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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

5 Creative Ways to Spend Your Lunch Break

One of the best pieces of work advice I’ve ever received—and yes, it was from my mother—was to make sure to take my lunch hour.

Like many professionals busting butt in the office, I had gotten into the unhealthy habit of eating lunch at my desk, never seeing sunlight or feeling outside air on my skin for 10-hour stretches of time. And after a while, I definitely started to notice an impact on my overall mood.

So, from the first day I started a new job in January, I resolved to take my lunch hour every day. And you should, too! Of course, allow for some rolling with the punches—your boss schedules a noon meeting, you’re gunning towards an end-of-day deadline—but, in general, leveraging that midday hour of refreshment is a surefire way to enhance your productivity, mindset, and well-being.

So, what are some good ways to spend this hour, beyond brown-bagging it and grabbing a bench in the park (which, of course, is a totally great option)? Shake things up with one of these five creative ideas.

1. Join a Lunch Network

Ever heard of “Let’s Lunch?” It’s a (free!) online network that matches you up with someone in your area for lunch during the workweek. Connect your LinkedIn profile, provide your availability and geographic flexibility, and the site’s algorithm matches you up with a like-minded lunch partner. It’s a great way to grow your network utilizing the free time that’s already built into your day.

Startup is based on a similar concept, but in this case you can personally extend invitations to people you want to connect with, proposing "I'm Buying," "You're Buying" or "50/50." The site also teams up directly with cool restaurants, so you’ll have a built-in conversation starter (“How crazy delicious are these shrimp rolls?”).

2. Play “Lunch Roulette” With Your Co-Workers

No matter the size of the company you work for, you’re bound to have co-workers you’ve never had an hour-long conversation with—or met. And even if you work for yourself or for a tiny company, you certainly have clients or vendors you’ve never met face-to-face!

So, play a little game I like to call “Lunch Roulette,” and extend an invitation to grab food with someone you’d like to get to know better. You never know what you have in common with or what you could learn from someone sitting just a few cubicles away.

3. Tap into Your Smartphone

Don’t forget you’ve basically got a mini computer in your pocket! Head outside and try one of these apps to inject some fun and games into your lunch hour:

  • Spend an hour learning something new or immersing yourself in an engaging story. Check out Amazon’s for access to 100,000+ audio books or iTunes’ podcast library for hundreds of thousands of free podcasts. You can even listen while taking a stroll to stretch your legs.
  • Pictorious: Practice your iPhonography skills and compete in one of Pictorious’ photo challenges— like snapping a pic of unexpected art, a silhouette, or something blue. You can earn points and rewards as your images are upvoted or downvoted.
  • 4. Get a Manicure

    On the other hand, your lunch hour is also a great time to reboot your brain by disconnecting from all technology—so, head to a nearby nail salon for a manicure! (Use OPI’s free app to virtually try on hundreds of nail polish shades before picking your favorite.)

    You’ll return to your desk refreshed—and those freshly trimmed and polished nails are sure to help you channel that power-professional vibe. Just be sure to leave enough lag time to let the telltale acetone smell dissipate—what you do on your personal lunch break is your prerogative, but you don’t necessarily want to broadcast where you've been.

    5. Work Out

    Use those 60 minutes to recharge your brain and your muscles with a lunch hour workout—it’s a fantastic energy booster! If your workplace has a gym nearby, pack a change of clothes and your headphones and sweat it out on the treadmill or elliptical. (Paper Shower and TRESemme dry shampoo are my favorite products for freshening up after a midday workout.)

    Or, if you’re out of luck in the gym-near-work department, check out to find great walking or biking routes near your office—you can search by type of activity and distance, and even see a 3D flyover video of the route.

    No matter what you do, though—enjoy! At least for this hour of the day, it’s all about you.

    What’s your favorite creative way to spend your lunch hour?

    Photo of team on lunch break courtesy of Shutterstock.