Author Tony Schwartz (The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working) spread out red-and-white checked cloths on the grass at Madison Square Park in New York City at noon Wednesday, inviting busy New Yorkers to take a collective “Take Back Your Lunch” lunch break. He and his team — Schwartz runs a consulting and coaching company called The Energy Project and is a frequent keynote speaker — wore yellow t-shirts and passed out buttons, but the event was more than just another publicity stunt. It was meant to call attention to our rat-a-tat-tat work habits and the effect that that has on the work we produce, not to mention our health and quality of life.
Most of us spend our days like the proverbial hamster on a wheel: A Huffington Post poll found that sixty percent of people take less than 20 minutes a day for lunch, 20 percent took less than 10 minutes, and 25 percent never left their desks at all.
“That’s crazy,” Schwartz said.
Human beings aren’t meant to work to like machines, he added. His assertion, based on his survey of interdisciplinary research, is that we are far more productive when we “pulse” between periods of expending and renewing our energy. We naturally oscillate between higher and lower alertness in 90-minute cycles. Taking regular breaks to renew intermittently through the day with food, rest, and exercise is not only healthy and enjoyable, “It drives productivity,” he said. “Employers should be pushing employees out the door,” pressing them to take breaks, he said.
It’s not a way of thinking that gets a lot of support in the mainstream work culture, where demands are ever-increasing and only sissies take breaks. But a shift in that mentality has got to take place, said Schwartz, whose clients list includes Google, Apple, and the Cleveland Clinic.
The collective lunch break in the park will continue in Madison Square Park on Wednesdays all summer long. More than 50 “Take Back Your Lunch” meet-ups in 50 locations in eight countries also took place today — a remarkable rally considering that the campaign was launched just a week ago.
Said Schwarz: It just goes to show “that there’s a hunger –literally and metaphorically — for it.”