Tips for Bringing Your Lunch to Work

These are some things I’ve learned or thought about and found helpful during my own effort to bring my lunch to work. The tips are all fairly obvious, but seeing a collection of tips like this all in one place sometimes helps to force the issue and actually make a change. In this case, that would be to break out of the habit of going out to lunch everyday — spending more money than you should and eating more than you should — and start brown-bagging it, thereby saving some money and eating healthier. Here are the tips — please leave a comment with your bring your lunch to work ideas!

Pack it up the night before. The biggest downfall in terms of actually bringing a lunch to work is that you don’t have enough time in the morning to pack one up.

When you make your meals, plan extra portions so that you can bring them in for lunch the next day(s).

When you go shopping, make sure your shopping list includes items that you’d like to bring for lunch — sandwich meats, fruit, crackers, dried fruits, nuts, etc.

Not so great soup from the deli can cost $5 or more. A semi-decent can of soup from the store that cost $2 to $3 can be easily placed in a plastic container and brought to work. A quick zap in the microwave and you are good to go.

When all else fails, readymade frozen meals brought to work and heated up in the microwave will be cheaper than going out to lunch. They’re easy to pack, easy to prepare, and some can be quite tasty.

When you go out to eat, make sure you have the food left on your plate packed up — that’s right — leftovers, leftovers, leftovers. The food often tastes better the next day (or maybe it’s just because you’re having a not-uncommon bad day at work, and the taste of the leftovers triggers that happy feeling you had the night before when you were out on the town with friends, family or your significant other eating a meal at a nice restaurant).

Invest in good, easy to clean, compact containers that can be used over and over again.

Not just big containers, but little ones that you can put things like mustard or dressings in. That way, you can add these extras on at the right time, instead of doing it earlier and soggifying your lunch.

Use the tops of your containers as plates, instead of using wasteful paper plates.

Get a spork — a spoon, fork and knife in one handy, reusable eating utensil, so that you don’t need to bring in multiple utensils or use wasteful plastic forks, knives and spoons. (Thanks for that tip Heather Menicucci.)

If you have a sweet tooth, make sure to pack some healthy sweets (like raisons or dried apricots, things like that), so that you are not tempted to run out and get a donut or candy from the vending machines.

Give up soda completely — commit to drinking water. Not drinking soda really cuts down on the calories AND the cost of lunch. Plus, a can(s) of soda is a heavy item to lug all the way to work.

Don’t ONLY bring your lunch — treat yourself to a nice lunch at your favorite lunch place, or somewhere that you’ve been wanting to try, at least one day a week. Just like you can get tired of eating out all the time, you can also get tired of brown-bagging it day after day.

Wednesday is the optimal day to go out to lunch — breaks up the monotony of bringing your lunch right smack in the middle of the work week.

Make a point of not just eating your packed lunch sitting at your desk. On nice weather days, find a nice place outside to eat, and invite co-workers to join you. On bad weather days, eat in the community dining area, or order a coffee at a nice cafe and eat your lunch there. Donut shops are also a nice option, that is, if you can hold your order to just coffee and avoid feasting on all those glorious, delicious donuts treats.

Fruit is all-purpose lunch magic — easy to pack, no container necessary, and affordable. Plus, the sweetness of the various fruits — and there are so many to choose from — can serve as a desert, keeping you from giving in to your sweet tooth cravings or need for a soda. And one more thing: fruit works as an excellent, healthy, fulfilling snack — it can be eaten before lunch if your stomach is growling, or after lunch, during that long stretch between the lunch break and quitting time that is usually marred by a trip down to the vending machine or to the corner store for a candy bar or a (stale) cookie or something really awful like cardboard with frosting and sprinkles on top, otherwise known as Pop Tarts (yes, I admit it, I love those things — even when they’re untoasted and I am stone cold sober).

Use the community fridge in your office to store items that can help zest up your lunches — things like good mustard or salad dressing or salsa/hot sauce or even pita bread and hummus.

Keep a jar of peanut butter in your desk drawer for those days when you forget your lunch or just didn’t have time to pack up a good one. You can easily pick up some bread at any deli for not much money at all. The peanut butter can also come in handy if you need an (almost the) end of the day snack.

Have a cool bag to bring your lunch in — an extra non-essential (but not really) fashion incentive to bring your lunch to work.

If you’ve got bringing your lunch to work ideas/incentives, please leave a comment!

Think about joining the Brought My Lunch Flickr Group as an incentive to bring your lunch to work.

How-To Write Your Novel While You’re On the Clock

This is an age-old, time-honored tradition: Writing a novel on the man’s dollar. Yes, you can burn the midnight oil, or work on weekends, or take a few months off to pound out your tome, but there is nothing better than writing the words to that novel that may or may not become a bestseller and make you rich and famous while you’re supposed to be on the job. The lower level the job, the worse your boss is, the more deprave the conditions, the better your words, or at least the story of how your words came to the page, will be.

Plus, it should be noted that if you’re writing while on the job, you are technically being paid, albeit in a round-about, subversive way, for writing! That is no small feat. You are probably making more money off of your writing than most published authors.

Still, it’s not so easy to get writing done while you’re on the clock: there are all those urgent emails that pour into your inbox, urgent calls that light up your phone, and urgent requests from your boss to handle the various urgent issues that pop up throughout the day.

Why is it that in life, "urgent" means someone is in the hospital, but in the workplace, "urgent" ranges from "Meeting time changed" to "Need that report by EOD."?

Whatever… As long as YOU get what’s urgent in the workplace: getting work done on things that are near and dear to your heart: for you writers out there (and aren’t we all working on a novel these days, at least as far as the idea phase?), that would be your novel!

Here then, are some ways to write your novel while you’re on the clock:

1. Show up early and pound out some writing before the start of your day. Technically you’re not on the clock, but it’s a great habit to get into, especially if you have a truly demanding job where it’s hard to sneak in personal creative endeavors. Wait! Keep reading! Sacrilege, I know, to suggest that you show up early to work. But this really is an excellent way to get some writing done without interruption.

2. Or, when you do show up for work, right on time (or the usual few minutes after the official start of your working day), instead of checking your voice mail and email, and then surfing the news and gossip sites, commit to focusing completely on your writing for a solid half-hour. You’re fresh, and have yet to get sucked into or distracted by all the work-related crapola — red-flagged "urgent" emails, obnoxious voice mail messages from co-workers asking stupid questions (for like the third time), and just the usual tidal wave of stress that washes over you at the start of each working day.

Note: There is no better way to start the day than with a personal creative effort — it will juice you up, get your mind rolling, and instill energy that will help carry you through the day. If something crappy does happen during the work day, (and doesn’t something crappy always happen?), the stage you set in the morning will help you work through the negativity.

3. Just like you block off time for meetings and various work-related projects, like the overwhelming monthly report, for example, set aside specific times in your calendar to work on your novel. A half-hour every day, or an hour every other day. List it as "Top Priority Project: NVL" in your calendar. And just like you have to show up at that meeting or work on that report so as to finish it by the deadline, make sure you adhere to your schedule and work on your true "Top Priority Project" at the designated times.

4. Commit to writing a certain amount of words each day while at the office, be it 500 or 1,000 or more. Hold firm that you cannot leave the office until you have fulfilled your commitment. You’ll find a way to make the time — especially if you’re like most worker-bots and like to get the hell out of the office right at quitting time.

5. Just like smokers trying to quit throw a piece of gum in their mouth every time they feel the impulse to light up, every time you open up your browser to check out a gossip site or the blog you are currently addicted to, fire up your word processing program and pound out a paragraph or two of writing.

6. Dread meetings at work? Of course you do. Instead of re-running the Star Wars trilogy in your mind just to stay awake, jot down notes or bits of dialogue for your novel. If you can pull-off writing actual paragraphs in that kind of environment, with someone blathering on and on and on, the most annoying people in the room naturally doing most of the talking, the more power to you. Tip: Look up every once in a while and make eye contact with whoever it is that is talking. All your writing will look like you are simply taking copious meeting notes.

7. If you really, really hate your job, and you find yourself complaining to anyone who will listen, as well as making several calls a day to your significant other bitching and moaning about your sorry lot in life (not attractive!), you need to make a conscious decision to focus not on broadcasting your complaints but to writing your novel. Every time you feel the impulse to complain about most likely the same old shit, that should be the tripwire that sends you back to your desk to write. If you can pull this off, you will feel much better about yourself and your job (and people in the office, as well as your significant other, might actually want to talk to you again.)

8. If you are really focused on doing well at your job, and do indeed do a bang-up, kick-ass job, simply take that same standard for excellence and efficiency and find a way (while you are on the clock) to make it happen for your personal project as well: prioritize time to work on your novel, and when you are working on it, give the words you write the high-level attention to detail, originality and top-notch quality you would an important work-related project.

9. Take advantage of the lunch hour. Either find a quiet cafe and write in your journal, or write while you eat at your desk. Finding a cafe is preferable — gets you away from your ringing phone, incoming emails, people popping by to talk with you, not to mention that big old stack of papers that needs to be dealt with.

10. Incorporate events and characters from the workplace into your story. Annoying co-workers and your boss will certainly provide loads of ideas. Writing them into your story has the added benefit of helping you mentally deal with their shit in the real working world: you’ll find that taking the time to reveal the absurdities of your workplace in the form of the written word has a soothing effect — it provides a way to take a step back and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Plus, there’s that whole revenge thing: in the pages of your novel you can expose — in a no-holds-bar fashion — the idiotic and petty behavior of your terrible boss and lame co-workers to the reading public-at-large (or at least to the people in your office that you like).

11. When working on your novel, spread out paperwork all over your desk. It will look like you are really busy, and if people stop by to talk with you about something, you can just point to all the papers and say, "I can’t talk right now — I’m in deep." They’ll totally get it, and leave you alone to write.

12. Form a writing group with like-minded co-workers. Reserve a conference room each week and hold your workshop sessions right there during the middle of the work-day.

13. End your day with an allotted amount of time to write — say the last 15 minutes or so before quitting time. It will clear your headspace of the day-job baggage and put you in a writing frame-of-mind as you head out the door. It’s also a great way to reignite your energy level and find your second wind after a long day at work. You can then use that second wind to carry you home and continue with your writing efforts until it’s time to hit the sack and begin the work day, I mean novel-writing, anew.

Be sure to check out the Simple Things You Can Do Right Now to Jumpstart Your Writing Efforts, as well as the Not-To-Do List.

And be sure to also check out the Working For the Man Book:

Order now: Amazon

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Two Productivity Sites of Note — “Killer Resources for Entrepreneurs.” Lots of links, lots of product reviews, with an emphasis on cool apps (why they are the “killerist”), efficiency, and helpful advice. — “Your Descriptive Source of Solutions.” This site focuses on web applications, products and services — excellent, insightful, in-depth reviews.

How To Stay Cool

For the past few days here in NYC, it’s been terribly hot. It’s been that way all across the country. During this heat wave, I haven’t done a damn thing — except complain about the heat. Here are some "notes to self" on how to stay cool.

Try not to say "It’s so fuckin’ hot!" every three seconds.

Keep the ice cube trays filled, as well as a reserve bowl filled with ice.

Do not decide to ease the pain by drinking a beer or two. Or five.

Take a cool shower right before you decide to go to sleep.

Be naked as often as possible.

Keep as many lights off as possible.

Keep the curtains drawn during the day.

Enjoy the guilt-free sensation of NOT going for a run.

Change the cat litter more often than usual, so that your apartment does not reek of cat pee.

Don’t let the annoying weathermen on TV make you want to hurt people, or yourself, or the television.

Do not cook, or even think about quickly heating something up on the stove.

Do not kill your significant other when he/she decides to cook up all those vegetables from the Farmer’s Market because he/she doesn’t "want it all to go bad."

Make sure the fans are positioned in such a way so as to circulate the cold air from the air conditioner.

Have ice cold bottles of water at the ready to take whenever you have to leave the apartment/house.

Eat salads and sandwiches and fruit. And popsicles.

Have a ready supply of popsicles in the freezer.

Do not threaten bodily harm when your partner accidentally lets his/her leg touch your leg while in bed or while lying on the couch. Politely say, "This is a non-body-heat sharing zone" in a friendly, but stern voice.