Rosie Gray discusses the benefits of managing your energy and taking regular lunch breaks

I often ask clients “how often do you take a lunch break in a typical week?” The response, more often than not, is a wry laugh, surprise or polite invitation to take a reality check. For many people, lunch and breaks are rapidly disappearing from the working day, without much thought about the impact.

So many people spend their health gaining wealth… and then have to spend their wealth to regain their health.

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And of course, it’s understandable. When you’re under pressure to deliver against tight deadlines, dash to the next meeting and somehow tame your bulging inbox, skipping breaks and lunch during the day seems a natural choice. Or maybe you choose to sit at your desk, grab a quick bite when you can and continue handling every interruption as you munch.

But although you might imagine skipping breaks saves time, the reverse is true. Sometimes, taking a break is exactly what you need to keep your productivity and enthusiasm high.

Our bodies are not machines designed to run flat out for long periods. Rather, we’re designed for short bursts of activity, followed by a break to rest and refuel. It’s essential we stop to top up our energy reserves regularly, just like filling our cars fuel tank, so we’re ready for the next stage of the journey. If we don’t take regular breaks, we become tired, cope less well with pressure and may feel stressed.

Probably, you manage your time and your money carefully, conscious the reserves can be finite. I recommend you begin giving the same attention to managing your energy, as it too is precious. Here are some practical, easy suggestions to help you keep your energy high during your daily routine. You’ll be more productive and feel much better when you implement them – so why not give it a try today?

You Are What You Eat

Of course, we know this, but good eating habits can easily slip when we’re busy. Our brain weighs about 2% of most people’s body weight yet it uses approximately 20% of our total energy requirement. So if your brain isn’t well fed, you slow down, and your productivity, decision making and creativity are impaired.

  • Simple habits such as eating a good breakfast and lunch (Yes, Mum was right!) ensure you have sufficient energy to draw on throughout the day.
  • Resist the temptation to eat something quick, sugary or high fat when you’re busy. This does give a quick energy boost but it’s short lived, and you’ll soon feel tired and hungry again. So it’s wiser to choose foods that release energy more slowly over a longer period. These include complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, oats, wholemeal bread, whole grain cereals.
  • Give yourself time to eat slowly and calmly. This will give you more pleasure as you can savour the flavours properly. It’ll also increase the value you take from your meal, as the digestive process begins in the mouth. If you just gulp food down quickly you’re unable to access the full nutritional value, as well as risking indigestion.
  • Eating small meals often, avoids dips in blood sugar that affect concentration. Have healthy snacks available at work to fight mid-morning and afternoon hunger pangs – such as a handful of seeds or fresh fruit.
  • Take care not to drink or eat too much caffeine, either as a drink or in chocolate bars. Caffeine may boost you temporarily but can disrupt sleep, so reduces the energy available. Choose herbal or redbush teas for a change, especially later in the day.
  • Keep well hydrated by drinking fresh water regularly. If you don’t have enough water your brain gets fuzzy and you’ll have headaches.

Shift your focus

As well as feeding your brain, you must give yourself some mental down time during the workday too. If you ignore this, your attention wanders and your creative ideas dry up. Taking short “brain breaks” to engage in a different activity can re-energise your mind, help regain perspective and so be productive for much longer.

  • Typically, we can keep focussed for about 90 minutes and then we need a break, so plan your activities in blocks followed by a break. Research demonstrates taking regular short stretch breaks every hour can actually increase productivity by up to 15%.
  • It only takes a few moments to stretch or relax your muscles, or take a few deep breaths. But doing so can help you to ease muscular tension and refresh you for the next task. And have you ever noticed how often when you relax, answers to tough problems effortlessly pop into your mind?

Get your blood pumping

A study by Professor Jim McKenna with researchers at the University of Bristol showed mood significantly improved after exercising. Participants were more tolerant of themselves, more forgiving of others and better able to cope with the day’s challenges. The key findings in the research included:

  • 74% reported improvements in managing workload on exercise days compared to non-exercise days
  • The questionnaire scores were 27% higher on exercise days in categories such as dealing calmly with stress, 41% higher for feeling motivated at work and 22% higher for finishing work on time

Try taking a regular walk or running in the fresh air at lunchtime and you’ll feel energised for the afternoon. It doesn’t have to be hard or sweaty to do you good. A twenty-minute brisk walk will warm up and relax your tense muscles, release natural endorphins to lift your mood and help you sleep better too.

Build your network

It’s tempting to get in a rut and use your break the same way every day. Instead, take the opportunity to get to know somebody new over your lunch.

Perhaps you could strike up a friendly conversation with somebody you recognise from meetings and don’t know well in the staff restaurant if you have one. Sometimes we’re so involved in our own daily drama of work, family and friends – it’s refreshing to exchange ideas and viewpoints with others.

Or arrange to have lunch with a mentor, colleague or junior member of the team (who you could even mentor) once a week.

And remember, social interaction and laughter is a great stress buster, so be sure to include some of this in your breaks!

Begin scheduling and taking regular, short breaks to re-energise during the working day. You’ll notice how much better you feel and how much more is completed. Although it may feel counter-intuitive, taking breaks can help you achieve much more, over a longer period of time, so you’re not really “losing” time by doing so.

It really is about what you do in the hours you work that matters, not how many hours you work.

Rosie Gray helps superbusy people better manage their precious time, feel less stressed and achieve much more. As a result, productivity improves and "life" returns to their "work/life balance" equation. After working at a senior level in fast-paced ... (Read More)

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