By Alexis Lamb • July 10, 2017•Writers in Residence, Issues, Balancing Private and Professional Life, Other Issues
This past Friday, I stepped away from my computer for an hour for a doctor’s appointment. I was in and out in 35 minutes, and contemplated grabbing a couple of tacos to go from the local food truck by my apartment.
Then, it struck me. When was the last time I sat down and took a lunch break?
I didn’t have any appointments or calls scheduled for the rest of the day. Nor did I have any deliverables due. Emails, sure. But I had my phone on me, and could be contacted quickly by anyone who needed to reach me in a pinch.
Yet I took the tacos to go, and went back to the computer.
In a survey of just over 1,000 American workers, only 19% said they “almost always” took a lunch break away from their desk.
39% said they took a lunch break at their desk, perhaps catching up on web surfing, but otherwise staying easily reachable in case an important call or email came in.
28% said that they “seldom, if ever” took a lunch break.
As lawyers, we are sometimes so busy that we can’t afford to take an hour out of the day to do nothing. But, absent such urgent constraints (and, we’ve all been there in the throes of a closing or a trial), what’s really preventing us from unplugging for one hour a day?
Is it the rush-rush-rush culture and false deadlines imposed by team leaders as well as impatient clients? Is it the billable hour setup, which acts as a built-in disincentive for idle time during the workday?
Or is it our environment?
At work, we’re surrounded by other lawyers – type-A, risk-averse – who would rather grind away at their desks because that’s what the other guy in the office next door is doing.
The how-much-you-bench attitude toward billable hours can lend itself to this sort of face-time. Ask any lawyer in the office why she didn’t take a lunch break that day, and you may get a variety of excuses:
- I don’t want to miss anything.
- If that all-important call comes in, I want to be able to be able to attend to it immediately, which means being at my desk and in front of my computer.
- I don’t want superiors to see me away from my desk.
- I don’t want direct reports to see that I am away from my desk.
Modern technology also contributes to this culture of availability, and many managers fail counter this by actively encouraging their employees to use downtime to recharge.
But, why is this bad for you?
Sitting is the new smoking, or so says the interwebs.
Americans are spending more time in a seated position than ever before. I get it. Standing’s rough. You’re fighting against gravity and, perhaps, natural physiognomy to remain upright.
But, prolonged sitting (such as, for 8 hours a day behind a desk) increases the risk of all sorts of nasty ailments from various cancers to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Here’s what happened in the first year after I left BigLaw and transitioned to a 100% remote work setup: I lost ten pounds. I broke 1:25 in the half marathon. Co-workers told me that I looked at least five years younger. I started getting that “well-rested” compliment more due to actual sleep, not Botox.
My mental health also took a huge uptick as well. At the end of the workday, I stopped reaching for the bottle of Sancerre in my refrigerator.
If your work culture discourages time away from the office during legit slow stretches, you might want to re-evaluate the health of your workplace. If you are a manager, what can you do to make your team feel comfortable enough to leave the office for an hour at a time if they aren’t busy?
Downtime Enhances Creativity.
As many as 72% of people get their get their best ideas in the shower. Why? It’s probably the only time during many people’s days when they aren’t tethered to technology or distracted by co-workers, deadlines, projects, or other stimuli.
You get bored, your thoughts wander, And you create.
Your mind is allowed the freedom to make stream-of-consciousness connections and inferences that it wouldn’t ordinarily make if it was distracted.
Why is creativity important for lawyers? Think of your clients – would they prefer an innovative solution to a legal problem, or for you to bill more hours staring at your computer screen with the remnants of a sad desk salad beside you?
You don’t even need to be in the shower to experience this enhanced creativity state. Even walks around the block during the workday can be restorative.
I’ve gotten some of my best ideas (one of which I turned into a published short story) during my morning runs.
So, take your lunch break. Go eat that poke bowl in the park. We are lawyers. We aren’t saving the world from stray asteroids or mutant strains of bird flu or Death Stars.
The world won’t end if you miss that phone call.
Alexis Lamb is a recovering lawyer who served time as a transactions associate in the New York office of O'Melveny & Myers and the Hong Kong office of Linklaters. She is currently Director of Talent at Bliss Lawyers.
Her work has appeared in online and print publications including Inside, the NYSBA Corporate Counsel Section’s publication, andThought Catalog; and her fiction has appeared in Five2One Magazine: Sideshow.
Connect with Alexis at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexislambesq/
Visit The No-Pants Life, Alexis's blog on remote work and location-independent careers and lifestyle (not affiliated with Bliss Lawyers, just a personal passion project) here