Before you spend another lunch scarfing down food at your desk with your eyes glued to your computer screen, here’s some food for thought.
Lunch breaks can be important opportunities to recharge, find creative inspiration and make business connections, according to many experts. Research suggests that certain lunch activities can make you more productive — and many successful people agree.
Unfortunately, with workplace stress levels on the rise and most Americans doing work-related activities off the clock, many workers feel they don’t have time for lunch. Just 19 percent of workers in the U.S. and Canada take lunch breaks away from their desks on a regular basis, down from 35 percent in 2011, according to a study last year by Right Management, a human-resources consulting firm.
But our bad lunch habits might be making us more stressed, while at the same time making us worse at our jobs.
Here are ten things super successful people do during lunch:
1. They leave their desks. “Staying at your desk is a big no-no in my book,” Michael Kerr, president of Humor at Work, says in an interview with Forbes. “There are more and more reports on the dangers of sitting too long, so even just getting up to walk to another room to eat is important.”
2. They go outside. A walk in the park can help rejuvenate the mind after a morning of hard work. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that subjects with recent exposure to nature performed better on memory and attention tests than those who did not.
3. They exercise. Steve Cooper, editor-in-chief of Hitched Magazine, says he runs during his lunch break every day. “The sweat, the fatigue, the endorphin rush all give me a boost in the afternoon and into the evening,” he writes in a column on Forbes. “It sounds counterintuitive, but after my runs I have more energy for the rest of the day and my mind is again sharp and ready to tackle any task.”
4. They read. “[Take] in as much information as possible throughout the day—reading magazines, watching films,” says advertising executive Tor Myhren. The man behind the E-Trade talking babies campaign adds that “all that information in your brain” creates an “inspiration overload.” Lunch could be just the opportunity you need to get your creative juices flowing.
5. They eat healthy. A recent study found that those who stick to healthy diets are 25 percent more likely to be high performers at work than those who do not, according to Business News Daily.
6. But they don’t over-eat. NPR points out that over-eating can cause your body to produce too much insulin, which lowers blood sugar and can make you tired or even depressed. The phenomenon is popularly known as a “food coma,” and it makes getting back to work more challenging than it has to be.
7. They grab lunch with friends or colleagues. “Lunch is an excellent time to continue to build relationships and network with others,” career coach Anita Attridge tells Forbes. Bradford Shellhammer, the co-founder of Fab.com, agrees that you should never eat lunch by yourself. “Food is also social to me, so I’d never want to check out and eat alone,” he explains to Entrepreneur Magazine.
8. Sometimes, they even do lunch with enemies! Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Atlantic, tells the Wall Street Journal lunch can be a chance to bridge the gap with a rival. “Years ago British Airways went to extraordinary lengths to put us out of business,” he said. “After the court case, I rang up Sir Colin Marshall, who ran [British Airways], and said, ‘would you like to come out for lunch?’ … We had a delightful lunch at my house in London and became friends and buried the hatchet.”
9. They listen to music. Listening to music is a great way to blow off steam during your lunch break because it provides what the Mayo Clinic calls a “mental distraction.” The result: reduced muscle tension and decreased stress levels.
10. They take naps. Research suggests that daytime naps improve cognitive performance, The New York Times notes. That could be why Arianna Huffington created nap rooms at The Huffington Post. “Ultimately, at work, the most important thing is our energy,” she says in an interview with Business Insider. “It’s not exactly how many hours we are sitting at our desks, but how present are we when we’re there.”