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3 Cheap and Productive Ways to Spend Your Lunch Break at Work

3 ways to spend your lunchtime

Joanne Poh

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Have you never noticed how lunch break at work never really feels like a break?

You spend 10 to 15 minutes waiting for the lift to arrive, waiting for colleagues to emerge from the washroom and trekking to your lunch destination. Another 20 minutes gets wasted as you try to secure a seat with tissue packets and stand in an endless queue.

You spoon food into your mouth without really tasting it while listening to office gossip, and 20 minutes later pack up and head back to the office.

I used to think that if there were the option to skip lunch hour altogether in exchange for being allowed to leave the office an hour early, I would jump at it.

Then I started packing lunch to work and discovered that avoiding competing with the lunchtime crowd made that precious hour go a lot further.

Here are some of the ways I’ve spent my lunch break:

1. Do Yoga

Exercising after an exhausting day at work is a mental challenge, which is why people have to pay personal trainers to torture them.

If you can wake up early in the morning to get some exercise before work without wanting to shoot yourself in the head just to stop the pain when the alarm rings in the morning, please share your secret.

Then there’s the problem of not wanting to get too hot and sweaty in order to avoid having to take another shower during lunchtime.

The challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to buy a $12.25 yoga mat at Guardian Pharmacy or Watsons and do yoga during lunchtime.

If you’ve studied yoga before, you might already have a favourite routine. To avoid having to take a shower afterwards, stick with a less intense style. Otherwise, download a free app like Daily Yoga or load a YouTube video like this one of a 20 minute routine for complete beginners.

I’ve tried practising yoga everywhere from the rooftop of my office building to shadowy stairwells. If you work in the CBD, here are some great spots:

  • Under a tree on the lawn outside the Asian Civilisations museum, across the river from UOB Plaza.
  • Grassy area behind PS Café on Ann Siang Hill
  • Field beside Amoy Street Food Centre

Do this every day and your gym membership will soon seem like an unnecessary frill.

2. Learn a Language

Learning a language is one of those things many people think is impossible. And no wonder, because most people’s idea of learning a language is taking a 2 hour class once a week.

If 10 years of Chinese lessons couldn’t teach kids from English-speaking homes enough to order a bowl of wonton mee without getting called a banana, you’re going to have to do a lot more.

The good news it that an hour of study every day will probably get you a lot further than you think.

To become proficient in a language like French or Spanish, the Foreign Service Institute of the US Department of State estimates you need 575 to 600 class hours.

Put in an hour of study during lunchtime each day and you could become proficient in 2-3 years, which isn’t too bad at all.

While the library obviously has numerous resources you can borrow for free, studying using a free mobile app like Duolingo is great at lunchtime, as you can get out of the office and relax on a park bench somewhere, perhaps by the river at Marina Boulevard or in the leafy environs of Telok Ayer Green.

3. Go Grocery Shopping

While people are generally accustomed to running errands during lunchtime, this is usually limited to runs to the post office or paying bills.

If you’re trying to commit to cooking at home more and bringing your own lunch to work, the biggest obstacle you face is probably not the amount of time spent in the kitchen but rather having to constantly go to the supermarket after work or on weekends.

The great thing about doing your grocery shopping during lunchtime is that you’re forced to plan your shopping list and menu in advance since you only have an hour. Studies have shown that recreational shoppers spend more, and going in with a list makes you less likely to engage in browsing.

Plus, you will no longer be able to cop out and duck into a restaurant because you’re too tired and hungry to buy groceries after work.

A recent study showed that British people spend 18 entire days a year shopping, with about half that time allocated to grocery shopping. 18 days is the amount of leave some people get in an entire year!

If you can’t already tell, I’m a huge fan of getting as much non-work related stuff done during the working day. After all, the “life” portion of the “work-life balance” equation isn’t meant to be spent queuing at some bank branch or AXS machine.

If you work in the CBD area, here are some supermarkets that might be within walking distance of your office.

  • NTUC at #B1-01 Chinatown Point
  • NTUC at 5 Tanjong Pagar Plaza #01-01
  • Cold Storage at China Square Central #B1-03/04
  • Cold Storage at Suntec City #02-728

Do you have any other ideas on how to spend lunch break? Let us know in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.