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Jax Daily Record Monday, Sep. 11, 201706:00 AM EST

Young Lawyers: Give yourself a break during the workday

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It is no secret that sitting behind a computer desk all day is extremely unhealthy, both mentally and physically.
by: Courtney Gaver, The Jacksonville Bar Association Young Lawyers Section board member

I am a sociable person. I enjoy getting to know people and consider myself a “people person.”

In my former nonlegal jobs, I always took a lunch break. It was a time to check out mentally from the work at hand, fuel up for the afternoon and, of course, catch up with my co-workers.

Even throughout my internship and clerkship days in law school, I recognized the importance of utilizing lunchtime to get to know my peers. For instance, during my federal externship, it was daily lunches in chambers that allowed me to forge relationships with sitting clerks who I remain friends with today.

Of course, those were the days before billable hours, tangible deadlines and figuring out what it means to “practice” law.

During my first year as an associate, I watched partners and associates work diligently through lunch every day, bowing out of work-related events due to impending deadlines and a lack of “time.” While I was sad that so many young lawyers were failing to utilize this time to get to know senior partners and fellow attorneys, I too found myself eating alone at my desk. This became my new normal.

Colt the Weimaraner puppy.

An often-cited survey finds that 81 percent of Americans do not take a lunch break. That is four out of five people who are working through lunch every day.

Closer to home, the Huffington Post recently reported that 62 percent of professionals are dining “al desko.”

But why? It is no secret that sitting behind a computer desk all day is extremely unhealthy, both mentally and physically. In fact, the World Health Organization has identified sedentary behavior as the fourth leading factor that increases death.

So, why do we do it? Many young lawyers attribute it to the fact that our day is counted in six minute increments and that an hour away from one’s desk would be an utter waste as it is not billable. While this is true, many recent studies find that taking intentional breaks, including lunch, might be a better use of our time than slogging onward with a project, with a Lean Cuisine within reach.

Harvard Business Review recently conducted an experiment that found creative benefits from consciously scheduled break times. The study suggested that professionals should be mindful in stepping away from their desks throughout the day as well as being mindful to mentally alternate between tasks at predetermined intervals (e.g., switching tasks every hour, etc.).

The study found that doing this helped reduce thought redundancy, facilitated creativity and helped generate new, innovative ideas at work. The study ended by stating, “Finally, don’t skip your lunch breaks, and don’t feel guilty about taking breaks . . . doing so may actually be the best use of your time.”

After a year of regularly dining “al desko,” I began taking intentional midday breaks four months ago. That is when my husband and I welcomed a new Weimaraner puppy to our family. If you do not know anything about this particular breed of dog, a few words can sum them up: active, energetic, tireless.

Thus, I began the arduous task of forcing myself away from my desk a few times per week to make sure Colt was let out and worn out midday, every day. At first, I worried that I would miss an important call or email, or that my billable hours would fall by the wayside.

Four months in, I have realized how important it is to be intentional about giving myself some type of break away from my desk every day. Whether it is grabbing a quick lunch with a co-worker, getting outside to eat or running home to let the dog out, the break leaves me more energized and less distracted for the remainder of my workday.

Plus, in the wonderful world of technology, I am always accessible through my iPhone. An added perk that I did not expect is how much easier it is to say yes to midday philanthropic and community events that I might otherwise have felt guilt for my RSVP.

There are so many benefits of a midday break. Eating at your desk deprives you of these benefits. While you might feel more productive working through lunch, it is likely that your brain is being less efficient and less creative.

As attorneys, we strive to be innovators for our clients. So, go on, take a break, you’ll thank yourself for it.

Courtney Gaver is an associate at Rogers Towers and serves as a board member of The Jacksonville Bar Association Young Lawyers Section.


 

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