The Mysterious Absence of Your Lunch Break

Missing Lunch

I have this friend…

This friend is a diligent worker.  This friend shows up to work earlier and earlier every year.  This friend leaves work later and later.  This friend  eats a very abbreviated lunch at their desk.  This friend handles urgent work e-mail on the weekend (and most e-mail is urgent).  This friend has lost touch with many friends and family.  This friend has fallen into the trap.

This friend’s name:  WAY TOO MANY FUCKING PEOPLE

I understand, you work these hours because you have to, not because you want to.  The alternative could very likely spell unemployment, Ramen, mass transit, and 1-ply toilet paper.  The few extra hours at the office are worth not wiping with wax paper.  On this, we agree.

Here’s where we might not agree: compromising your sanity for the sake of your livelihood

Working eighty hour weeks is unacceptable*.  It’s unacceptable because, believe it or not, it’s avoidable.  That’s right, there’s a very real chance that you can work fewer hours, while not only keeping your job, but excelling (not the Microsoft kind) in the process.

* = If you’re working your life’s passion, there are no thresholds, limits, or constranits.  In this situation you aren’t working, you’re putting in time to get to where you’re supposed to be.  You aren’t living for Friday.  You aren’t suicidal on Monday.  The feeling is totally different.  This scenario is ideal.  

The Why

But before we tackle the how, we must confront the why.  It may seem silly to ask the question “why should I work fewer hours?”  The answer is obvious: because working more blows harder than the fat kid extinguishing his birthday candles.  There are a million things you’d rather do than sit in conference room watching three just-above-totally-incompetent humans restate each other in their own words.

But the fact of reality is that people are creatures of habit.  Once you start stringing together a few excessive work weeks, excessive work weeks become the norm.  Although it’s not desirable, it’s what we’re used to.

But there is a very compelling reason why you shouldn’t be working eighty hour work weeks: it’s raping your soul.

You get to work at 7, leave at 7 (the other one), while failing to give yourself a minute of reprieve in between.  You eat lunch at your desk!!!  Forget the fact that your digestion suffers while stuffing your face over e-mail.  Forget the fact that sucking your lunch down in 4.5 bites will do little to satiate (the purpose of eating).  This is a matter of principle.  Work shouldn’t feel like suffocation, whereby the day’s end marks your release from the stranglehold.   It’s time to take a stand.

“I vow to eat lunch outside, under the sun.  I vow to grant myself an hour to enjoy the day.  I vow to start taking care of my mental health.” 

Maybe you’re too much of the nose-to-the-grindstone type to be convinced that an hour away from e-mail is acceptable use of your time. Sixty minutes away from your desk would breed more anxiety than relief.  For you, there is a much more convincing reason to go clear your mind, it will make you better at your job.  Are you more productive when you’re happy, refreshed, and not a slave to a set of unhealthy routines?  I know I am.

Assuming your work involves any degree of creativity or big picture conceptualization, the worst thing you can do to your productivity is abuse your sanity.  A clear mind is a creative mind.  You already make attempts to preserve your sanity through Facebook, YouTube, or Shit[insert any noun]Says.  The problem with using Facebook as your tool for sanity preservation is that Facebook isn’t satisfying; it’s easily accessed and a better alternative to what you’re supposed to be doing.  If you replaced every minute spent perusing your Newsfeed with real fulfillment, you’d be happier and more productive (A causes B).

But again, this is a principle stand.  The goal of life isn’t attached to a dollar sign.  The goal of life is happiness (you would spend said money in hopes of achieving happiness, but misery doesn’t have to be the price tag – and money is rarely the answer).  Happiness is mental health.  Mental health is taking care of yourself.  Taking care of yourself means NOT EATING YOUR TRADER JOES WRAP AT YOUR FUCKING DESK.

The How

Okay, here’s the $803,055 question (I’ve never understood the reference quite honestly, which won’t prevent me from butchering using it).  How do we maintain, if not improve our productivity in the process of working fewer hours?

I thought you’d never ask.

The answer starts with taking a step back.  Every day, you’re given a set of tasks.  You’re given a set of metrics to measure your productivity of said tasks.  You do the tasks, you’re given more tasks.  The cycle repeats.  That’s a job.

That’s also the trap.  Who makes the rules for what you’re supposed to be doing?  Your boss?  Your boss’ boss?  Here’s an interesting fact about your boss and your boss’ boss.  They’re people- and likely no smarter than you.  Maybe they went to school for longer than you.  Maybe they’ve been at the company for a few extra years.  But, odds are, they weren’t born with a pre-disposition to be the unquestioned authority of what you do.

The point is – your job isn’t merely to do the tasks assigned to you.  Your job is to make as big an impact at your company as possible.  In most cases, that will fall outside the scope of your “job description”.   The person who best knows how to make the greatest impact at work is you.  You bring a unique set of skills, a unique perspective, and unique energy to your company.  Don’t mask that.  Find the inefficiencies.  Fix them.  Make it known that you’re shaking shit up.  Take chances.  If anyone above you has any brains, they will take notice.  They will notice your creativity.  They will notice your leadership.   They will notice your innovation.  You know what they won’t notice (or more likely stop noticing)?

That you took an hour at the park to enjoy your lunch.

Work smarter.  Not harder.

Be happier.

  • Jas

    The Congregation of the Maaan Fix Yo Life, Rev. Zach Davis.

  • AMEN!

  • We believe in taking lunch breaks. We have a standard of giving 100% to your work and 100% to your breaks. So if you are eating at your desk, you are not giving 100% to either. This standard goes for in the office or in the field. It also goes for staff and managers, alike.

  • Gail Gray/CarolinaATMom

    Thanks Zach, for this very important reminder.  The day after I read this, I followed your advice and instead of eating lunch in 15 minutes in my car in a grocery store parking lot, (which I do 3 days a week, driving up to 100 miles a day to see clients with traumatic brain injuries, and 2 days a week eat w/clients at a day program). I decided to find a park and at least eat my lunch on a park bench. We need that time away to let our minds rest, process and prepare for the afternoon’s duties.  Both you and my son’s lessons (Loner)  learned form the AT trail, in addition to your book, blog and his videos, are teaching me to re-examine and re-imagine my life to make it more authentic and soulful.  We can’t let society wrap us so deeply in its net that we forget who we are on a human, deep level instead of a robot just slogging through the work day to survive in someone’s else’s dream. 

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  • Eric

    Zach, I’m sorry to hear that so many workers eat lunch at their desks.  At my job they tell me I must take an hour lunch.  Its contractual.  When I work more than 8 hours a day it’s time and a half.  The company doesn’t like when we stay past our 8 hour shift because then they owe us more money!!  More people can have these benefits too if they come together and demand fair treatment and unionize!! Tomorrow 5/3/2012 fight for workers rights at 5:30pm in front of Carlos bakery and Verizon!!