For someone as motivated by food as I am, I’m terrible at lunch. I allow myself to get sucked into various work vortexes and prioritize my inbox’s rumbling rather than my stomach’s. I’ve always been like this — even when I think back to college. I hate interrupting momentum for the sake of enjoying a leisurely meal. What I do instead is shovel lettuce into my mouth and then shout about how much I don’t like it, like a reluctant vegetarian gargoyle.
What I’ve noticed recently, however, is that even the busiest of the busy (in our office, in the world) find time to stretch their legs. I’ve also noticed these people to be highly productive individuals. Did you know that empire-running Oprah eats lunch in a real-life garden every day? She does. So long as I’m not in the middle of saving a life (I never am, it turns out), why can’t I stop what I’m doing, stand up and leave the room for a lousy fifteen minutes?
I LITERALLY DO NOT KNOW.
Whereas I feel like I’ve really mastered the morning regimen thing and the pre-bedtime ritual — my a.m. workout habit is generally developed and my slumber schedule set to clockwork — I have no control over the middle of the day. It’s the god damn wild west: my desk, an old swing-door saloon; my swivel chair, a bucking bronco.
What I did not have was a routine for the afternoon.
I did a lot of Google-seaching in this area to learn from the best of the best. Turns out “Celebrity Afternoon Routines” doesn’t carry the same sex appeal in SEO-land as morning or p.m. programs. Productivity sites, meanwhile, were very into the idea of structuring the middle of your day as much as you would the bookends, so at least I was on to something. I ended up compiling a list of five famous-people habits and tried one each day for a week. The findings likely won’t shock you, but if you’re familiar with the mid-day slog and find, more often than not, that you just ate lunch five seconds ago but have zero recollection of it and only figured out that you already ate by discovering avocado on your “return” key, then maybe you’ll join me on this afternoon routine journey. Speaking of journey…
I Tried Eating Outside, Like Oprah Winfrey
Oprah once told Harper’s Bazaar that she and Stedman Graham “always try to eat lunch in the garden,” and they have a rule: “If we cannot find it in our garden, then we cannot eat it.”
I cannot tell you the last time I took a fresh air lap during my lunch hour, let alone ate a weekday lunch outside. So, big adventure in guinea pig journalism day: I tried it!!! I sat in a park (garden-esque), by myself — there’s one right by our office, right across the street from our local salad store (like a garden), and cradled a bowl of lettuce while I jiggled my foot to rid myself of the anxiety that tends to come with not checking my email every 0.5 seconds. I left my phone in my bag and looked around. I took in the weird city sounds. I tried to be mindful.
My salad was still disappointing after I ate all the avocado and tortilla chips off the top, but when I walked back to the office (I was gone for a total of 25 minutes, max) I felt…dare I say it…refreshed? It didn’t make a revolutionary impact on my day’s productivity, but it didn’t add extra time to my evening departure time, either, which is something to consider. If this didn’t make me stay any later than usual, why not squeeze this pleasant outing in?
I Took a Mid-Day Nap Like Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein reportedly broke up his days with a post-lunch nap. This nap thing wasn’t uncommon in all my very light, not too official research. (Consider the nap rooms Arianna Huffington installed at Huffington Post.) Now, I am both anti-naps and always tired. Also, who sleeps in the middle of the day when they have a job with “nine-to-five” hours? But in high school, I was a big-time midday napper: I was physically unable to stay awake during my senior year Ethics class, and I never missed an opportunity to sleep on the way to extracurricular activities. I also had more energy back then (in retrospect only) so maybe my teenage self was on to something.
On a work-from-home Tuesday, I did it: I took a 15-minute nap. The fall asleep part was easy for me because I can basically fall asleep on command. Just need a semi-horizontal surface. Gift and a curse. The hard part was staying asleep for the entire 15 minutes. Instead, I panic-woke-up every two minutes out of fear that my alarm wouldn’t go off or something terrible had happened.
I get the refresh strategy here and I’m all for the psychology that supports power naps, but this was not for me. It was terrifying! If you nap at work can we talk about it in the comments??
I Went for Two Walks Like Charles Darwin
It’s rumored that Charles Darwin took two walks every day — one at noon, specifically. Given that I barely get up for lunch, this whole “walk thing” felt undoable. But I did it, twice in one day — a “working walk,” where I made calls and ran an errand; and a quicker walk sans phone. Let me tell you: my legs felt stretched, and my mind did, too. I was more efficient when I got back to the office and way less cranky than usual. It is actually ridiculous that I don’t do this more, especially given that Charles Darwin was, oh, I don’t know, an expert on species that do/don’t die out?? Of all the things to incorporate into an afternoon routine, I plan to make at least one mid-day walk part of my daily fixture.
I Had Afternoon Tea Like The Queen of England
Town & Country published an excerpt of “royal biographer” Andrew Morton’s new book, Meghan: A Hollywood Princess. In it, Morton writes about the Queen’s afternoon tea, which is “a relatively ‘informal occasion,’ during which the queen catches up on ‘Upstairs gossip from her ladies‑in‑waiting.’”
Tea, to me, is a luxurious indulgence if there ever was one, partially because it’s a hot beverage that you must patiently sip. I’m always kind of “what’s the point” about it because it doesn’t give me enough of a caffeine jolt to actually do anything, and working “afternoon tea” into an afternoon routine article felt kind of lackluster when I first considered it.
But part of why I like coffee is the ritual involved, not just the beverage itself. It sets me up for my day and gets me focused. It puts me in the right state of mind. So on one of my Darwinism walks, I picked up an iced tea. (I’ve been so on edge lately that I definitely do not need another cup of coffee.) When I got back to my desk, I drank my tea and distracted everyone around me for a good five minutes with a healthy bout of unimportant chit-chat. This didn’t really help my productivity, nor did it have the same “focus” effect, but it did lift my mood. Later, when I thought about my day, I recalled laughing a lot. This obviously had nothing to do with the tea, of course, and everything to do with taking five minutes to pull away from my screen.
I Put All of This Stuff on My Calendar Like Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama doesn’t just put doctor’s appointments and meetings on her calendar, she “plans her happiness.” She told CNBC that she books time with her friends and family before she says yes to work-related events. This made me think of scheduling in a whole new way. I live and die by my calendar — but I block it out reactively, and in real time: as I receive calendar invites, accept meetings, set up interviews and press appointments. The days fill up quickly — and fairly in advance — so when friends ask to hang out, I have to pull the “three Wednesdays from now?” card, which feels shitty.
Following Michelle’s lead, I blocked out time on my calendar to take my Darwinism walks, to run out for ice tea, to eat crab cakes in gardens. I put a few holds on weekday evenings so that I wouldn’t absentmindedly accept an industry event and then be unable to see a friend who texted me sporadically. Though this is the kind of thing you have to do a few weeks in advance, it helped me set up happier afternoons (and mornings and evenings, too). Without these blocks, I would have found an excuse to not take that walk, that nap (*shudder*), that al fresco salad date.
None of these things were the miracle cure, of course. I am currently writing behind schedule. But a habit in the making takes practice right? Here’s to a new month of trying.
Illustrations by Crayola Mode.