Do you typically spend your lunch hour scarfing down an unhealthy meal at your desk? Maybe you run out for a quick bite but keep your eyes glued to your smartphone. Or perhaps you just skip lunch altogether.
Experts say your lunch hour is critical for keeping your productivity and energy levels up. Working or rushing through it can be detrimental to your success.
“Your lunch hour is your chance to get refocused, reenergized, and refueled (literally) for the rest of your day,” says Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and author of The Humor Advantage. “Successful people treat it like the half-time show at a football game — an opportunity to regroup and consider how they’re going to play out the rest of their day.”
Dale Kurow, a New York-based executive coach, agrees. She says the most successful people she knows don’t spend their lunch hour at their desk. They use that time to do things like meet new people, exercise, and read. “Being tied to your desk only expands your waistline and rarely results in making a dent in the pile of work awaiting you.”
Here are 15 things successful people do during their lunch hours:
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1. They plan their day with lunch in mind
Successful people never schedule important meetings or conference calls right at lunchtime, and they typically block off at least 10 minutes of free time after lunch to reassess their goals for the day and shift priorities around as needed, Kerr says.
2. They get up and get out
Even on the occasions where you feel you must work through lunch, always get away from your desk — at least for a few minutes.
That’s what successful people do, Kerr says. “In the worst-case scenario, if you have to work through lunch, working in a different location will at least offer up a much needed change of scenery and perspective.”
3. They network
Try and set a goal to have lunch with a different person in your office or network at least once a week, either as an introduction or to catch up.
“You are guaranteed to learn something new about your organization or industry, and may even make some new mentors and friends in the process,” says Ryan Kahn, a career coach, founder of The Hired Group, and author of Hired! The Guide for the Recent Grad.
4. They get organized
“Take advantage of this short break from work by making a to-do list for your personal life — or even to cross a few items off that list,” Kahn says. “Feeling like things are in control and organized in your life outside of work will free up mental energy and reduce stress levels to perform better professionally.”
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5. They take the time to actually eat
A lot of people skip lunch altogether because they’re busy or just not hungry. But it may be a good idea to eat something — even if it’s a small meal.
Writing for LiveStrong.com, Carly Schuna explains:
“Eating in the middle of the day, several hours after breakfast, re-energizes your body and can raise blood sugar levels when focus and concentration are flagging.”
“If you’re feeling sluggish, eating even a small lunch can renew your energy and help you feel refreshed and ready to take on the next several hours.”
6. They eat something healthy — and do so mindfully
Successful people eat healthy, and eat mindfully, Kerr says. “Nutritionists talk about the need for people to be mindful when they are eating, which means eating slowly, appreciating the food, and being fully present.”
Not being mindful leads to poor dietary choices such as eating too fast or eating junk food, which not only affects your health in the long run, buts also affects your stress level and ability to focus in the afternoon.
Lisa De Fazio, a healthy-lifestyle expert and registered dietitian, previously told Business Insider that high-fat, high-sugar meals and snacks make us sleepy and have low energy — which can seriously hurt your productivity and ability to concentrate.
7. They work out
Exercising during lunch provides a great energy boost and sense of accomplishment for the second part of the workday. “A regular workout schedule, in addition to promoting good health, has been shown to reduce stress and increase focus,” Kahn explains. “These are all positive things for your performance at work, so get moving.”
8. They reflect on their morning
Lunch is the ideal time to evaluate the progress you’ve made, Kerr says. “Take the time to self-reflect on what you have accomplished. Expressing gratitude is a major happiness booster and a great way to keep your momentum up for the afternoon.”
If you have had a difficult morning, then remind yourself that you can hit the reset button over lunch and head into the afternoon with a positive attitude.
9. They read
Successful people don’t spend their lunch hour reading emails and reports. They catch up on newspapers, blogs, and books, says Teri Hockett, chief executive of What’s For Work?, a career site for women.
Kerr agrees. He says reading helps you focus, offers a mental break from work, and can give you some much-needed solitude.
10. They accomplish personal tasks
Hockett says successful people might run errands during their lunch hour, which they would not otherwise be able to take care of during the day.
They also use this time to make personal calls, schedule appointments, write thank you notes, and achieve any other tasks from their personal to-do list — after taking the time to eat, of course.
11. They do things they enjoy
Successful people also use this time of day to do things they enjoy most, like seeing a friend, going shopping, or visiting the park. “All of these activities will be like mini-vacations and help refresh you and completely change the channel. You will go back to the office with a different mindset,” Kurow says.
Of course you can’t make plans to do fun things during lunch every day — but the occasional meal with a friend or trip to your favorite boutique can be good for you and your productivity.
12. They unplug and recharge
Use your lunch hour to recharge by shutting off electronics and enjoying some peace and quiet, Hockett says.
13. They spend time on career planning
During your lunch hour, take a few minutes to think about and write down what you want your professional future to look like, Kurow says. “Successful people rarely have time in the office to do this. Take a notebook, and find a place to journal your thoughts. Then decide what the first step would be to move those thoughts, wishes, and plans forward.”
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14. They brainstorm
Successful people use this time to dream of new concepts, ideas, and solutions that can be applied to their professional and/or personal lives, Hockett concludes.
15. They plan out their afternoon
While you should take a break from thinking about work during your lunch hour, it’s smart to spend at least a few minutes coming up with a plan for tackling your afternoon tasks. You’ll return to your desk feeling motivated and ready to dive back in.