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50 ways to invest in yourself and boost your career

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50 ways to invest in yourself and boost your career

When most people think about career advancement, they think in terms of dollars and cents. They wonder how much an advanced degree will cost them and if that degree will help them jump to the next pay bracket. Thinking about costs and returns is not a bad thing, but money isn’t the only measurement of success. Bolstering one’s career and intrinsic worth takes more than cash–in fact, the most important investments in personal and professional growth might only cost an investment of time.

At Stacker, we researched the best practices and methods for personal and professional success as recommended by leading entrepreneurs, industry experts and renowned world thinkers. We’ve supplemented those best practices with research from Statista, the Harvard Business Review, and various medical journals. As SUCCESS Magazine Contributing Editor Mel Robbins said, “The time is now. Stop hitting the snooze button on your life.”

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Laughlin Air Force Base

#50. Join a Toastmasters class

When in an elevator with an executive, the ability to talk about one’s job in an eloquent and humble manner comes in handy. According to former Toastmasters International President Gary Schmidt, the most important way to influence others is “to know your audience and their needs.” A Toastmasters class can help to develop communication and leadership skills while increasing self-confidence.

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#49. Learn Adobe Photoshop

In today’s workforce, photo editing skills are never a bad thing to have. Adobe offers free online Photoshop tutorials for those looking to learn the basics or refine their skills.

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#48. Chat with industry veterans regularly

Here’s a secret: most people like talking about themselves. Industry experts are no different, but they also have an overabundance of specialized knowledge to share. Expressing interest and being an active listener is all it takes to learn from an industry veteran.

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University of the Fraser Valley // Flickr

#47. Commit to a fitness class

Studies show that regular, moderate exercise positively impacts cognitive functioning in both the young and old. Attending one 30-minute fitness class at the local gym each day can improve concentration and prolong mental stamina at work.

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#46. Take a basic accounting class

A basic understanding of accounting is helpful in grasping the financial structure of organizations. For those aiming to manage a team of professionals, knowing how to prepare a budget and make smart financial decisions is essential.

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#45. Learn a coding language

In 2015, 7 million job openings required coding skills. From the basics of HTML to the complexity of C++, coding skills can bolster an individual’s net worth. Codecademy is an excellent online resource for anyone interested in learning how to code.  

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Attend local university lectures

#44. Attend local university lectures

Many universities host public lecture series featuring leading researchers and industry experts. Topics can range from the latest developments in civil rights, to biomedical research advancements. Public lectures are intended to spark curiosity and broaden an individual’s horizons, and they’re great places to network.

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ITU Pictures // Flickr

#43. Become an expert on something

Developing extensive knowledge on one aspect of your career, a specific moment in history, or anything you love builds self-confidence and adds value to the community at large. Becoming an expert in anything takes time and commitment, but committing to the long haul is bound to lead to success. 

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#42. Safeguard the most productive times of the day

In his essay Laying the Groundwork for an Effective Routine,” Mark McGuinness, a London-based coach for companies and creative professionals, wrote that “the single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second.” The objective is to save mundane and mindless tasks like answering emails or data entry for times when creative energy is waning. 

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Rawpixel.com // Shutterstock

#41. Chip away at making a big career move

Sometimes the job you have is just not part of the career you want. Mike Lewis, the best-selling author of “When to Jump: If the Job You Have Isn’t the Life You Want,” recommends listening to the little voice inside, making a plan, setting a date, and not looking back.

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#40. Schedule device-free time for mind work

Oprah Winfrey uses Sundays as her tech-free time for spiritual renewal. Tumblr founder David Karp shuts off his notifications when he leaves work. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey takes Saturdays off to hike and uses Sundays to reflect and create strategies. Pairing time to think with the absence of electronics can foster creativity and allow time to recharge both yourself and your batteries.

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#39. Take long walks

Studies show that long, purposeful walks can lift someone’s mood, get creative juices flowing, boost brainpower, rev up metabolism, and more. Notorious long walkers include Aristotle, Charles Dickens, Steve Jobs, and Cheryl Strayed.

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#38. Learn a bit about SEO

A research study done by Conductor in 2017 revealed that one in every two content jobs now require SEO (search engine optimization) skills. Here’s a comprehensive list of the best blogs and resources to learn or hone SEO skills. 

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#37. Read a book

Even busy business professionals find time to read: Warren Buffett reads 500 pages a day, Bill Gates reads 50 books a year, and Oprah Winfrey developed a widely successful book club. Interestingly, successful people tend to prefer reading educational books or biographies over novels.

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Laughlin Air Force Base

#36. Attend a charitable event

The Mental Health Foundation claims that helping others is associated with happiness and “helps reduce loneliness and isolation.” Everyone who participates in charity work wins—both givers and receivers.

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#35. Join a professional organization

Besides being a great way to network, joining a professional organization can provide speaking and leadership opportunities as well as chances to collaborate with professionals outside of the office. Attending association seminars and conferences will also help you stay current on the new theories being shared within your industry.

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#34. Take a free Coursera class

Coursera partners with top universities and organizations to provide people with online access to some of the world’s best educational courses. From poetry to data science, Coursera offers a wide range of free classes to help further anyone’s education.

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#33. Cultivate cultural awareness

Many companies have cultural awareness groups for their employees. Dr. Richard T. Alpert of Diversity Resources, an online company that offers many different forms of diversity training, wrote that “developing cultural competence results in an ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures, and work with varying cultural beliefs and schedules.”

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US Air Forces Central Command

#32. Learn a new language

In a 2017 report by the New American Economy, the number of U.S. companies looking for bilingual workers has more than doubled in the last five years. Spanish and Arabic speakers and those familiar with Chinese dialects are a few of the most commonly sought-after employees in this respect. Remember those free Coursera courses we were just talking about?

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Vance Air Force Base

#31. Volunteer for a nonprofit organization

Debbie Roman, senior director of member Strategy for Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania, said that common skills helpful for volunteering at nonprofits include marketing, communications, research and development, and more. Professionals need hands-on experience, and nonprofits need help—it’s a win-win situation.

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#30. Stick to a routine that works

Whether it’s rising early to hit the gym or using the evening to plan out the next day, the key to success is sticking to a healthy, personalized routine. Aristotle famously said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

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#29. Get a good night’s sleep

According to writer and professional speaker Tony Schwartz, “Sleep is more important than food.” To boost work performance, make sure to get between eight and 10 hours of sleep each night.

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#28. Make mention of accomplishments

This is a tough one for individuals who are not comfortable tooting their own horn, but learning how to talk about successes is important. The best practice is to keep it simple. Describe the accomplishment briefly and in a light, positive tone. 

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#27. Become a Big Brother or Big Sister

It only takes a couple hours a month to mentor a child in need of a positive adult influence. According to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, children who have a caring adult in their lives are “more likely to avoid risky behaviors and to focus on academics.”

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#26. Be a part of company community outreach programs

Most companies offer their employees the chance to get involved with various customized community outreach programs. These programs give employees networking and leadership opportunities, and they help employees feel more connected to their community.

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#25. Limit smartphone distractions during periods of focus

In Udemy’s 2018 Workplace Distraction Report, 36 percent of millennials and Gen Z'ers say they spend two or more hours per workday looking at their phones for personal activities. That’s a little more than 25 percent of the average American workday. To limit distractions, try scheduling periods of time where you put your phone on “Do Not Disturb” mode, or block out small windows of time to check social media and text messages. 

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#24. Improve leadership skills by lifting others up

Great leaders motivate others to strive for greatness. As Ronald Reagan said, “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things." Brainstorm ways to positively impact another individual’s career.  

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#23. Talk with a therapist

Sometimes personal issues at work or in the home can cause an individual’s productivity and health to decline. In the U.S., one in six adults lives with mental illness, totaling 44.7 million in 2016, but less than half of those suffering adults received treatment for their mental health issues. One way to foster good mental health is to reach out to a psychologist.

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#22. Learn to draw or paint

Creating art helps to reduce stress, as art helps to resolve or work through problems by opening the mind to an array of different solutions. Learning to draw or paint can be as easy as picking up an instructional book or taking a night class at a local community college.

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#21. Allow time to daydream

Research suggests that people with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering. You can forgive your third grade teacher for calling you a daydreamer in front of the entire class—how was she to know that you had a more efficient brain than all of the other students?

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#20. Take control of your calendar

Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how many appointments and meetings have been added to your calendar. Mike Vardy, former managing editor at Lifehack, remedies this by scheduling blocks of time for everything from work-related writing projects to personal time for reading. Remember, if the time is blocked, it’s unavailable from that point forward.

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#19. Get a digital life coach

For those who need hardcore accountability when it comes to setting and reaching goals, a digital life coach can be the way to go. Certified life coaches are experts in the field of self improvement and success and can help to yield real results.

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Moyan Brenn // Wikicommons

#18. Travel

Even a short trip to a warm, sunny destination can boost morale. In fact, employees who take vacations are more productive at work and report less burnout. Traveling offers a rest from busy day-to-day routines and opens up opportunities to learn more about the world.

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#17. Go on a spiritual journey

Going on a spiritual journey does not necessarily have to include travel–the act of meditating at home is an exercise in spirituality that many public figures see as a key to success. For instance, Steve Jobs practiced Zen Buddhism, and Ellen DeGeneres practices Transcendental Meditation.

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#16. Put an end to multitasking, one task at a time

Human brains are not built for multitasking. Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientist Earl Miller claims that “when people think they're multitasking, they're actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there's a cognitive cost." Give that brain a break—one task at a time.

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#15. Learn to say “no”

We live in a “yes” culture, but successful people learn to say “no.” Identifying long-term goals can be helpful in evaluating when to say either, and letting someone know the rationale for doing so can help to maintain and even strengthen professional relationships.

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#14. Accept managerial idiosyncrasies

Overthinking a manager’s behaviors can cause unneeded stress. When stakes are high at work and the hustle is on, it’s easy to dwell on the things that make managers hard to like. Turning pet peeves into big problems can drain productivity. 

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#13. Take a calculated risk

A calculated risk is not measured by fear, but by logic. Amy Morin, author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” suggests weighing a risk by creating a list of pros and cons rather than being guided by misleading emotions.

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sbudoit // Flickr

#12. Watch a Ted Talk (or 10)

Ted Talks, such as those on this list from Medium, have the potential to change lives with their motivational and inspirational messages. Take a peek at some of these short, powerful talks from some of the world’s top business professionals, industry experts, and other great thinkers.

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#11. Attend a professional conference

Conferences bring like-minded individuals together, and it can be great to talk shop with someone who knows the industry inside and out. Conferences give attendees the chance to interact with industry whiz kids and superstars. Can’t afford to travel far for a conference? Keep an eye out for local networking events.

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#10. Follow up with new connections after conferences

After returning home from a conference, send an email to each new contact. This is a small and simple way to stand out and be remembered. Not great with words? Online templates can be helpful when crafting a thoughtful note.

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#9. Make the bed

Michael DiBenedetto, CEO of food delivery service Bootler, makes his bed every morning. DiBenedetto was inspired when he heard a speech by Admiral William H. McRaven, who explained that the small act of making his bed gets his day started with a small accomplishment. 

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#8. Rethink eating breakfast

Many highly successful people don’t skip breakfast. Michelle Obama eats scrambled eggs, turkey bacon and grapefruit. Arianna Huffington has fruit, poached eggs and two cups of coffee. That said, evidence of the importance of eating breakfast is somewhat controversial.  

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#7. Arrive to work early

The benefits of arriving to work early are many—the office is quiet, there’s time to plan out the most important tasks for the day, and, of course, it’s never a bad idea to impress the boss. To quote Lemony Snicket, “Morning is an important time of day, because how you spend your morning can often tell you what kind of day you are going to have.”

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#6. Spend time exploring LinkedIn

From discovering the hottest topics in an area of expertise to managing professional contact lists, LinkedIn is more than a place to display resumes. LinkedIn had 467 million members as of 2016, making it almost 3,000 times larger than the world’s largest trade show. Think of all that free potential networking!

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#5. Get a mentor

A good mentor will do wonders for any career, but choosing a mentor can be tricky. Try to focus on someone who’s been helpful and positive in the past or on a director or manager in another department.

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9th Air Force

#4. Limit the day’s top priorities to a single Post-It note

To-do lists that are too long can kill productivity. Creative coach Mark McGuinness swears by managing daily tasks on just one Post-It note. “Because my day is a limited size, I figure it makes sense to limit the size of my to-do list,” McGuinness said.

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#3. Set up a working lunch

Red Lobster President Salli Setta urges professionals to plan productive lunches with one another. The goal of a productive lunch, according to Setta, is to get onto another person’s radar and to gather information that will help to "think about your job differently.”

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#2. Learn to accept criticism

Some types of criticism are worth more than others. Learn to quickly and politely tune out unhelpful feedback while harnessing valuable critiques, and don’t forget what legendary basketball coach John Wooden said: “You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.”

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#1. Breathe

Holding your breath during meetings again? Research suggests that mindful breathing reduces stress, calms the mind, and decreases symptoms of depression. Calm the nerves and just breathe!

 

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