Photo Credit: Bernt Rostad 

How do you normally spend your lunch hour? Wait, let's back up a bit: do you even take a lunch hour? A lot of us end up grabbing a sandwich at our desks, checking emails or maybe surfing the net a bit during our lunch break. Often, the best-case scenario sees us in a staff canteen or at a local sandwich shop with friends.

It's easy to treat the lunch hour as dead time in your day - or as an opportunity to catch up with an overflowing inbox or to-do list. But treating your lunch hour well means setting yourself up for success in the rest of the day - and potentially your life.

Here's how:

  1. Make it a Full Hour
    When I was a teen, I had the occasional free period in school - an hour with no classes. I was always amazed at how much homework I could get through then, compared with at home. An hour is a great length of time to focus on something: long enough to get into it, not so long that your attention starts wandering.
    A great first step to making the most of your lunch hour is to actually take that full hour.
     This is easier in an office environment where others do too, but you can always start a new trend! If you really want people to respect your time and avoid interrupting you with work matters while you're having your lunch break, then get as far from your desk as possible - head to the break room, the canteen or lobby, or right out of your building.
  2. Think About Your Lunch
    Now, although you're unlikely to spend a whole hour actually eating lunch, it's called a lunch hour for a reason. The food you put into your body in the middle of the day is your fuel for the afternoon. If you find yourself feeling sleepy or lethargic mid-afternoon, there's a good chance it's to do with what you're eating.
    You don't need to be a nutritional expert to eat well at lunch.
     Focus on these key basics:
    • - Eat a lighter lunch if you want to be more alert in the afternoon (and have a small snack two - three hours after lunch)
    • - Avoid alcohol at lunch time - even a single beer or glass of wine is enough to make you less alert
    • - Have some fiber and protein to keep you full for longer. Whole grains, fruit, veggies and lean meats are all great sources.
    • - Avoid high-sugar foods which will give you a temporary energy boost, followed by a crash.

  3. Get Some Exercise

    Sitting at a desk for eight hours straight isn't good for anyone. Make a point of getting some exercise every lunch break - even if it's just a fifteen minute brisk walk. If you've got a gym nearby, take advantage of it.I'm sure you're well aware of the benefits of exercise, but so many of us struggle to fit it into our day. Getting some exercise at lunch time can:
    • Help you stay alert for the afternoon ahead
    • Be part of your exercise/weight-management program
    • Let you unwind and de-stress if you've had a hectic morning
    • Avoid back problems and other aches and pains from sitting at a desk all day

    You may even find that a colleague is willing to be a gym buddy or walking partner - meaning you can socialize at the same time as getting some healthy exercise in.

  4. Learn Something New
    A lunch hour can be a great chance for a change of pace, and it's a good opportunity to learn something new. This might not necessarily be something directly related to your job: for example, you could use your lunch hour to learn vocabulary for a foreign language.Lunch time is also a great chance for some reading. Many of us feel we don't have time to read - even though books are one of the cheapest ways to learn about almost any topic. If pouring over a non-fiction book isn't your idea of a fun lunch break, how about picking up a novel instead? (If you need some convincing that fiction is worthwhile, here's eight reasons to read fiction.)
  5. Pursue a New Career...?
    Finally, if your lunch hours are the one bright spot in a job that you don't especially like, how about using them to plan your escape? This one needs approaching with a good bit of caution: be clear about your workplace's rules on what you can and can't do with company computers, for instance. If you get outside the office to a local coffee shop or park, and you have a laptop you can work on, you'll probably be OK.I spent the lunch hours in one student summer job writing a novel. When I worked in my last day job, I sometimes wrote blog posts during my lunch breaks. If you've got a side project or even a small business, can you spend your lunch hours on it?

    That could mean:

    • - Writing your business plan.
    • - Looking up sources of funding and other information online.
    • - Sending emails or making phone calls to clients or potential clients.
    • - Doing freelance work (such as writing or designing).
    • - Reading relevant books and blogs to learn about that career.
    • - Spending time planning or brainstorming.

    Do be careful with this one, though - and make sure you're not breaking any of the terms in your current employment contract.

Are your lunch hours helping you get to where you want to be in life? If not, what changes can you make?