In praise of power breakfast

Can golf get more women into the boardroom?
Can golf get more women into the boardroom?

Power lunch is dead.

Demanding schedules have shrunk lunch hours to mere lunch minutes. Even after work, making social plans is hard. Workaholics and caregivers alike often can't carve out the time for post-work drinks or dinner.

For me and two of my close friends, the struggle felt real. Because we all work in different neighborhoods, finding a common lunch spot seemed impossible. Even when we made time to meet up in the evening, plans usually collapsed midday, as work deadlines loomed. One (or all) of us would cancel. Or, if we did meet up, we'd rush to recap our days while downing a pricey cocktail. We still talked about work, but I started to feel like we never got to talk about any of the "fun" stuff, like new projects or life goals.

But earlier this year, my friends proposed a brilliant solution.

Stop trying to make lunch, dinner or drinks plans work. Instead, embrace a new (much more delicious) alternative: power breakfast.

We spent an hour or so one day chatting about what worked best for all of us — 8 a.m., we decided, at a quiet spot with healthy options, close to the trains.

On Mondays, we check in to see how everyone's calendar is shaping up. We change the date depending on who is traveling for work or in a crunch on a big assignment. Then, one of us reserves the table and sends a calendar invite.

Yes — it's that easy.

Kickstarting your workday

Morra Aarons-Mele, owner of the digital agency Women Online and author of "Hiding in the Bathroom: How to Get Out There When You'd Rather Stay Home," agrees that power breakfast is the perfect plan for busy lives.

"You know like starting your day with sun salutations [in yoga]? It's like that," she says. "I leave breakfast with a spring in my step. A breakfast that's a good networking opportunity or a good catch-up makes me feel like I'm part of a community, makes me feel more confident and also inspired."

Power breakfast feels different from other social plans. As Aarons-Mele points out, it's time-efficient (you only need an hour for eggs and lattes) and forward-looking (you ideally sit down for breakfast before you sit down to your desk).

At power breakfast, you're not merely recapping your week. You're creating a game plan for the day.

That precious social time outside of work is crucial for advancement, says Marissa King, professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management. These connections are especially vital for women and minorities, employees whose networks may not be as strong as those who are longtime members of the "old boys' club."

"There's lots of different things friendships provide that are crucial for work," King says. "People with better networks tend to be promoted faster, they're paid more, they're more creative and they have more social support."

The power of plans

Women and men form their networks in different ways, King says. Men often blend their social circles, mixing business with friendship. Women tend to segment their lives into "work" and "fun"; and sometimes, King says, that boundary weakens their professional networks overall.

"Breakfast, in many ways, is great because this is one way of helping to reduce that segmentation for work for women, between their work lives and their social lives," she says.

Six months in, my friends and I have stuck to our weekly breakfast date. Sometimes one of us is late (me), and sometimes we have to cancel. But we always make sure to clink coffee mugs when we sit down, like a little "cheers" to making it out the door, to spending time as a trio before the day gets going.

We finally get to talk about the fun stuff.

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