TIME Careers & Workplace

39 Commonly Misused Words and How to Use Them Correctly

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Easy to get wrong. Fortunately, not that hard to get right

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This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

Where the mechanics of writing are concerned, I’m far from perfect. One example: I always struggle with who and whom. (Sometimes I’ll even rewrite a sentence just so I won’t have to worry about which is correct.)

And that’s a real problem. The same way one misspelled word can get your résumé tossed onto the reject pile, one misused word can negatively impact your entire message.

Fair or unfair, it happens all the time–so let’s make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

My post 30 Incorrectly Used Words That Can Make You Look Bad resulted in readers providing a number of other examples of misused words, and here are some of them. Once again I’ve picked words that are typically used in business settings, with special emphasis on words that spell checker won’t correct.

Here we go:

Advise and advice

Aside from the two words being pronounced differently (the s in advise sounds like az), advise is a verb while advice is a noun. Advice is what you give (whether or not the recipient is interested in that gift is a different issue altogether) when you advise someone.

So, “Thank you for the advise” is incorrect, while “I advise you not to bore me with your advice in the future” is correct if pretentious.

If you run into trouble, just say each word out loud and you’ll instantly know which makes sense; there’s no way you’d ever say, “I advice you to…”

Ultimate and penultimate

Recently I received a pitch from a PR professional that read, “(Acme Industries) provides the penultimate value-added services for discerning professionals.”

As Inigo would say, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Ultimate means the best, or final, or last. Penultimate means the last but one, or second to last. (Or, as a Monty Python-inspired Michelangelo would say, “the Penultimate Supper!”)

But penultimate doesn’t mean second-best. Plus, I don’t think my PR friend meant to say her client offered second-class services. (I think she just thought the word sounded cool.)

Also, keep in mind that using ultimate is fraught with hyperbolic peril. Are you–or is what you provide–really the absolute best imaginable? That’s a tough standard to meet.

Well and good

Anyone who has children uses good more often than he or she should. Since kids pretty quickly learn what good means, “You did good, honey” is much more convenient and meaningful than “You did well, honey.”

But that doesn’t mean good is the correct word choice.

Good is an adjective that describes something; if you did a good job, then you do good work. Well is an adverb that describes how something was done; you can do your job well.

Where it gets tricky is when you describe, say, your health or emotional state. “I don’t feel well” is grammatically correct, even though many people (including me) often say, “I don’t feel too good.” On the other hand, “I don’t feel good about how he treated me” is correct; no one says, “I don’t feel well about how I’m treated.”

Confused? If you’re praising an employee and referring to the outcome say, “You did a good job.” If you’re referring to how the employee performed say, “You did incredibly well.”

And while you’re at it, stop saying good to your kids and use great instead, because no one–especially a kid–ever receives too much praise.

If and whether

If and whether are often interchangeable. If a yes/no condition is involved, then feel free to use either: “I wonder whether Jim will finish the project on time” or “I wonder if Jim will finish the project on time.” (Whether sounds a little more formal in this case, so consider your audience and how you wish to be perceived.)

What’s trickier is when a condition is not involved. “Let me know whether Marcia needs a projector for the meeting” isn’t conditional, because you want to be informed either way. “Let me know if Marcia needs a projector for the meeting” is conditional, because you only want to be told if she needs one.

And always use if when you introduce a condition. “If you hit your monthly target, I’ll increase your bonus” is correct; the condition is hitting the target and the bonus is the result. “Whether you are able to hit your monthly target is totally up to you” does not introduce a condition (unless you want the employee to infer that your thinly veiled threat is a condition of ongoing employment).

Stationary and stationery

You write on stationery. You get business stationery, such as letterhead and envelopes, printed.

But that box of envelopes is not stationary unless it’s not moving–and even then it’s still stationery.

Award and reward

An award is a prize. Musicians win Grammy Awards. Car companies win J.D. Power awards. Employees win Employee of the Month awards. Think of an award as the result of a contest or competition.

A reward is something given in return for effort, achievement, hard work, merit, etc. A sales commission is a reward. A bonus is a reward. A free trip for landing the most new customers is a reward.

Be happy when your employees win industry or civic awards, and reward them for the hard work and sacrifices they make to help your business grow.

Sympathy and empathy

Sympathy is acknowledging another person’s feelings. “I am sorry for your loss” means you understand the other person is grieving and want to recognize that fact.

Empathy is having the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and relate to how the person feels, at least in part because you’ve experienced those feelings yourself.

The difference is huge. Sympathy is passive; empathy is active. (Here’s a short video by Brené Brown that does a great job of describing the difference–and how empathy fuels connection while sympathy drives disconnection.)

Know the difference between sympathy and empathy, live the difference, and you’ll make a bigger difference in other people’s lives.

Criterion and criteria

A criterion is a principle or standard. If you have more than one criterion, those are referred to as criteria.

But if you want to be safe and you only have one issue to consider, just say standardor rule or benchmark. Then use criteria for all the times there are multiple specifications or multiple criterion (OK, standards) involved.

Mute and moot

Think of mute like the button on your remote; it means unspoken or unable to speak. In the U.S., moot refers to something that is of no practical importance; a moot point is one that could be hypothetical or even (gasp!) academic. In British English, mootcan also mean debatable or open to debate.

So if you were planning an IPO, but your sales have plummeted, the idea of going public could be moot. And if you decide not to talk about it anymore, you will have gone mute on the subject.

Peak and peek

A peak is the highest point; climbers try to reach the peak of Mount Everest. Peekmeans quick glance, as in giving major customers a sneak peek at a new product before it’s officially unveiled, which hopefully helps sales peak at an unimaginable height.

Occasionally a marketer will try to “peak your interest” or “peek your interest,” but in that case the right word is pique, which means “to excite.” (Pique can also mean “to upset,” but hopefully that’s not what marketers intend.)

Aggressive and enthusiastic

Aggressive is a very popular business adjective: aggressive sales force, aggressive revenue projections, aggressive product rollout. But unfortunately, aggressive means ready to attack, or pursuing aims forcefully, possibly unduly so.

So do you really want an “aggressive” sales force?

Of course, most people have seen aggressive used that way for so long they don’t think of it negatively; to them it just means hard-charging, results-oriented, driven, etc., none of which are bad things.

But some people may not see it that way. So consider using words like enthusiastic,eager, committed, dedicated, or even (although it pains me to say it) passionate.

Then and than

Then refers in some way to time. “Let’s close this deal, and then we’ll celebrate!” Since the celebration comes after the sale, then is correct.

Then is also often used with if. Think in terms of if-then statements: “If we don’t get to the office on time, then we won’t be able to close the deal today.”

Than involves a comparison. “Landing Customer A will result in higher revenue than landing Customer B,” or “Our sales team is more committed to building customer relationships than the competition is.”

Evoke and invoke

To evoke is to call to mind; an unusual smell might evoke a long-lost memory. To invoke is to call upon some thing: help, aid, or maybe a higher power.

So hopefully all your branding and messaging efforts evoke specific emotions in potential customers. But if they don’t, you might consider invoking the gods of commerce to aid you in your quest for profitability.

Or something like that.

Continuously and continually

Both words come from the root continue, but they mean very different things.Continuously means never ending. Hopefully your efforts to develop your employees are continuous, because you never want to stop improving their skills and their future.

Continual means whatever you’re referring to stops and starts. You might have frequent disagreements with your co-founder, but unless those discussions never end (which is unlikely, even though it might feel otherwise), then those disagreements are continual.

That’s why you should focus on continuous improvement but only plan to have continual meetings with your accountant: The former should never, ever stop, and the other (mercifully) should.

Systemic and systematic

If you’re in doubt, systematic is almost always the right word to use. Systematicmeans arranged or carried out according to a plan, method, or system. That’s why you can take a systematic approach to continuous improvement, or do a systematic evaluation of customer revenue or a systematic assessment of market conditions.

Systemic means belonging to or affecting the system as a whole. Poor morale could be systemic to your organization. Or bias against employee diversity could be systemic.

So if your organization is facing a pervasive problem, take a systematic approach to dealing with it–that’s probably the only way you’ll overcome it.

Impact and affect (and effect)

Many people (including until recently me) use impact when they should use affect.Impact doesn’t mean to influence; impact means to strike, collide, or pack firmly.

Affect means to influence: “Impatient investors affected our rollout date.”

And to make it more confusing, effect means to accomplish something: “The board effected a sweeping policy change.”

How you correctly use effect or affect can be tricky. For example, a board can affect changes by influencing them and can effect changes by directly implementing them. Bottom line, use effect if you’re making it happen, and affect if you’re having an impact on something that someone else is trying to make happen.

As for nouns, effect is almost always correct: “Employee morale has had a negative effect on productivity.” Affect refers to an emotional state, so unless you’re a psychologist, you probably have little reason to use it.

So stop saying you’ll “impact sales” or “impact the bottom line.” Use affect.

(And feel free to remind me when I screw that up, because I feel sure I’ll backslide.)

Between and among

Use between when you name separate and individual items. “The team will decide between Mary, Marcia, and Steve when we fill the open customer service position.” Mary, Marcia, and Steve are separate and distinct, so between is correct.

Use among when there are three or more items but they are not named separately. “The team will decide among a number of candidates when we fill the open customer service position.” Who are the candidates? You haven’t named them separately, soamong is correct.

And we’re assuming there are more than two candidates; otherwise you’d saybetween. If there are two candidates you could say, “I just can’t decide between them.”

Everyday and every day

Every day means, yep, every day–each and every day. If you ate a bagel for breakfast each day this week, you had a bagel every day.

Everyday means commonplace or normal. Decide to wear your “everyday shoes” and that means you’ve chosen to wear the shoes you normally wear. That doesn’t mean you have to wear them every single day; it just means wearing them is a usual occurrence.

Another example is along and a long: Along means moving in a constant direction or a line, or in the company of others, while a long means of great distance or duration. You wouldn’t stand in “along line,” but you might stand in a long line for a long time, along with a number of other people.

A couple more examples: a while and awhile, and any way and anyway.

If you’re in doubt, read what you write out loud. It’s unlikely you’ll think “Is there anyway you can help me?” sounds right.

TIME Careers & Workplace

8 Outstanding Google Tools You Should Know About

The Google Inc. Mobile Wallet application is displayed on a smartphone screen at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb. 29, 2012.
Bloomberg via Getty Images The Google Inc. Mobile Wallet application is displayed on a smartphone screen at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb. 29, 2012.

Which of these tools and resources can give you the competitive advantage?

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This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

Lately, I’ve been hearing about this little company called Google. Personally, I think there’s a chance that they’ll actually make something of themselves. Call me crazy.

While approximately 101 percent of this article’s readers routinely use Google to find everything from business plan templates to the best places to buy chinchilla food, Google’s moved well past the search niche. In fact, chances are Google offers up a few services you’ve never heard of that might be beneficial to your business. Here are just a few:

1. Google Trends

What it is: A site to discover how popular certain searches have been on Google historically, as well as what’s popular right now.

Why it’s useful: Want to be ahead of the social media zeitgeist? This is a great place to start. It’s a feature-packed site; you can survey trending YouTube videos as well.

Pro tip: Use the optional forecast checkbox to anticipate whether interest in a particular topic is expected to rise over time.

2. Google Cloud Platform

What it is: A platform that allows you to build applications, host websites, analyze data, and much more, via Google’s scalable infrastructure.

Why it’s useful: Similar to Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform is an easy way for entrepreneurs to focus on building their concept, as opposed to worrying about the backend layer. Customers include little-known startups such as Best Buy, Snapchat, Coca-Cola, and Sony Music.

Pro tip: You can get $300 in credit towards a 60-day free trial. Even better: The trial is entirely free; you won’t be billed unless you decide to keep your account after the trial.

3. Google Wallet

What it is: Google Wallet makes it easy to pay–not just online, but in stores too–and it works with any debit or credit card.

Why it’s useful: Paying is made not only seamless: it’s so mobile-friendly that you can make payments while you’re waiting in line.

Pro tip: Owe a colleague money for dinner last night? In Gmail, there’s a new-ish “attach money” icon that will let you send money quickly and easily using Google Wallet.

4. YouTube Trends Dashboard

What it is: A handy tool to figure out what’s trending on YouTube.

Why it’s useful: What are women aged 65 watching? What are men ages 25 to 34 in Cincinnati sharing most often? With the Trends Dashboard, you can tap into the zeitgeist quickly and easily.

Pro tip: Compare the “Most Shared” (across Facebook and Twitter) with “Most Viewed” to get a sense of what content gets viewed often but shared infrequently.

5. Google Bookmarks

What it is: Using the easy browser bookmarklet, save shortcuts to your favorite webpages and navigate to them in seconds, from anywhere.

Why it’s useful: We don’t rely on bookmarks as we used to a decade ago, but they’re still a great way of keeping track of critical links you might need later.

Pro tip: Export your bookmarks with just one click to an HTML page, which you can embed into an external-facing website, style with CSS, or simply share as an email attachment.

6. Google Career Search

What it is: As you might expect, you can use this tool to land a job at Google.

Why it’s useful: Tired of the entrepreneurial life? If you’re looking for something more stable, you can’t do much better than Google.

Pro tip: You can use your Google profile information to help you find jobs relevant to your background.

7. Google Keep

What it is: Google Keep lets you easily jot down whatever’s on your mind via a beautiful, simple interface.

Why it’s useful: Share any one individual note with a collaborator, create to-do lists, drop an image into notes as needed, and organize notes using eight color options.

Pro tip: Don’t want to forget to do something? No problem: You can easily turn any note into a date or location-activated reminder.

8. Display Benchmarks Tool

What it is: Find out how your display advertising campaigns are doing compared with industry averages.

Why it’s useful: Looking to get an understanding of how different ad sizes and formats typically do in head to head competition? This tool lets you get updated industry benchmarks on what’s working and what isn’t.

Pro tip: Running an international campaign? Different rich media formats will work in different countries. This tool will help you figure out, say, which countries have high ad interaction rates (Germany, 5.12) and which are towards the bottom of the pack (New Zealand, 0.82).

TIME Careers & Workplace

The Perfect Way to Introduce Yourself (in Any Setting)

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Make your introduction about your audience and not yourself

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This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

While I have no soccer skills, I once played in a fairly competitive adult soccer league with my then-teenage stepson. I was terrible, but I played because he asked me to. (When your kids get older and ask you to do something with them, the first time you say no might be the last time you get asked.)

As we took the field before a game, a guy on the other team strutted over, probably picking me out because I was clearly the oldest player on the field. (There’s a delightful sentence to write.)

“Hello,” he said. “I’m Louis Winthorpe III, CEO of My Company Is Better Than Yours Inc.” (Not real names, but accurate in spirit.)

“Hi, I’m Jeff,” I said, shaking his hand.

“Didn’t think I’d make it on time,” he said. “Had to finalize a big contract, rattle a few chains at an overseas facility, and inspect a property we’re going to buy.”

How do you respond to that? “Wow,” was the best I came up with.

“Ah, not really,” he said. “Same stuff, different day.”

I was trying to match the drollness of my “Wow” when my stepson stepped in, half-smile on his lips and full twinkle in his eyes, and rescued me by saying, “Come on, we need to get ready.”

Was Louis cocky? Certainly, but only on the surface. His $400 cleats, carbon fiber shin guards, and “I’m the king of the business world” introduction was an unconscious effort to protect his ego. His introduction said, “Hey, I might not turn out to be good at soccer, but out there in the real world, where it really matters, I am the Man.”

While he introduced himself to me, he was his real audience.

And that was a shame.

On that field, for that hour, he could have just been a soccer player. He could have sweated and struggled and possibly rekindled that ember of youth that burns less brightly with each passing year.

How do you introduce yourself? When you feel particularly insecure, do you prop up your courage with your introduction? Do you make sure to include titles or accomplishments or “facts,” even when you don’t need to?

If so, that makes your introduction all about you and not your audience. Instead:

  • Decide that less will always be more. Brief introductions are always best. Provide the bare minimum the other person needs to know, not in an attempt to maintain distance but because during the conversation more can be revealed in a natural, unforced, and therefore much more memorable way.
  • Stay aware of the setting. If you meet another parent at a school meeting, for example, just say, “Hi, I’m Joe. My daughter is in third grade.” Keep your introduction in context with the setting. If there is no real context, like at a soccer game, just say, “Hi, I’m Joe. Good luck!”
  • Embrace understatement. Unless you’re in a business setting, your job title is irrelevant. If you’re asked what you do and you do happen to be the CEO of My Company is Better Than Yours Inc., just say you work there. To err is human; to err humble is always divine.
  • Focus on the other person. Ask questions. Listen. The best connections never come from speaking; they always come from listening.

After the game a few kids from both teams were teasing me about one of my passes they felt should win the informal “Worst Pass of the Season If Not in the History of Soccer” award. I was more than cool with that, because the banter signaled a camaraderie and acceptance that is never given but earned.

I glanced over and saw Louis, alone as he packed up his gear, and felt a twinge of sadness.

He never let himself just be a soccer player. He never gave himself a chance to be a teammate, to fit in and enjoy a shared purpose, however momentary or meaningless that purpose might be.

When you introduce yourself, be who you are. Embrace the moment and the setting for what it says about you in that setting and not in comparison with titles or accomplishments.

Just be yourself: skills and triumphs and struggles and failures and all.

Always trust that who you are is more than enough.

Because it always is.

Read next: A Simple Formula for Answering ‘Tell Me About Yourself’

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Toxic Beliefs That Can Hinder Your Success

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Success starts with thinking differently from everyone else, because then you can achieve differently from everyone else

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This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

It’s hard to think differently and be able to dream new dreams. We’d all like to be visionary thinkers like Bezos, Buffett, and Branson (the Three B’s of Bold Thinking) and achieve great things.

But most of us aren’t bold visionaries. (I’m definitely not.)

And that’s OK, because while you and I might never come up with the next big thing, we can decide to think differently from other people–and in the process, achieve differently from other people.

Here are five things people think that ruin their chances for success… and more importantly how you can think differently:

1. “I never get the right opportunities.”

Hey, join the (very large) club. No matter how it looks from the outside, no one is given opportunities they don’t deserve. Opportunities are earned. (And even if someone else did get an opportunity you feel you deserved, you can’t change that fact, so why dwell on it?)

Maybe, years ago, you did have to wait: To be accepted, to be promoted, to be selected… to somehow be “discovered.”

Even if that was once, true it’s not true anymore. Access to opportunity is nearly unlimited. You can connect with nearly anyone through social media. You can create and sell your own products, develop and distribute your own applications, find your own funding….

You don’t need to wait for someone else to give you the opportunity. You can give yourself the opportunity–which, by the way, is what successful people have done for centuries.

The only thing holding you back from seizing an opportunity is you–and your willingness to try.

Don’t think about opportunities you need to be given; think about opportunities you need to take.

2. “Someone is always holding me back.”

Maybe someone else has ruined opportunities or blocked ideas or taken what was rightfully yours. Maybe suppliers didn’t come through. Maybe your partner wasn’t committed. Maybe potential customers weren’t smart enough to recognize the value you provide.

Doesn’t matter. You can’t control other people. You can only control yourself.

When you fail, always decide it was your fault. Not only is that a smart way to think, but it’s also almost always true as well. While occasionally something completely outside your control will cause you to fail, most of the time it really is you.

And that’s OK. Every successful person has failed numerous times. Most have failed a lot more often than you have; that’s one reason why they’re so successful today.

Embrace every failure. Own it, learn from it, and take full responsibility for making sure that next time you’ll do what it takes to make sure things turn out differently.

Never think it’s another person’s fault; when you do, you’re guaranteeing it always will be.

3. “I just don’t have enough time.”

Sure you do. You have the same amount of time as everyone else. The key is to decide how you will fill your time.

For example, anyone can create a schedule. But most people don’t ensure that every task takes only as long as it needs to take. Most people fill a block of time, either given or self-determined, simply because that is the time allotted.

Don’t adjust your effort so it fills a time frame. Instead, do everything as quickly and effectively as you can. Then use your “free” time to get other things done…just as quickly and effectively.

Never think about how time controls you–instead, think of how you can best control your time.

When you do, you’ll quickly realize you have a lot more time than you think.

4. “Sure, I would do that… if I knew it would be worth it.”

Ever heard someone say, “If I knew I would get a raise, then I would be willing to work a lot harder”? Or, “If I knew my start-up would succeed, then I would definitely be willing to put in more hours”? Or, “If I knew there would be a bigger payoff, then I would be willing to sacrifice more”?

Successful employees earn promotions and higher pay by first working harder; in other words, they earn their success. Successful businesses earn higher revenue by delivering greater value first; they earn their success.

Successful people, in all areas of life, earn bigger “payoffs” by working incredibly hard well before any potential return is in sight; they earn their success through effort and sacrifice.

Most people expect to get more before they will ever consider doing more.

To succeed, think of compensation not as the driver or requirement for exceptional effort, but as the deserved reward.

5. “But there’s just nothing special about me.”

It’s easy, and tempting, to assume successful people have some intangible entrepreneurial something–ideas, talent, drive, skills, creativity, etc.–that you simply don’t have.

That’s rarely true. Talents typically reveal themselves only in hindsight. Success is never assured; it only looks that way after it is achieved.

Sure, other people may have skills you don’t have (at least not yet), but you have skills other people don’t have. You don’t need a gift. You just need yourself–and a willingness to put in a tremendous amount of hard work, effort, and perseverance–because that is where talent comes from.

Never think about what you don’t have. Focus on what you do have–and more importantly, what you are willing to do that others are not.

That is your true gift–and it’s a gift we’ve all been given.

You just have to use it.

TIME Careers & Workplace

The One Crucial Trait All Successful People Possess

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Often other people make it difficult to maintain this trait, but that's why you need it even more

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This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

Anyone can succeed without capital, without a business plan, without a marketing plan, and even without a great idea.

But no one can succeed without one essential ingredient.

Think about the keys to business success: plenty of capital; a comprehensive business plan; a thorough market analysis; remarkable employees.

Each is definitely important. But there is one trait every successful entrepreneur possesses:

Irrational optimism.

Why? To be successful you must embrace belief, which means pushing aside all those self-doubts: Feeling you aren’t smart enough, dedicated enough, adaptable enough, or simply that, in spite of your best intentions and best efforts, you won’t succeed.

Often other people make it even harder to maintain that belief. Family and friends tend to shoot multiple holes in your ideas, not because they want to bring you down but because they care about you and don’t want to see you fail.

That’s why people rarely say, “Hey, that’s a great idea. You should go for it!” Most people aren’t wired that way. Most people—myself definitely included—are a lot better at identifying and listing potential problems. We like to play devil’s advocate because that makes us seem smart.

And that’s why you need to be irrationally optimistic: Not because the odds are stacked against success, but because irrational optimism helps you succeed in ways capital, business plans, and marketing savvy can’t.

Of course you can take irrational optimism too far—but then again, maybe you can’t.

Think about sports, the ultimate zero-sum game. Only one individual or one team can win, but great athletes still go into every game believing they will win—because if they don’t believe they can win, they’ve already lost.

Is complete self-belief irrational? Sure. Is it also a requirement for high-level athletic success? Absolutely. Great athletes push aside doubt and disbelief.

So do great entrepreneurs.

If you listen to the naysayers you’ll never start a business, never expand, never work and struggle and overcome—and never succeed. If you don’t believe in yourself, however irrationally, you will not succeed.

Although no amount of self-belief is enough to ensure success, the smallest bit of doubt can ruin your chances.

In Bounce, Matthew Syed quotes Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, one of the most successful football (soccer) coaches in the English Premier League, on how athletes must approach competition:

To perform to your maximum you have to teach yourself to believe with an intensity that goes way beyond logical justification. No top performer has lacked this capacity for irrational optimism; no sportsman has played to his potential without the ability to remove doubt from his mind.

The same is true for entrepreneurs—and, really, for everyone. Be smart, be logical, be rational and calculating, and never stop trying to improve your skills. But most important, be irrationally optimistic.

Belief in yourself will take you to places no external forces ever can.

TIME Careers & Workplace

Here’s How Caffeine Can Silently Kill Your Success

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Your daily cup of joe is hurting your performance far more than it's helping it

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This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

This week’s tip for improving your performance is the most simple and straightforward method I’ve provided thus far. For many people, this tip has the potential to have a bigger impact than any other single action. The catch? You have to cut down on caffeine, and as any caffeine drinker can attest, this is easier said than done.

For those who aren’t aware, the ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance. TalentSmart has conducted research with more than a million people, and we’ve found that 90 percent of top performers are high in emotional intelligence. These individuals are skilled at managing their emotions (even in times of high stress) in order to remain calm and in control.

The good: Isn’t really good.

Most people start drinking caffeine because it makes them feel more alert and improves their mood. Many studies suggest that caffeine actually improves cognitive task performance (memory, attention span, etc.) in the short-term. Unfortunately, these studies fail to consider the participants’ caffeine habits. New research from Johns Hopkins Medical School shows that performance increases due to caffeine intake are the result of caffeine drinkers experiencing a short-term reversal of caffeine withdrawal. By controlling for caffeine use in study participants, John Hopkins researchers found that caffeine-related performance improvement is nonexistent without caffeine withdrawal. In essence, coming off caffeine reduces your cognitive performance and has a negative impact on your mood. The only way to get back to normal is to drink caffeine, and when you do drink it, you feel like it’s taking you to new heights. In reality, the caffeine is just taking your performance back to normal for a short period.

The bad: Adrenaline.

Drinking caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline is the source of the fight-or-flight response, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re responding to a curt email. When caffeine puts your brain and body into this hyper-aroused state, your emotions overrun your behavior.

Irritability and anxiety are the most commonly seen emotional effects of caffeine, but caffeine enables all of your emotions to take charge.

The negative effects of a caffeine-generated adrenaline surge are not just behavioral. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that large doses of caffeine raise blood pressure, stimulate the heart, and produce rapid shallow breathing, which readers of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 know deprives the brain of the oxygen needed to keep your thinking calm and rational.

The ugly: Sleep.

When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams), so that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your self-control, focus, memory, and information-processing speed are all reduced when you don’t get enough–or the right kind–of sleep. Your brain is very fickle when it comes to sleep. For you to wake up feeling rested, your brain needs to move through an elaborate series of cycles. You can help this process along and improve the quality of your sleep by reducing your caffeine intake.

Here’s why you’ll want to: caffeine has a six-hour half-life, which means it takes a full twenty-four hours to work its way out of your system. Have a cup of joe at 8 a.m., and you’ll still have 25 percent of the caffeine in your body at 8 p.m. Anything you drink after noon will still be at 50 percent strength at bedtime. Any caffeine in your bloodstream–with the negative effects increasing with the dose–makes it harder to fall asleep.

When you do finally fall asleep, the worst is yet to come. Caffeine disrupts the quality of your sleep by reducing rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the deep sleep when your body recuperates and processes emotions. When caffeine disrupts your sleep, you wake up the next day with an emotional handicap. You’re naturally going to be inclined to grab a cup of coffee or an energy drink to try to make yourself feel better. The caffeine produces surges of adrenaline, which adds to your emotional handicap. Caffeine and lack of sleep leave you feeling tired in the afternoon, so you drink more caffeine, which leaves even more of it in your bloodstream at bedtime. Caffeine very quickly creates a vicious cycle.

Withdrawal.

Like any stimulant, caffeine is physiologically and psychologically addictive. If you do choose to lower your caffeine intake, you should do so slowly under the guidance of a qualified medical professional. The researchers at Johns Hopkins found that caffeine withdrawal causes headache, fatigue, sleepiness, and difficulty concentrating. Some people report feeling flulike symptoms, depression, and anxiety after reducing intake by as little as one cup a day. Slowly tapering your caffeine dosage each day can greatly reduce these withdrawal symptoms.

TIME Careers & Workplace

7 Scientifically Proven Ways to Achieve Better Success in Life

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Hard work alone won't get you there

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This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

Success is a subjective notion, if there ever was one. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s assume the higher you are on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the better you’re doing. In case you don’t remember the levels from Psych 101, essentially, people can’t be their best possible selves (self-actualization) until lower-level needs are met first. In other words, you can’t be an ideal version of yourself if you don’t have enough food and money to pay the bills, or enough love and esteem to feel good about your value as a human being. So, what can you do to move yourself up the pyramid?

Check out the findings from several studies, which shine a light on what it takes to achieve more in life.

Increase your confidence by taking action.

Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of The Confidence Code, wrote a stellar article for The Atlantic on this subject. Highlighting scads of studies that have found that a wide confidence gap exists between the sexes, they point out that success is just as dependent on confidence as it is on competence. Their conclusion? Low confidence results in inaction. “[T]aking action bolsters one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed,” they write. “So confidence accumulates–through hard work, through success, and even through failure.”

Broaden your definition of authenticity.

Authenticity is a much sought-after leadership trait, with the prevailing idea being that the best leaders are those who self-disclose, are true to themselves, and who make decisions based on their values. Yet in a recent Harvard Business Review article titled “The Authenticity Paradox,” Insead professor Herminia Ibarra discusses interesting research on the subject and tells the cautionary tale of a newly promoted general manager who admitted to subordinates that she felt scared in her expanded role, asking them to help her succeed. “Her candor backfired,” Ibarra writes. “She lost credibility with people who wanted and needed a confident leader to take charge.” So know this: Play-acting to emulate the qualities of successful leaders doesn’t make you a fake. It merely means you’re a work in progress.

Improve your social skills.

According to research conducted by University of California Santa Barbara economist Catherine Weinberger, the most successful business people excel in both cognitive ability and social skills, something that hasn’t always been true. She crunched data linking adolescent skills in 1972 and 1992 with adult outcomes, and found that in 1980, having both skills didn’t correlate with better success, whereas today the combination does. “The people who are both smart and socially adept earn more in today’s work force than similarly endowed workers in 1980,” she says.

Train yourself to delay gratification.

The classic Marshmallow Experiment of 1972 involved placing a marshmallow in front of a young child, with the promise of a second marshmallow if he or she could refrain from eating the squishy blob while a researcher stepped out of the room for 15 minutes. Follow-up studies over the next 40 years found that the children who were able to resist the temptation to eat the marshmallow grew up to be people with better social skills, higher test scores, and lower incidence of substance abuse. They also turned out to be less obese and better able to deal with stress. But how to improve your ability to delay things like eating junk food when healthy alternatives aren’t available, or to remain on the treadmill when you’d rather just stop?

Writer James Clear suggests starting small, choosing one thing to improve incrementally every day, and committing to not pushing off things that take less than two minutes to do, such as washing the dishes after a meal or eating a piece of fruit to work toward the goal of eating healthier. Committing to doing something every single day works too. “Top performers in every field–athletes, musicians, CEOs, artists–they are all more consistent than their peers,” he writes. “They show up and deliver day after day while everyone else gets bogged down with the urgencies of daily life and fights a constant battle between procrastination and motivation.”

Demonstrate passion and perseverance for long-term goals.

Psychologist Angela Duckworth has spent years studying kids and adults, and found that one characteristic is a significant predictor of success: grit. “Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality,” she said in a TED talk on the subject. “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Embrace a “growth mindset.”

According to research conducted by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, how people view their personality affects their capacity for happiness and success. Those with a “fixed mindset” believe things like character, intelligence, and creativity are unchangeable, and avoiding failure is a way of proving skill and smarts. People with a “growth mindset,” however, see failure as a way to grow and therefore embrace challenges, persevere against setbacks, learn from criticism, and reach higher levels of achievement. “Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training,” she writes.

Invest in your relationships.

After following the lives of 268 Harvard undergraduate males from the classes of 1938 to 1940 for decades, psychiatrist George Vaillant concluded something you probably already know: Love is the key to happiness. Even if a man succeeded in work, amassed piles of money, and experienced good health, without loving relationships he wouldn’t be happy, Vaillant found. The longitudinal study showed happiness depends on two things: “One is love,” he wrote. “The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”

TIME Careers & Workplace

20 Tips for Getting More Done Every Day

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Don't confuse being busy with getting things accomplished

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This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

If you’re an entrepreneur or business owner, getting things done is incredibly important. You have to have vision, you have to plan, and you have to work with great people. But if you never move into action, all of the plans, visions, and staff in the world won’t save you.

Don’t confuse being busy with getting things accomplished. It’s possible to work an absurd number of hours without actually making much progress. Unfortunately, being busy is much easier than being productive. So here are 20 tips for making sure you’re actually getting the work done.

1. Know where you are and where you want to be.

You need to know both where you are and what you want to accomplish every day. This is not that bulky business plan you never look at. This is about knowing what should happen every single day and which of these tasks will move the needle most for your business.

2. Get enough sleep.

This cannot be overstated. If you’re exhausted, you won’t get as much done and you’ll make more mistakes. Whether you choose to rise early or work late and sleep in, make sure you get enough rest.

3. Get fit.

Getting fit can make a big difference in your productivity and perspective. Making simple, small changes in regards to your physical activity can improve your business and your life, as well as help you get more done and ultimately reach your goals.

4. Take steps toward a deadline.

When you’re moving your projects toward completion, you’re doing real, important work. If you spend an hour organizing your inbox, what have you accomplished?

5. Use a prioritized checklist.

By having a list of all that needs to be done, with the most important projects first, you’ll set yourself up for success. Checking off tasks is satisfying, and you’ll ensure the key ones aren’t forgotten.

6. Don’t overcommit.

This is a great tip from Lifehack. Not only should you not overcommit in a single day, but you should also carefully monitor your overall workload. Don’t be afraid to say no sometimes.

7. Close social media.

Close Facebook, Twitter, and anything else that distracts you. If you want to get work done, you’ll need to cut off the avenues you use to procrastinate.

8. Forget multitasking.

Multiple studies, including one using MRI images from the University of Michigan, show that effective multitasking is a myth. The brain switches tasks quickly, but too much switching decreases concentration and increases mistakes.

9. Use the Pareto Principle.

Listen to Tim Ferriss and put your focus on the 20 percent of your tasks that give you 80 percent of your results.

10. Focus on service.

When you spend time each day serving others, you’ll find yourself feeling so empowered and motivated that tackling your own tasks is a no-brainer.

11. Use time blocks.

Rather than bouncing around from task to task, set blocks of uninterrupted time to work on specific items. Make sure your employees know these are “no-talking times.” Focused work will let you get more done quickly.

12. Use a timer.

When working through your tasks, estimate how long they will take and then try to beat the clock. It can make even dull tasks into a fun game, and you’ll surprise yourself with how fast you can be.

13. Create routines.

Habits are one of life’s strongest forces. The more tasks you can make into habitual routines, the more energy you’ll have left for bigger tasks. As the Harvard Business Review notes, we have a limited amount of willpower. Be sure you’re circumventing the amount you need to use by implementing good routines.

14. Change your environment.

Doing the same things, in the same place, day after day can cause burnout. Try a change of pace and do your work in a different location.

15. Work out midday.

Exercise has proven benefits when it comes to energy and feeling great. By taking a midday workout break, you can come back to your work refreshed and more productive.

16. Capture fleeting thoughts.

Nothing uses up brainpower like trying not to forget something. By writing it down immediately, you’ll free up your mind to focus on other, more productive tasks.

17. Replace “I can’t” with “How?”

When it comes to being productive and overcoming burnout, you can’t accomplish what you think is impossible. By asking how to accomplish something instead, you’ll frame your work as achievable and get more done.

18. If you’re struggling, take a break.

Odd as it seems, sometimes the way forward is to stop. Regular breaks will give you a fresh start on your tasks.

19. Handle paper and email once.

By forcing yourself to take action on papers or emails right away, you’ll avoid having them pile up into an overwhelming mass. Make it a goal to handle them only once.

20. Eat healthy snacks.

What you eat has a big impact on how you feel. Rather than eating something that will give you a sugar rush and then a crash, focus on healthy foods like nuts or carrots.

Having a focused, productive day isn’t always easy. However, by following these tips you should be well on your way to getting all of your truly important tasks done each day. In the end, you’ll find yourself truly productive—not just busy.

TIME marketing

9 Tips to Make Money on Facebook

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These marketers have increased their clients' profits by as much as 800 percent

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This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

With a 13-year track record of helping network marketing organizations and small businesses achieve unprecedented growth, Jim Lupkin decided it was time to share his strategies with the world. He turned to best-selling author, Brian Carter. Carter, trusted by brands like NBC, Microsoft, and PrideStaff, has guided businesses to 800 percent profits and higher with Facebook marketing.

After reading Lupkin’s case study on a network marketing company that grew over seventy-million in sales with his approach, Carter knew it was time for the pair to co-author a book. The authors are quick to mention, however, that Network Marketing For Facebook is not valuable to only the network marketing industry. “We were not surprised to hear that sales professionals and entrepreneurs love the book too,” says Carter. “These techniques will work for your business if your personal brand is part of the sales process.”

Why Facebook you may ask? “Wouldn’t it make sense to join the community with the most people?” says Lupkin. “Facebook has more than one billion users and is five times more popular than the next most popular social network.”

Here’s just a taste of what you’ll find inside the cover of Network Marketing For Facebook.

1. Create an appealing Facebook profile.

When someone knows, likes and trusts you, they’re more willing to hear about your business. Your profile gives you this opportunity when you use your profile picture; cover image, and “about” section properly.

Choose a professional profile picture. Use your cover image to give people a snapshot of your personality. A complete “about” section makes you more credible and rounds out your personality.

2. Post publicly on Facebook.

Your goal is to let your friends know what you do for a living and how you can help them. For example, if you’re a realtor:

Hey everybody! As you may know, I love helping people find their dream home. If you know anyone that needs assistance, please message me.

If you’re an insurance rep:

Hey there! As you may know, I love helping families be protected from unforeseen tragedies. If you know anyone that needs life insurance, please message me.

3. Use Facebook Messenger.

It is like email, but better. If you’ve previously conversed with a prospect and you’re getting ready to talk to them again, you can quickly review all your previous talks in one place.

If you haven’t spoken to a friend in a while, make sure to re-establish the relationship first. You don’t want them to feel like you are only reaching out for business. You can say, “Hey! We haven’t spoken in a while. How have you been?” Only chat about your products if they ask what you do.

4. Send messages based on past conversations and what you know about a friend.

A realtor example:

Hey Tom! I know you love houses with a view, and I seem to remember you were looking for a house. Well, check out this amazing lake view property! Do you want to come see it with me?

An insurance rep:

Hey Alicia! I know we’re both family people, and it’s been awesome to see yours grow up on Facebook. I was super glad to find out about this new life insurance option our company just created. It provides for families like no other policy I’ve seen. Do you want to hear more about it?

5. Keep the conversation going.

It’s exciting to have someone respond to your messages! Thank them for the response, give them additional information: pictures, videos and details of your offering, and then let them know what is the next step.

If you don’t hear back, send them a message once a week asking if they wanted to take the next step. Be patient. Not everyone checks Facebook daily.

6. Stay in touch.

It’s only a matter of time until friends want your product. Stay in touch on Facebook by posting quality content and interacting with your friends’ posts. Posting quality content is a balance between business and personal: Too much of either can result inf ailure. Be personal 80% of the time. People do business with those they have the best relationship with; so post about what’s on your mind. Post about business the other 20%.

The more you interact with your friend’s posts, the more your business posts appear in their newsfeed. Your friends will also see you as a true friend, not someone just trying to sell them products. When you comment on a friend’s post, write from the heart. Treat it the same as when you talk face to face.

7. Grow your friends to grow your income.

With over a billion users, Facebook offers an unlimited amount of people to talk to if you take the time to build relationships. Facebook’s Graph Search solves the new prospect obstacle by opening up their entire database to you. All you need to do is take the time to reach out and build relationships.

8. Create a group for support and inspiring sales teams.

Whether you’re a manager motivating a team, or have a group of industry peers who want to support each other, Facebook Groups are the answer. You can move mountains when you belong to a group of passionate people working toward the same goals, supporting each other every day.

Once you start your group, post at least a few times a week. It could be a question, words of motivation, pictures, or videos. Always like and comment on what others are posting as well. Groups are like live events happening 24 hours a day. When run correctly, it will become the cornerstone of your success.

9. Remember, Facebook is part of the strategy, not the whole strategy.

Facebook connects you to new people and helps you develop relationships. However, you still need to talk with people face to face, over the phone, and at events. They also need to experience a “taste” of your offering.

TIME Careers & Workplace

How to Conquer Social Media

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You think you have to be on Facebook or Instagram. But do you know what you want out there?

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This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

Lou Altman needed to reschedule our call. Why? The founder of GlobaFone, a satellite communications firm in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, needed to attend a webinar hosted by a company whose social media program he had bought. The product wasn’t working out, and Altman hoped to get some tips to make it easier to use.

Did I mention I was supposed to interview Altman about how small businesses can get the most out of their social media budget, and not spend a lot of money for little gain?

When we finally connected, I asked Altman how he came to purchase something that didn’t do what he needed. “We didn’t have an overall social media strategy when we bought it,” he admitted

It’s a familiar story: You buy something you absolutely have to have, according to the people who are selling it, but which turns out to help them far more than it helps you. This is true for many personal and business spending decisions, including for social media. There’s Facebook and YouTube and Twitter and Instagram and Pinterest and … remember Ello? Who the heck can keep up? Yet many believe they must. According to a recent survey by LinkedIn and market research firm TNS, 81 percent of businesses with between $1 million and $50 million in annual revenue use social media in hopes of boosting sales. Yet only 61 percent of those same businesses see a payoff.

That’s an expensive mistake to make. Consultants can help, charging anywhere from $50 to $500 an hour, but too often, paying more doesn’t ensure better outcomes. So before you spend anything, consult the following tips to get a good return on your social media investment.

Set a clear goal

Many business owners think they should be on social media but don’t have a target in mind. As a result, “it’s very hard not to get ripped off,” says Anne Marie Blackman, founder of MyUglyChristmasSweater.com, an online apparel specialist. Blackman spent $2,000 on targeted Facebook posts and pay-per-click advertising in 2013 but wanted to get more out of her investment. “I did not have the experience to use it effectively,” she tells me. “There is a science to having a good pay-per-click campaign.” So this past holiday season, Blackman budgeted several thousand dollars to hire an expert to take over her social media.

Choose the right voice

If you decide to bring on a social media expert, make sure it’s someone who knows your industry. Blackman follows the campaigns of other companies and monitors people whose style she likes. She hired her social media manager because she liked her online voice: “She can write in the right tone,” Blackman says. “I can come off as too stiff.”

Adjust to the channel

Some kinds of companies (think fashion and food) are natural fits for Instagram, while others (like B2B) get more out of LinkedIn. Different sites need different strategies. “Copying your Facebook posts directly to Twitter is like going to Dallas and barking French at everyone,” says Audrey Christie McLaughlin, a marketing consultant.

Seize every opportunity

The Ellen DeGeneres Show featured My Ugly Christmas Sweater in December 2012, so the next year, Blackman pounced. She put a YouTube clip from the show on Facebook as a sponsored post, targeting 10,000 Ellen fans. “The click-through was very successful,” she says. And the best part? “I probably spent $75 to promote it.”

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