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Lunchtime, Not Screentime

photo by steven lilley, via flickr creative commons

photo by steven lilley, via flickr creative commons

Did you eat lunch at your desk today?  I did, and most likely, so did 62% of Americans.  And to make matters worse, I wasn’t sitting at my desk reading love poems or the styles section or a novel or anything fun and distracting…I was staring at a screen.  I was typing.  I might have even had Microsoft Excel open.  And to make matters even worse, it’s a beautiful, sunny day outside.

Believe me, I didn’t wake up this morning thinking I’d eat lunch at my desk…it just sort of happened.  I didn’t have a lunch date and I wanted to carve out some time to get a workout in later in the day, so I plunked into my chair and mindlessly shoveled curry into my mouth in front of my computer screen, half focused on work and half focused on my curry.  Twenty minutes later, I hadn’t gotten much work done and I couldn’t recollect how the curry smelled or tasted.

The same truth I experience every single time I do it was reinforced yet again — eating lunch at my desk isn’t worth it.  It never has been, and I don’t believe it ever will be.  So why do I keep doing it — especially considering I’m now spending time each day writing a wellness blog (which I’ve also admittedly written during lunch in the past) and should know better?  I think it’s driven by an old way of thinking about productivity — the one in which minutes count more than effort and killing two birds with one stone is better than focusing on just one thing.  After all, that’s the way we grew up — looking around, more/faster seemed to trump smarter/better.

But our world is different now.  People value working smarter and better, doing things differently than in the past, and measuring impact instead of time.  Productivity gurus like Tony Schwartz (The Energy Project) espouse the importance of taking breaks.  Famous people like Arianna Huffington talk about the body’s need to restore (at Wisdom 2.0 she used the metaphor of the gazelle..running…resting…running…resting…running…resting).  And companies are (slowly) learning that it’s important to think about both short-term productivity and long-term sustainability.

So the good news is that we’re in a new era of working smarter and better; but the bad news is that old habits and mental models die hard.  We still eat at our desks thinking that it will make it easier or us to leave early or squeeze more into the day.  So what’s it going to take to change this habit?  Steering clear of the broader topic of habit change (future post) and staying focused on this one little shift (eating lunch at my desk), here are a few ways I’m actively trying to avoid falling into this routine:

  • Make lunch dates.  It’s awkward to eat lunch at your desk in front of your computer if you’re with a friend.  So awkward that you’ll probably never ever do it.
  • Use lunch as your excuse to get outside during the day.  We all need to see the sun during the day, so if you live in a place where it’s warm enough, commit to eating lunch outside a few days a week.
  • Go out.  As far as I know, restaurants don’t have computers.  And simply leaving your workplace during lunch can often help shift the mind away from work for a bit.
  • Eat “special” food.  Somehow, it seems easier to eat a turkey sandwich at my desk than a kale salad and roast chicken.  Make your lunch special, and you might be more motivated to make lunchtime special.
  • Schedule lunch into your day.  Block 30 minutes on your calendar and stick to it.  You might be surprised to see the people around you start to do the same.

These are just a few starters…what do you do to make sure screentime and lunchtime don’t mix?

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