8 Habits That Are Helping Me Reclaim My Lunch Break from Unhealthy WFH Boundaries

updated Dec 28, 2020
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Raise your hand if you’re new to working remotely and the entire process has proven to be more difficult than how you fantasized it would be while commuting to an office every day. While limits, lockdowns, and distancing have become our day-to-day, remote working has seemingly ignored plenty of boundaries on its own, resulting in a work schedule that stops for no one — and especially not your lunch. 

I, for one, have spent many “lunch breaks” multitasking: on my computer replying to important emails while drinking coffee — and sometimes munching on some almonds — and nothing else. On a good day, I will take the time to make toast, or slice up tomatoes and cheese, but again, will bring my meal to my desk and eat while working. This not only induces my migraines from staring at a screen for too long but also makes me a little irritated and snappy because I do not allow myself to get some air and take a short break during the long work day. 

Though it can seem easy to simply work right through your lunch, it might be doing more harm than good. Doing so contributes to the widespread belief that we should be “making the most” of every second we have right now. However, taking a break is making use of your time, and it helps to look at even a 30-minute lunch break away from your computer screen as an investment for your future self. Here are eight tips to protect your lunch break from almost anything.

1. Book a lunch with yourself.

Even before working from home was a widespread phenomenon, many companies relied on the ease of online calendars. And while this makes everyone’s schedule available to everyone, it also means you can protect your schedule from last-minute meetings. Book an hour and mark it as non-negotiable. (It’s also worth alerting your coworkers and boss on the side that this is your lunch hour, so they’ll understand why you have a standing appointment.) The reminder might be digital, but it will help others respect your downtime. Plus, you’ll receive a notification reminding you to actually take your lunch when the time comes. 

2. Physically change locations — even if you work at the dining room table.

Something that has become extremely common while working from home is eating in front of a screen. When you are about to take a break or eat lunch, make sure you do it somewhere other than your “home office” — even if that means moving from your desk to your dining table and back. Whether you eat in another room or have a space (and appropriate weather) to eat outside, the change of scenery will help you mentally reset.

3. Schedule a virtual lunch with a friend.

Unless you live in the same neighborhood or apartment building as a friend, it can be difficult (and potentially unsafe) to see them in person. But the power of technology can help create a safe version of catching up over lunch. Set a time to have an online lunch with your friend over Zoom, which will not only force you to stop working but also be something to look forward to. You can even set food-themes, so you eat similar food at the same time, making it almost feel like you are at the same restaurant. 

4. Meal prep (but leave something to assemble the day of).

It can be stressful and time-consuming to assemble a meal in the middle of your work day, which is why prepping your lunch as you would have in the Before Times can be helpful. (The only difference is you’re no longer transporting your food in a daily lunch bag.) Leave one aspect of the meal to prepare day-of, so that you can take a break in the kitchen. This can be making a grilled cheese to go with your tomato soup, mixing the dressing for your salad, or blending the ingredients of your smoothie together. 

5. Stock up on snacks you enjoy eating.

It can be easy to lean into habits, like always picking up the same meal at the office cafeteria. If you miss that sense of routine, you can stock your fridge with plenty of one meal, and portion it out throughout the week (again with the meal prep!). You’ll get time away from your computer as you work in the kitchen, but you’ll know what to do implicitly, which takes the stress away from accidentally messing up.

6. Order out, as a treat.

Who says you can’t have takeout for your lunch break? If you miss running out for lunch, try ordering delivery once a week—maybe on Fridays, to celebrate the end of the weekday. Not only will you be supporting local businesses, but also will have a delicious pick-me-up that will definitely give you the incentive to leave your desk for a bit. 

Credit: Viv Yapp

7. Find new recipes you’re excited to savor.

Try new recipes and cuisines throughout your week. If you know you have something delicious waiting for you in the fridge, you are more likely to stop working and really focus on the, uh, fruits of your culinary efforts. Food is also a wonderful way to experience different cultures — and given that traveling isn’t necessarily the best or safest idea right now — you can explore through your kitchen until the time comes to pack your suitcase again. 

8. Don’t be afraid to communicate!

If you feel like you cannot stop or cannot take a lunch break, talk to your supervisor — and feel free to mention how research has proven that taking breaks actually increases your productivity.  Similarly, The Muse shares that burnout can happen after working endlessly day in and day out. The solution? Putting yourself first and talking to your boss about better protecting your lunch break. Need help guiding the conversation for optimal results? Business coach Krissy Leonard offers some scenarios and scripts for you to ask for a lunch break without ruining your professional relationship. 

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: 8 Habits That Helped Me Reclaim My Lunch Break From Unhealthy WFH Boundaries