If you are lucky enough to have a job, and have been working from home for the past six months, you may have forgotten that you still have a lunch break: time that belongs to you, to do with what you will. Stepping away from your desk or workspace to do something different is an important part of claiming that time. But what should you do? Here are 15 suggestions to help re-energise your days.
Phone a friend – or make a new one
Being separated from colleagues has stripped us of a lot of routine human interaction. Your lunch hour is often a convenient time to reconnect with old friends, says Clare Evans, a time management coach. “Often, we’re too busy to make the time in the evening, but a quick catch-up can get you back in touch and talking,” she says. Otherwise, you could challenge yourself to speak to a stranger while you are in a shop or a cafe. “Just have a chat as you grab your lunch, even if it’s the classic British opening gambit of discussing the weather,” says Evans.
Visit your favourite tree
Don’t pretend you don’t have one. The key is to go outside, away from your computer screen, and if you combine it with exercise, so much the better. Susan Saunders, the author of The Age-Well Plan, says: “Seeing a tree combines so many of the habits that contribute to longevity: being outdoors in daylight, vital to keep our circadian clocks ticking accurately; exercise from walking; a chance to savour the moment. And even one lonely tree provides us with a little green space.”
Move – if only for a few minutes
You already know you should exercise, but it is especially important now that a lot of incidental activity has been stripped from our daily routines. Your lunch break is a chance to make it a daily practice: even minutes will make a difference over time, and it does not have to be a chore. Rachel Conlisk, an instructor with the Birmingham-based organisation Creative Active Lives, says a lunchtime spent Hula-hooping to music is the highlight of her day. “It’s brilliant exercise and always cheers me up and de-stresses me. I’m sure it’s the only thing keeping me sane.”
Tackle the junk drawer
Natalie Ward, the founder of a maternity sportswear brand, says she was inspired by the Netflix reality show Get Organised With The Home Edit to begin sorting out her house in her lunch breaks. “I started with the kitchen and am working my way around the house: cupboards, drawers, wardrobes. It’s so therapeutic.” You might even be able to fit in a run to the charity shop.
One of sex therapists’ top tips for how to have more sex is to structure it into your day: working from home extends the window of opportunity. It need not take up your whole break: a study in 2004 of 152 couples recorded an average duration of 12 minutes of foreplay and seven minutes of intercourse. Saunders says that having sex releases the hormone oxytocin, which lowers inflammation. This, she says, “will give you a whole new perspective on your afternoon”.
Watch that prestige TV series
Evans says a half-hour episode of TV is the ideal length of time for a restorative break from work. “Just don’t get tempted to binge watch,” she says. By pacing yourself with a series, allowing anticipation to build for the next day’s instalment, you might enjoy it more. At a rate of one episode every weekday, you would finish The Sopranos in about four months. (For a break from screens, you could instead read a book. At five hours a week, you would finish War and Peace in two months.)
Do some good
Saunders suggests spending your lunchtime writing to an MP about a cause you care about (not least for the wellbeing boost that philanthropy will give you). The Anti-Racism Daily email newsletter, written by Nicole Cardoza, details a daily step you can take to tackle racism and white supremacy. GuideToAllyship.com is a similarly practical resource, by Amélie Lamont, a product designer. Alternatively, you could spend your break on Zoom, mentoring young people who want to get into your industry, or volunteering (remotely or in your local area) via Do-It.org or NCVO.org.uk.
Learn to speak Italian, or play the piano
Spend your lunch break doing “something you normally never have time to do – learn a language, write a book, research your genealogy,” says Grace Marshall, a productivity expert. If you have always fancied playing the piano or another instrument, take a tip from Marshall. She has been fitting in a lot of violin practice. “It’s amazing how those daily half-hours add up.” Sarah Wheeler, a leadership coach based in London, says she has been spending her lunchtimes brushing up on her French and Spanish with the website Duolingo. Combine it with the time you save by not having to commute and you could be spending 10 hours each week on gaining a new skill, boosting your brainpower and memory.
Get a head start on dinner – for tonight, and next week
“Prepping food is surprisingly relaxing, and a great way of zoning out from all that brain work,” says Sam Gates, the author of The Batch Cook Book, out next month. “My all-time relaxing food prep job is making cute little round things like meatballs or bite-size falafels, like a child playing with Plasticine, while listening to my favourite podcast. They’re ideal for making at lunchtime because they need time to firm up in the fridge, and they also freeze really well, so you can make a huge batch and use them for several meals.” You could also knead bread dough for proving through the afternoon, peel or chop vegetables (or slow-cook meat) for dinner that night, or make muesli or overnight oats for breakfast tomorrow.
List three things you are grateful for
A consistent daily “gratitude practice” can rewire your brain towards optimism in three weeks. “The more specific you can be, the more benefits you will feel,” says Nataly Kogan, the founder of the wellbeing consultancy Happier. “Making gratitude part of your lunch break will help you feel less stressed and more motivated for the second half of your day.”
Get a quick rush of blood to the head
Eliza Flynn, a personal trainer, swears by lunchtime headstands: “I’d been feeling that I needed to do something totally different from desk work, and headstands have been brilliant. They really shake up my day and re-energise me.” The less adventurous might opt for crow pose tutorials on YouTube (Yoga with Adriene is hugely popular for good reason, with some sessions only 10 minutes long). Lianne Carolan, the founder of a company selling clothing designed for breastfeeding mothers, heads for a swing set in the woodland near her home in Leeds during her lunchtime. “Five minutes on there and I feel so much happier and less stressed,” she says.
Tick off some chores
“OK, there’s less joy in this, but it frees up your after-work time for more fun things,” says Marshall. “Get the laundry in, water the plants, walk the dog. Sometimes the mundane can be a mindful break, too.” Evans suggests a 15-minute cleaning blitz. “It’s a total change from work stuff and it helps you to keep on top of tidying and decluttering.” Pump up some music and it becomes exercise, too.
Take a nap
“Nappers lead longer, healthier lives,” says Saunders, pointing to a recent study of older adults in China that found an association between daytime napping and a low probability of disease, high cognitive and physical functioning, and active engagement with life. Daniel H Pink, in his new book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, shares his tips for “the perfect” nap: time it with your mid-afternoon dip in energy (generally around seven hours after waking); drink a cup of coffee beforehand; set a timer for 25 minutes; and make it habitual for greater benefits.
Creativity can help you to process your feelings during challenging life experiences, says Kogan. At Happier, she leads corporate employees in doing a 10-minute watercolour painting – but drawing, doodling or even writing a poem will also “give you a meaningful boost”. Megan Charnock, an artisan baker in Saffron Walden, Suffolk, has recently taken up free writing: a “brain dump” on a blank page. “This is new to me, but feels as liberating as fresh air. Just emptying your brain helps give you clarity and direction.”
A great perk of working from home is being able to avoid sad salads at your desk or mediocre meal deals. Instead, you can take the time to make yourself something you really want to eat, and enjoy it. You could turn the time when you are eating into quality time with your new co-workers. Mandy Dineley Penney, a writer from Hampshire, says her husband and their two children, all working from home, gather in the kitchen at lunchtime to talk about their days and plans for the future. “We don’t do anything exciting, but it’s like a staff room.”