What comes to mind when you hear the words “lunch break”? Is it time to relax and unwind? A chance to grab the occasional to-go meal? Swing by the Starbucks drive thru?
In my world, a lunch break has always been synonymous with “extra work time”. So when I lost my lunchtime workspace this month, I was forced to confront an ugly truth.
I am, it seems, incapable of simply eating lunch.
This isn’t just a case of someone who has bought into the multitasking narrative. (Though I have done that hook, line, and sinker.) It’s also the fact that there just isn’t enough time in the day to tend to all of the tasks I
want need to accomplish.
I strongly suspect I’m not alone. I know most teachers work through lunch, and I believe that many other professionals do as well.
So I did what any person who had to forfeit their working lunch would do. I sat in my car, outside on benches, or on the floor under staircases…and opened the Notes app on my phone to write about it.
Notes From a Week Without a Working Lunch
Wednesday – Sat outside on a bench, choked down my food in usual teacher record-breaking speed, and then went and did 35 minutes of unpaid recess supervision.
Thursday – Picked up bananas and apples at the grocery store. Ate lunch while driving back to work. Made a mental note of how much work I wasn’t getting done. Anxiety inducing, really.
Friday – Sat outside, attempted to draft a freelance article but between the glare and the very poor wi-fi, gave up. Ate lunch.
Monday – Went to Dollar Tree to get classroom decorations. Ate lunch on drive back. Worried about grading I wasn’t doing.
Tuesday – Sat in car. Considered relaxing, ate lunch and tried to do some grading on my phone instead.
Wednesday – Fought with vending machine for can of Diet Coke, sat in car, ate. Am I relaxed yet?
What I Learned By Taking An Actual Lunch Break
I kind of hate it.
After multitasking through every lunch for my entire professional career, I can honestly say I have no idea how to just…sit and eat.
During the day, I have about thirty-five minutes allocated to planning time. I teach three different classes with three different curriculua, so to suggest that I can plan even a day’s lesson for one class in that amount of time is kind of a joke.
Then, there’s emails to reply to, phone calls to return, grades to submit.
So of course some of this work spills into my lunch, my evening, my weekend, my summer.
And of course I have no idea how to just sit and eat.
What’s fascinating, though, is that I’ve somehow never questioned it. Instead, I’ve always viewed it as part of the profession. And I’ve layered on more work. Because on the off chance that I’m somehow caught up with my work, I’ll do things like volunteer for cafeteria supervision, substitute teach, or work on some freelancing.
At this point, I’ve leaned in so far to embracing busy-ness that I’m plummeting past the point of no return.
And that’s my issue, but that’s not all this is.
A Me Problem is Actually An Us Problem
I can and will work on establishing better boundaries in my life. That’s a continual work in progress. It is, quite frankly, a Me Problem.
But there’s also an Us Problem. While we certainly didn’t create these systems, we work and live within them.
Instead of questioning these systems, pointing out the impossibility of doing a job that can’t be done within its defined hours, we blame individuals.
There are two schools of thought: one group says that individuals need to say no, set boundaries, and protect their time. Another group says that it’s important to put your head down and hustle.
Neither group is addressing the actual problem–the jobs themselves. We can’t pull time out of thin air and we are continually being asked to do so. Rather than push back against the people who create these problems, we try to modify the people being crushed by them.
Final Thoughts on A Week Without a Working Lunch
I don’t know what it will take to reform education to the point where the job can be done in 40 or 50 hours a week.
And I certainly don’t know what this looks like in other professions.
But what I do know is that no one should panic when they can’t connect to WiFi during their lunch hour. Rather than working through a sandwich in as few chews possible, what if we had a chance to taste our food? What if we were allowed to enjoy the company of others or savor time for ourselves?
What if a lunch break was actually a break?
I wouldn’t know, but I hope to find out.
So Tell Me…Do you disconnect and take breaks throughout the day? What strategies do you use?
PS – I’ve already cued this up for a re-listen during tomorrow’s lunch break. If you haven’t taken a listen to Tim Kreider’s Lazy: A Manifesto before, find the time. And single task it while you’re at it.