Monday, 11 July 2011

Take a grownup recess...why taking a break away from your desk is a good thing

Just came across this item from the Harvard Business Review Management Tip of the Day and it definitely struck a chord with me, because this is a habit that I am trying to acquire at the moment!

Harvard Business Review states:
"It's widely accepted that children need time to get out of the classroom and just play. Why do we assume adults grow out of this? The truth is taking breaks from work makes you more productive."

The reason I decided to change things - or at least try to - was after a conversation with a friend, following protracted discussions trying to arrange a simple lunch meetup. My friend was horrified that there were times I felt guilty over leaving the office for more than 15 minutes at lunchtime! She reminded me that getting away from your desk for a more substantial amount of time shouldn't even be regarded as a luxury, but rather a necessity! Since then I have tried on at least some days of the week, to take at least 45 mins, if not the full hour. I have to admit it's a struggle at times, because when we are all really busy as a team, it's hard to walk away from it even temporarily, while some others beaver away at their desk whilst gulping down a sandwich at the same time. However, I was also thinking recently about what the qualities of a 'good' manager are, and I realised that one of the things I admire most in current/previous managers are those who not only encourage their team members to take adequate breaks, but also those who set a good example by taking a break themselves also. I think this really helps to ease any guilt that team members may feel otherwise.

Consequently I am trying to look upon my taking a more adequate lunch break not only as something that will benefit my own health and wellbeing, but it's also something that is setting a good example to the others in my team - and since building up a more mentoring/supervisory role with them is one of my aims, I think that this can only be a good thing.

When I do take a prolonged break at lunch, I either go to meet a friend for coffee or a quick bite, or simply just take my book and sit outside (plenty of benches and walls to sit on near our office that are thankfully set a little bit away from the madding crowd of the City!). If I have telephone calls to make, I'll do that if possible too - although interestingly, one of the tips from Harvard Business Review was actually to switch your phone off!

I think the feelings of guilt that we often associate with taking a full lunch break are sadly part and parcel of working for an extremely busy firm in the 21s century...but I would be interested to hear if anyone else has encountered such problems, and how they have dealt with them...

I'll leave you with HBR's top 3 tips on 'grownup recess':

  1. Take a cell phone break. Turn off your device for 30 minutes. Give your mind a rest from the stream of incoming messages.
  2. Treat yourself to a weekly food splurge. You have to shop for food anyway, why not find ways to make it more fun? Buy an unusual food you've never cooked before or visit a new farmers' market.
  3. Do a crossword or read a book at lunch. Again, no extra time involved. Use the 20 minutes it takes you to eat a sandwich to engage in a non-work activity.


  1. I'm guilty of taking my lunch at my desk most days...partly because of the openplan-to-the-office Big Brother kitchen on this floor not being a nice place to try and relax in, and partly because lunchtime is when I feel it's ok to surf the net for fun. Also, as the sole member of library staff in this office, I'm only setting a bad example for myself, so when I get asked to do work because I'm sitting at my desk, I only have myself to blame...

    Reading a book (or doing anything non-work) at my desk is something that can feel very odd: for me, "work" happens about 95% of the time on my to be sitting in front of it, ignoring it feels a bit wrong, somehow! :D People have also given me odd looks when they find me reading at my desk: who would have thought it - a librarian, enjoying reading! Sometimes I do small, portable craft projects too - another one that gets puzzled looks.

    But hey, lawyers: its my desk, and my break - I'll do what I want on it :)

  2. That's interesting, because a lunch break out of the office is one of those things that has *always* been essential for me - I don't think I've everdone otherwise. Even better is a lunchtime walk - which inevitably results in a wide-awake, productive, idea-filled afternoon, which is, quite frankly, much more pleasant for everyone. Stick with it! If you keep doing it, others will see the difference it makes and start doing it themselves. I'll look forward to hearing how things change as a result...