Reader question: Given the bad market, I feel like I should be taking shorter lunches and less personal time. Do employers even notice that type of sacrifice?
If employers value you sacrificing your lunch time, are these the employers you want?
Seriously though, I once made a lunch date with a colleague who like myself is a busy working mom. About five minutes before our appointed meeting time, she was hovering outside my office trying to get my attention. Extreme punctuality? Actually, she was canceling at the last-minute. She had an all-morning meeting and came back to a stack of emails, so surely she couldn’t lunch.
This colleague always canceled last-minute. Maybe she thinks that the hour she saves by skipping lunch keeps her from getting overwhelmed. Actually it is just the opposite. I recommend keeping one or two lunches a week open for last-minute additions – e.g., a professional meeting that has to be over lunch, a personal errand that is time-sensitive. But try to have other lunch hours booked two to three weeks in advance. Balance lunches between internal appointments (current colleagues in your department and in different departments) and external (colleagues in the industry, colleagues from a former company, informational interviews). Also try to balance lunches between current goals, future goals, and fun. Lunch is time for you – for sustenance, career reflection, career promotion, and catching up with old friends. Rather than being overwhelming, planning out lunches provides a substantive break in the day.
Of course, the benefit of lunch dates only works if you keep them. The strategy is common sense (how else can you get to know your colleagues) but the execution is key. How many busy executives feel like they are being too reactive in their careers and yet cannot plan and keep their lunch hour? Lunch helps with long-term career management. Don’t just react. Have plans.
PS. Both my colleague and I are no longer with that company. My frazzled colleague who always skipped lunch got laid off anyway. I used my lunch hours to plan my business and left on my own terms.