I recently witnessed a super-sad sight in the office. Walking by a coworker’s desk while she was on lunch, I found her staring blankly at her screen, numbly mouse-clicking away her one hour of freedom. She was playing an old pixilated version of solitaire.
Which in and of itself is her prerogative. But she didn’t even seem to be enjoying herself. She seemed bored out of her mind, actually.
Now, I have nothing against using your lunch break to decompress. But there’s quality time (time that rejuvenates, refreshes, relaxes), and there’s just plain killing time. And I kill enough of my time with my actual work, thank you very much. When it comes to my one hour of “me” time, I want to do something worthwhile with it — and you should, too.
Better ways to spend your lunch break
There are two ways to approach your lunch hour: the Rest-and-Relax approach, and the Get-Shit-Done approach. So rather than building up your Farmville stock, try these ideas on your lunch break. Unless Farmville really, truly makes you happy, in which case, farm away!
The R&R lunch
You work hard enough the other hours of your day, so you need your lunch for “down time.” Understandable. Here are some ways to relax, recharge, and return to work a little better off:
Read a good book. (Or magazine or blog.) Pick one you really enjoy, something that inspires you or engrosses you or makes you laugh till coffee comes out your nose.
Take a nap. If you’ve got an office door you can close, a break room that’s relatively empty, or even a comfy pillow in your car, a midday nap can be just the reset you need to make it through the rest of the day. Just make sure to have some sort of timer (like an alarm on your phone) so you don’t blissfully nap away the rest of the afternoon.
Watch a show. With the wonders of websites like Hulu, you can catch up on your favorite shows from anywhere. A little Parks & Rec in the middle of the workday? Why, I think I will!
Go for a stroll. Most of us spend our days hunched over desks in fluorescently lit offices. Getting out in the fresh air and stretching your legs can do wonders to boost your mood and your energy level. Plus you’re getting in some exercise — go you! Organize a walking group with your co-workers for bonus social points.
Get outside, period. It doesn’t have to be active. Just sitting under a tree for 15 minutes can make you feel infinitely better after being cooped up in an office all morning.
Catch up with friends. Meet someone for lunch, write some e-mails, make some phone calls. Remind yourself of the world outside your office.
Listen to good tunes. Whether it’s heavy metal to release stress or Barry Manilow to make you feel all calm and happy, tune into the music that speaks to you and lose yourself for a while.
Get a massage. This is the ultimate way to R&R on your lunch break. In fact, I kinda want to do this myself now…
Play a game — if you really enjoy it. I don’t want to hate on computer games, because they can be a good way to entertain yourself and give your brain a rest in the midst of a hectic day. Just please, if you find yourself starting to resent the mere sight of an angry bird, find something else to do for a little while. I’m begging you.
The Get-Shit-Done lunch
Work on a Personal Project. Whether you’re writing a novel, trying to launch a side business or making a scrapbook of photos of your awesome dog Sneakers, getting something done for you can make you feel productive and put you in a better mood.
Run errands. Hate wasting your evenings and weekends on errands? Why not use your break to get some of them out of the way? Run to the bank, pick up your dry cleaning, buy some groceries. Then kick back and actually enjoy your free time after work hours.
Make some extra $$. Take online surveys, find small tasks on Amazon’s mTurk, do some freelancing. Every little bit helps.
Learn something new. A language, a hobby, whatever interests you. It might actually be easier to finally sit down and focus on it when you’ve got a set time limit and no other distractions.
Work on getting out — of your job, that is. This can be a tricky one, but it’s doable if you’re discrete. Update your resume, do some job-searching, schedule (or attend) interviews. Disclaimer: Be careful. Only you know how closely your company monitors your activities. Job-searching on your smartphone and making calls from your car may be the best way to play it safe. This one is a risk, and best attempted only if you know you can safely get away with it.
How do you prefer to spend your lunch break? Are you an R&R type, or do you like to Get Shit Done? What suggestions do you have using your break for all it’s worth?
Kelly Gurnett, a.k.a. “Cordelia,” runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.