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Go to Lunch and Clean Out Your Inbox

| June 12, 2012

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Reading, “Go to Lunch and Clean Out Your Inbox,” was originally written as a weekly reflection by Stephen Kemp.  Stephen is the Coordinator for Help Desk Services at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Every semester I perform employee reviews for my student workers; this is an opportunity for me to give my students feedback on how they have been doing over the past semester and how they can improve, as well as a chance for them to give me feedback on my performance and that of the Vet Med Help Desk in general. This semester my most senior student is graduating, so his evaluation questions were geared more toward an exit interview. One of the questions that I asked was the following: “What advice would you give me as the Help Desk supervisor?” The answer the student gave me actually caught me quite off guard:

“Go to lunch every day. It seems like you always have so much to do and you’re on the verge of letting it run you over and then you suddenly stop and say, ‘Alright, I’m going to lunch.’ I think it keeps you sane. I’ve seen people who just work non-stop, and it’s not good. So keep going to lunch.”

We live in a world where now it is basically expected that we are working 24/7, and that when someone else has a problem we will give up our lives so that they can keep on going. While sometimes we can’t avoid working long hours, we need to be able to stop what we’re doing and take a break outside the office to reset ourselves each day- and that break shouldn’t be whenever quitting time finally rolls around. Whether it’s an hour long lunch in the park or a 20-minute break to go get a coffee, we need time away from the job during the working day to receive a pause from the bombardment of help requests and let our brains recover. The work will be there when you get back, but if your brain goes on strike it could spell disaster (not to mention that the howl of wind through a now-empty skull will severely annoy your co-workers).

Along similar lines, our work is filled with tasks that never get completed- or tasks that take so long to complete that we feel like we’re not making any progress. Whenever we start to feel overwhelmed and like we’re going nowhere, we should take some time to do a trivial task that is easy and has a clear end point. Last week I cleaned out my email inbox of all the messages that I had been meaning to delete for months but got too busy or distracted to do earlier. Once done, I had a huge sense of accomplishment and felt oddly refreshed and ready to get back to normal work. Maybe for you it’s cleaning off your desk, organizing some files, or just watering your office plants. Whatever it is, it should be something both easy (low brain power) and measurable (sense of completion). You won’t even feel guilty about doing this over something “more important” because it’s something that you’ve been meaning to do anyway!

So, for all of our collective sanity, I challenge you to regularly do some form of the following to reset and refresh yourself:

– Go to lunch

– Clean out your inbox

All very good advice for everyone of us.  Have a great week.  .  .  .     jim