There are those among us who occasionally have a “working lunch,” where we take a client to a nice meal and discuss options over steak.  Definitely not a bad gig.  But for most of us, a “working lunch” means we’re allowed to eat during a meeting that we really, really wish we could skip, or we’re plowing through something while sitting next to a half-eaten salad on our desks.  In fact, creative folks and project-based businesses—the kind that don’t really clock out for lunch—usually skip meals, unless they can work through them.  

I’m no different—I know I need to eat more healthy food choices more often, and I know that being hungry doesn’t effect my work positively, but there’s a lot to do.  The problem isn’t just that I let my blood sugar drop, it’s also that I refused to walk away when I really needed to.

Creative people can fear a loss of inspiration so acutely that it drives them to work through biological needs while working with “the Muse,” just so they don’t lose continuity.  There may be times when that is exactly what is needed, but it shoudn’t be the norm.  Here are some tips to help you work your best without starving yourself:

Snack Drawer:

We only eat what we have to eat.  Very few people will make a run to the grocery store in the middle of the work day, although they will make a quick run for fast food or order delivery.  If you had healthy snacks at your desk, you would absent-mindedly consume them and not even look at the clock.  Your blood sugar stays where it should be and you can keep working.  Good ideas for desk snacks are whole grain crackers, dried fruit, trail mix and jerkies, although if you can bring some fresh carrots or grapes in addition to the non-perishables, they go down really easy.  You already know you’re not going to stop for lunch, and if you don’t have something healthy around, you’ll wait until you can’t stand it anymore and then have a candy bar, which will crash out and leave you worse than it found you and still make you fat.

Staff Standards:

If there’s an area that’s always stocked with healthy snacks for everyone, it becomes a part of the office normal.  This sounds like an unnecessary investment of both time and money when contrasted by the idea that adults should be providing their own lunch, but that isn’t taking into account the time you’re already wasting.  While we don’t want people to work through needed breaks, if they’re going to do it anyway, keeping them fed keeps up the quality of the work.

Think about your creative staff, and how much each of them makes in an hour.  Those that take a lunch break are not working during that hour, and they use the time to go provide themselves lunch.  Since most are on salary, you’re already paying for that hour.  Those that don’t take a lunch break are working through that hour, but if they end up making mistakes or having to redo something the next day because they were too tired and unfocused to give it their best, it still costs you an hour, possibly more.  When you do the math for the whole team, it adds up.  Suddenly pretzels and trail mix don’t sound that pricey.

Walk Away Anyway:

You don’t want to take a full lunch break because you are both inspired and so buried you’ll be working well into the night if you don’t get to a certain point before 5:00.  Ok.  Take at least 10 minutes.

Save what you’re working on, walk to the snack table or raid your snack drawer, take a lap around the office and say hi to a few people, as long as you aren’t interrupting.  Splash some water on your face or use a wet paper towel on the back of your neck to refresh you.  Play a silly game on your phone for a minute.  It’s important that you step away and come back to it from time to time.  Not only is it important for self-care, you’d be amazed what you see with fresh eyes.

If you or your staff tend to neglect themselves while they focus on a project, make the right kind of food available and you will see an increase in the quality of your work.  You’ll also be less hungry when you get home—the land of potato chips and snack cakes for most of us—so you’re less likely to cram high-sugar foods into your system right before bed.