silence or follow a guided mediation on your phone (just make sure to set it to “do not disturb” mode first).
“Get yourself in a relaxed position and find a peaceful place get away from notifications and distraction,” Taylor said. “Even 10 minutes of this daily will help you to breathe deeply and help give you a broader, healthier perspective on your day’s work — if not your life in general!”
If meditation isn’t your thing, there are countless other ways to take a restorative break.
“Consider a reflective practice, such as napping, meditation, silence, prayer or journaling,” Chambers said. “Or a creative practice, such as gardening, coloring or drawing.”