Hari's Corner

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Lunch breaks and effective working hours

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted on Wed, Sep 10, 2008 at 15:02 IST (last updated: Thu, Oct 30, 2008 @ 08:14 IST)

I've really been thinking about the productivity of working hours. I am a firm believer that the number of hours of work shouldn't matter if the quality of effort put in is optimized as I explained in an article on 6-day working weeks.

I am amazed at how much time can be wasted at the office. The potential for time-mismanagement is huge, considering how little work actually gets done in the most productive hours of the day - mornings and afternoons. I see no reason for anybody to put in overtime or staying back an extra hour without something really important to do. I actually think that even the busiest employee need not spend more than 6 hours a day at work provided time is managed properly.

I see the lunch-break hour as the prime culprit in reducing working efficiency for the second half of the day. Most organizations tend to have a lunch break between 1 pm and 3 pm and it's during this time that people tend to relax a bit. Now I'm not denying the need for relaxation, but for two reasons a long mid-day break can really affect work quality and output. Firstly an hour-long gap tends to stop the momentum of work. Secondly the intake of a good meal late in the afternoon can slow one down considerably, both mentally and physically. I have found that an evening after a heavy lunch can be sleepy and dull. Creativity is at a lower ebb. Effectively we spend more time at work, but achieving less and having fewer hours of relaxation afterwards.

To me, the solution is to have a good solid, wholesome meal in the mornings which keeps our energy levels up and work taking only short regular breaks. Cut out the lunch hour, have a light snack and leave early. The extra hour of relaxation after work is much more beneficial from every point of view. This is because we avoid the extra cycle of having to get back into the groove after lunch. The momentum of work is sustained and light snacks are enough to sustain energy levels. Light snacks and regular shorter breaks can do wonders as I've found out personally.

I can also think of other reasons to have a heavy meal in the mornings. Food tends to get digested better when the metabolic rate is higher (as is common for most people) and the effective energy is spread over a longer period of time.

If you're in the habit of taking a light morning breakfast and feeling very hungry by early afternoon and then consuming a heavy lunch which leaves you feeling dull afterwards, try to reverse the timing of your meals. It might just be the answer to improving your workplace productivity.

13 comment(s)

  1. Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. That's what I was always taught and when I was extremely active, it's exactly what I practiced. Nowadays, it's like breakfast like a pauper and dinner like a prince, with 12 hours between each (at least).

    Anyway... if you're full of fuel first thing in the morning, you'll find that you don't always need to refuel until after work.

    Comment by RT Cunningham (visitor) on Wed, Sep 10, 2008 @ 23:02 IST #
  2. I bring my lunch to work since I try to save money since going out to lunch every day in a 5 day work week can amount to $200 or more per month, which is wasteful but that's another topic in itself.

    But I tend to eat a light breakfast, either before work or on the way to work. I do drink my cup of coffee before work and usually drink another one when I get to work.

    But bringing my lunch to work, I tend to not bring one huge lunch to consume at one time. I'll usually consume fruit and other portions of my lunch throughout the day while I work or sit at my desk. Eating smaller portions keeps my metabolism up and I never feel tired or beat down after consuming a huge lunch in the middle of the day.

    I usually eat dinner shortly after I get home, keeping it smaller and lately eat something lighter a couple of hours before bedtime. This seems to work out really well.

    Comment by drew (visitor) on Thu, Sep 11, 2008 @ 00:34 IST #
  3. RT, that's a good maxim to follow in general. Yes, being full of fuel in the morning is something that works well for me too.

    Drew, it really depends on your constitution. I think that eating when your metabolism rate is high is good because you tend to get energized quickly. Also for most of us, late afternoon lunches can lead to sleep. ;)

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Thu, Sep 11, 2008 @ 09:00 IST #
  4. measure shouldn't be the number of hours spent at office...

    it should be the quality and quantity of work delivered

    Comment by Shrinidhi Hande (visitor) on Thu, Sep 11, 2008 @ 10:44 IST #
  5. Shrinidhi, agree with you. But still this philosophy works only if the entire workforce is in sync with the idea of flexi-time. If not, it can lead to serious loss of productivity.

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Fri, Sep 12, 2008 @ 12:53 IST #
  6. It is useful to remember that not all jobs are created equal. Many of us who work in non union oilfield construction dream of 6 hour days. I hope to someday work in better circumstances than I do.
    Unfortunately, since I get paid by the hour, we tend to want more hours rather than less. Since we work between 10 and 13 hours per day, a 6 hour day would mean less than half as much money. We also work up to 21 days in a row, with sometimes only one or two days off.
    Other times of the year, we have a few weeks off due to weather or lack of work.
    While we are at work, machines are running and work is progressing. We have to stay productive all day long. It would actually be less efficient to work less hours, since we have travel costs that the company pays and possible days off due to unforeseen rain or snow.

    Comment by Tim (visitor) on Wed, Sep 17, 2008 @ 08:20 IST #
  7. Tim, even in your case, I don't think working for more than 6 hours is going to improve your health or productivity. And in a physically challenging environment I think my point applies even more strongly.

    My observation is that in such industrial establishments and in the infrastructure field the norm is to have "shifts" of duties rather than a fixed work full-time. Therefore, you have one set of employees working in the morning shifts, another set in afternoon shifts, evening shifts etc. No single employee will work for more than 6 or 7 hours and thus ensure that personnel on duty always stay fresh and active. I personally think that spending more than 7 hours at duty whatever the nature of the job is highly counterproductive and sometimes (in factories) might even be dangerous as a high level of alertness would be required to operate heavy equipment and a tired operator/supervisor will tend to commit more mistakes than is safe.

    My point is, regardless of the industry, and though the work might be for 24 hours a day, no single person can do it.

    I also think that business should pay according to the intensity of work, responsibilities and nature of duties performed, and not by the hours spent at the workplace - be it an industrial establishment or an office room.

    Maybe it's time you petitioned your Industries and Labour Minister (or whatever title he holds) for bringing in more employee benefits and unionize your workforce. :D

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Wed, Sep 17, 2008 @ 08:31 IST #
  8. This is more of a test than anything as PHP was upgraded today on the server.

    See, I'm productive, I updated my own servers while at work. ;)

    Comment by drew (visitor) on Thu, Sep 18, 2008 @ 22:19 IST #
  9. Wow... drew, thanks a heap for the upgrade to PHP 5. Now I'll be more motivated to write my blogging system and see how it works online.

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Fri, Sep 19, 2008 @ 08:31 IST #
  10. Excellent article, Hari... will do!

    Catching up on your articles is fun. :)

    Comment by Sudipta Chatterjee (visitor) on Wed, Oct 1, 2008 @ 09:07 IST #
  11. I've not posted a whole lot in the last few months, Sudipta, so catching up shouldn't be too difficult.:oops:

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Wed, Oct 1, 2008 @ 09:51 IST #
  12. good thing is that it works for you, while for me, I really can't eat heavy breakfast, it makes me sick the whole day, weird!

    Comment by SEO Test (visitor) on Sun, Nov 16, 2008 @ 12:09 IST #
  13. I greatly agree! Having lunch breaks are very important coz it can help us to work properly and produce quality work output. If we let our stomach empty and we continue our work we can't have a smooth working ambiance. About taking a heavy breakfast, if you're not used to it then don't try it. It may only cause you more trouble. If you're having difficulty during lunch break, because you don't want to go out and lead to your canteen to buy some packed lunch, you may bring your own packed lunch. You must prepare it early in the morning so that you can eat during this break hours. I've found a site that offers stainless steel tiffin carriers which are very suitable for all office worker like me. I find it very reusable, convenient and extraordinary. The site is Happy Tiffin (http://www.happytiffin.com) you may check it out. They have a variety of different design and style. Also their newest product is what I want to acquire, because it can able to sustain the food's freshness (insulated tiffin bags) :-) Oh I admired these stuffs very much!

    Comment by Ara (visitor) on Sun, Nov 8, 2009 @ 20:00 IST #

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