A gentlewoman never has lunch at her desk. Doing so demonstrates a lack of imagination and means you have succumbed to the ‘done thing’ in the office or let your workload take precedence over your quality of life.
Even if you are eating a Tupperware full of last night’s leftovers to save money, there’s always somewhere else you can sit and enjoy it that isn’t facing your computer. You might think it doesn’t matter – you want to scoff a Pret sandwich with one hand and keep working or doing some online shopping with the other – but it matters greatly because it suggests you don’t respect yourself and your allotted personal time enough to do something better with it. And are you seriously at peace with getting cheese and pickle stains on your mouse mat or bits of quinoa stuck in the keys of your laptop?
LOVE YOUR LUNCH BREAK
I’ve worked in offices for years and I’m always shocked by how few people take a lunch break. A study by Total Jobs found that a third of UK employees never leave their workplace after they arrive in the morning. More than half of the 7,135 people surveyed don’t take their full lunch break; 68 per cent justified skipping lunch saying they had too much to do or an unexpected task to handle.
It takes, what, ten minutes to eat lunch if you are on a pressing deadline. Is it really impossible for you to sit somewhere else in the office or dash downstairs to a nearby bench? If you are giving eight or more hours of your day to work, whether it’s for a company or for yourself, you deserve to claim a small amount of time within that day to do something completely different. So be a gentlewoman and use your time wisely and actively.
Taking a ‘power hour’ every day stops you from losing sight of yourself during the working week and becoming entirely subsumed by a ‘job’.
I appreciate that eating lunch in a restaurant or café might be prohibitively expensive, but if you can afford to treat yourself once a week, once a month even, to a proper sit-down lunch, alone or with colleagues, you will realize how such an enjoyable and civilized experience can break the monotony of the working day and mean you return to your tasks with a renewed energy and clarity of mind.
Taking a ‘power hour’ every day stops you from losing sight of yourself during the working week and becoming entirely subsumed by a ‘job’. When you are in the zone it’s easy to forget that you exist as a person beyond that spreadsheet or keynote presentation or the 500-word article you have to write by 4pm… But your work will be better if you give yourself space and keep a healthy perspective on the impact work makes on the scales of your life.
The work/life balance myth
We strive for balance, but the idea of a work/life balance feels out of step with the way we work today. There is no forward slash – life is in work and work is in life and it’s all one big melting pot of experiences, which we as gentlewomen and authors of our own narrative, captains of our own happiness, exercise complete control over. And just as being stuck in a bad relationship can hold you back from becoming your full self, so can being unhappy at work.
The most future-facing companies recognize that showing up at an office at a certain time everyday can be seriously exhausting in itself and have done away with the nine-to-five so that the working day can be structured to fit around individuals. Flexible working or self-employment suits a gentlewoman’s desire to show up fully in every aspect of her life and create an everyday ‘flow’ in which she controls her own orbit of work, family, friends, her relationship, home and time for herself.
And just as being stuck in a bad relationship can hold you back from becoming your full self, so can being unhappy at work.
If working freelance is not an option for you, speaking to your boss about flexible hours should be. Be the change you want to happen. We often don’t allow ourselves enough sleep, waking early after a late night seeing friends or family or staying up to watch the Netflix show everyone’s talking about, in order to rush into work as if someone is taking a register at 9am. Over time the effect of this is draining.
Being late is a bad habit so if a start time isn’t working for you and people are keeping track, have an honest conversation about a more fluid approach to your hours, rather than feeling ‘behind’ before you’ve even reached the office. Given that most of us check our work emails as soon as we wake up, the idea of work having a ‘start time’ is pretty redundant anyway.
If you are in a position to exercise some agency over how much sleep you get each night, make the most of it. Stagger your week so that you avoid consecutive late nights. Choose to watch a 30-minute show rather than one that lasts an hour and if it’s already 9pm by the time you sit down to press play, perhaps consider having a bath and getting into bed instead. When we are tired at the end of a long day we often don’t make the best choices – from what to eat for dinner (takeaway?) to how to spend those precious hours between getting home and going to bed (mindlessly scroll through Instagram? Put clothes we can’t afford on a wish list? Read about celebrity flaunting cleavage instead of reading pile of books on bedside table? Think about sorting underwear drawer?). If in doubt, prioritize a good night’s sleep over everything else. As Homer writes in The Odyssey: ‘There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.’
How To Be A Gentlewoman by Lotte Jeffs, £15, is published by Cassell and available to buy now.