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  • How to Improve Your Career in Your Free Time

    How do you get ahead in the workplace?

    Some people over-deliver on projects they are assigned, hoping to be recognized with increased pay or a promotion. Others look for inefficiencies in the company that can serve as new leadership opportunities. Still, some employees favor becoming a voice of the brand, writing external-facing articles and speaking at industry events on behalf of their organizations. However you choose to pursue advancing your career, chances are you spend a good deal of your working hours on those efforts. For ambitious individuals, this is what separates you from the average worker who, as George Carlin famously commented, “works just hard enough not to get fired, and gets paid just enough not to quit.”

    But what if I were to tell you that you can make a much bigger impact on your career outside of the office? Today, that probably doesn’t surprise you, with everyone constantly connected to work email and the “traditional” 9-to-5 schedule being all but abolished. However, I’m not suggesting that you should work more on, well, work. I’m suggesting that you should focus on improving yourself in your spare time as a way to enhance your career potential. Of course, maximizing your productivity for your employer, and being a high-level performer are both extremely important components to success. But they can’t be the only ones. With that idea in mind, here are three ways you can improve your career in your free time:

    1. Pick up a hobby. This might sound simple, but you’d be amazed at how many people don’t have a creative outlet away from the workplace. With long working hours, family obligations, and all of the other time-constraints we have in our day-to-day, finding time to do something you enjoy can get lost in the shuffle. But it’s important to make sure that doesn’t happen. Having a creative hobby is a way to relieve stress, increase overall happiness, and find new meaning in your work. For me, having a hobby of performing comedy gave me new skills like listening, working an audience, and being observant. These were all transferable to my job as a marketer. At the beginning, I didn’t see the correlation, but by stretching creative muscles outside of work, I improved my career almost by accident.

    2. Write. The biggest issue I find with smart people I work with is that they struggle to communicate their ideas or expertise. That isn’t to say that they don’t have the capacity to do so, it’s just difficult for them. So I suggest to everyone that they make a habit of writing. Even a couple of paragraphs a day is enough to improve your ability to put ideas on paper. Ideally, this can result in blogs about your field of expertise that can enhance your personal brand within your industry. But, it doesn’t have to be. Perhaps you see a movie that makes you think, or have an engaging conversation with a friend that sparks some line of thought. Writing your ideas down is a metaphor for putting action behind them. It’s about stretching the creative muscle you aren’t used to using, remember?

    3. Do something new once a month. The time-threshold here is arbitrary. What I mean is that you should make sure to incorporate something into your life that is either unusual, new, or takes you out of your comfort zone. And to do so on a regular basis. Perhaps that means taking a yoga class, or eating a new food, or even buying a Rosetta Stone and learning a different language. I’m a comedian, so you’ll have to bare with me as many of my quotes come from comedic minds. This one is particularly applicable. Del Close, the father of long-form improv, once said, “The job of the improviser is to lead an interesting life and share it with others on stage.” I think the same is true for everyone. By doing something new and exciting, you create an opportunity to grow and adapt. You also make yourself more interesting, which in turn, will make you a more desirable person to work with. Think about the people in your office, don’t you tend to gravitate toward those who have interesting stories from the weekend? And I’m not talking about how they went out and had too many drinks, though those stories are good too. People still run organizations, if you want to get ahead you have to be the type that they are going to like spending time with.

    There are a number of other ways you can spend your time improving yourself and your career, but hopefully these can get you started in the right direction. Ultimately, it’s about focusing on how you can make yourself a more interesting and well-rounded individual, so you can bring those experiences and skills into the workplace. Absolutely, this starts with focusing your energy on doing a good job for your company. But, I suspect if you expend energy to make yourself happier and give yourself an opportunity to grow outside of work, you will reap the benefits in the office as well.

    What do you do to constantly improve? Share your ideas in the comment section below!

    Bill Connolly is a marketing/branding expert, career adviser, and professional improv comedian. Bill is also the author of the book, “Funny Business: Build Your Soft Skills Through Comedy” (July 2013), and host of a radio show by the same name on the UR Business Network. He is an actor at Boston's Improv Asylum, and performs regularly with the group What Up D'oh. Bill resides in New York City.

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    Posted in Career Development, Career Resources, Media Branding, Networking, People, Skill Development, Success Strategies, Workplace Success
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