Thanks to workplace law, you're entitled to a lunch break if you work full-time hours for a day. But despite this perk, not everyone takes that well-deserved physical and mental break. Less than one-third of people said in a recent survey that they only took lunch if they weren't too busy, and about one-quarter always ate lunch at their desks.
Don't be too quick to pat these people on the backs. Further studies show that the people who seemed to be working the hardest -- people who ate lunch while hunched over their keyboards and people who didn't eat at all, working straight through their lunch hours actually didn't work as efficiently as people who took their breaks.
These people burned out earlier, nodding off at their desks and needing time to check personal email or surf the web. We all need a little downtime and we can't be focused that hard for eight hours or more in a row. The truth is that taking lunch is as important as any other part of your day.
Here are four great tips to make the most of your lunch time.
1. Make it count.
Make use of this small window of time by doing something for yourself. Make that half hour or hour of lunch count by using this time to do something you've always wanted to do. Study for an online course that you're taking, or read books, or go for a run to train for that marathon that you are hoping to run.
Remember that this time adds up. If you get half an hour for lunch, that's 2.5 hours per week, or 125 hours a year. What can you do with 125 hours?
2. Bond with your coworkers.
You see your coworkers all the time, of course, but it's usually over stressful meetings and team pow-wows. Get to know your teammates over a relaxed sandwich, cafeteria food, or at a local restaurant.
You can still talk work, some companies pay for your lunch when you are having a work related discussion, but it will be more relaxed, which can make you more creative.
3. Get some exercise.
Sitting for eight or more hours a day can do a number on your whole body, especially your back, legs, arms, neck and eyes. Beat carpal tunnel syndrome and bad back and combat eyestrain by getting out during your lunch hour and moving your body.
Try running, yoga, or simply walking around the block. Many progressive companies have a gym at work to encourage their employees to be healthier and balance their lifestyles. If you're lucky enough to have one at your office, try out some of the classes or the equipment for a quick boost of energy.
There will likely be a shower where you can get cleaned up after, or you can quickly wipe yourself down and change before heading back to the office. No gym? Just going outside for a brisk walk can boost your mood and make you more creative and optimistic for the second half of the day. It can help you keep your sanity, too.
4. Make a date with a friend or your spouse.
Make the most of your hour by catching up with friends or even your spouse, if they work in the area. Often, people reserve weekends for family time, so weekdays are ideal for short catch-up meetings.
You could meet at the end of the day, but a lot of people just like to go home, which is why lunch is a good time. If you do this a couple of times a week, you're on your way to keeping in touch with everyone in your life that you usually don't have time to see.
Remember, your happiness depends on how you choose to live your life. How are you going to make the most of your free time?