TIME Careers & Workplace

11 Ways to Maximize Your Creative Brainstorming Time

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Creative brainstorming can lead to success — if you make time for it

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Question: How can leaders carve out time/space for creative thinking each week?

Walk Away

“Get out of the office and into nature, engage in a hobby or just go to the grocery store. Raise your head up to experience the world while you’re in it. The world has so much to offer you creatively — if you’re open to it. But it won’t present your best ideas to you while you’re on the computer or at your desk. It will present them while you are away from the grind. So, give yourself space.” — Corey Blake, Round Table Companies

Wake Up Early

“At the beginning of a day, all the responsibilities of work can have a very strong gravitational pull. It’s usually hard to break away once you engage. Waking up early and taking time to meditate, write and think of creative ideas is a great way to avoid the inertia of your work because, chances are, no one is trying to contact you at that time.” — Mark Krassner, Knee Walker Central

Put an ‘Hour of Power’ in Your Calendar

“One of the secrets to carving out time for creative thinking and goal setting is by physically scheduling it as a reoccurring weekly event on your calendar. I call it my “Hour of Power,” which takes place on Sunday evening, and I haven’t missed it in four years.” — Kristopher Jones, LSEO.com

Timebox It Every Week

“The only way that’s worked for me is putting a three-hour time block on my calendar every week and sticking to it. That’s easier said than done, but a way to make it even more real is to communicate it openly to your team and encourage them to do the same!” — Derek Flanzraich, Greatist

Meet With Thought Leaders

“It’s important to meet with a wide variety of thought leaders. Ask people you find interesting to meet for coffee before work. It’ll give you a different vantage point and will get your wheels turning. Being internal and insular within your industry or company creates tunnel vision and acts as a barrier to great ideas.” — Luke Skurman, Niche.com

Draw It Out

“Take out a big sheet of paper and simply draw out all your ideas for an hour per day or week. Don’t use a computer. Feel free to draw pictures of words or branch out tree limbs filled with every problem — business or personal — you have. By drawing out your ideas, you can find hidden solutions from your subconscious. Collect these papers, and review them regularly.” — Robert De Los Santos, Sky High Party Rentals

Take ‘Walkies’

“Me and my creative team go on walks for 10 to 15 minutes every day. We like to refer to these as “walkies,” and everyone in the office knows that it’s time to drop everything and go for a walk. Around half the time we are just talking about our lives and getting to know one another better. The other half of the time, we have the best creative thoughts. Our best ideas have come out of these walks.” — John Rampton, Due

Adjust Your Sleep Schedule

“Start going to bed and waking up an hour earlier. Don’t check your phone when you first get up. Use the extra time to work out for 20 to 30 minutes, have a healthy breakfast and then do some active thinking about your day/week. I like to take a walk or just pace inside if the weather’s bad. Make this a non-negotiable item on your schedule. Afterward, begin your normal morning routine.” — Nick Lavezzo, FoundationDB

Have ‘Think Tanks’

“One thing we do at GothamCulture is something we call “Think Tanks.” It’s not something that’s reserved for leaders. Anyone can call a Think Tank. If employees have an unusual situation they’re grappling with, they invite the entire team to an optional meeting where they provide the context and the need, and the participants collaborate to come up with creative solutions.” — Chris Cancialosi, GothamCulture

Make It a Priority

“Schedule weekly recurring blocks in your calendar to keep creative thinking a high priority by either working alone or with others. Working alone can be very productive, and collaborating with colleagues or professionals from different industries is a great way to absorb new perspectives. I schedule these sessions three mornings a week and consider it a win when one or more yield results.” — Lauren Perkins, Perks Consulting

Know Yourself

“First, everyone has different times and circumstances when their creativity is at its peak. Chart a week, and you’ll learn your peak times for strategic and creative thinking and your less-than-peak times for emails and administrative tasks. You will also learn what distracts you, so you can determine the best approach to staying in the creative zone.” — Suzanne Smith, Social Impact Architects

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

TIME Careers & Workplace

4 Strategies for Keeping Your Inbox Empty

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Choose the strategy that works best for your work style

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No matter how much time we spend trying to optimize our inbox—from batch checking messages to adding bells and whistles—email takes over our lives. Looking at my stats from last month, I received and processed over 10,000 emails (eek!), so finding the right way to manage all this online correspondence has been critical for my day-to-day sanity.

Turns out, though, the “right way” to manage email depends a lot on your own personal style. I’ve rounded up some of the most popular and successful strategies so that you can decide which one is best for you:

1. LIFO: Last In First Out

This technique is predicated on letting the old stuff deal with itself. It’s the most common way that people deal with their inbox, reading through email top-down (a.k.a., starting with the most recent email received).

This is highly convenient and intuitive, but there are two primary risks of this strategy. The first risk is that you’ll likely end up with inconsistent responsiveness. On days that you have a lot of time to spend on email, you’ll reply to contacts lightning-fast. On days that you’re busy and in meetings, you’ll have messages pile up and get buried under newer emails.

The second risk is that you may miss out on good opportunities because you didn’t follow up in time. If you choose to use this strategy, but want to mitigate these risks, I would recommend blocking an hour or two once a week during which you switch to the reverse chronological approach (conveniently outlined below). This way, you’ll clear out anything old that might be important.

2. Reverse Chronological

The opposite of LIFO, taking a reverse chronological approach means dealing with the oldest emails first. If you use Gmail, you can switch the sorting of your inbox, by just clicking the email counter in the top right corner.

With this strategy, you’ll often be confronted with harder emails you’ve been putting off, which is great for any chronic procrastinators. However, there is one downside to this strategy. If you work someplace where you constantly receive urgent emails that really do need to be answered right away, it might be risky to take a reverse chronological approach. With that said, you can definitely combine this strategy with LIFO during the actual workday if that’s the case.

3. Yesterbox

Famously used by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, the Yesterbox technique focuses on dealing today with all of the email you received yesterday. Hsieh explains:

“Your ‘to do’ list each day is simply yesterday’s email inbox (hence, ‘Yesterbox’). The great thing about this is when you get up in the morning, you know exactly how many emails you have to get through, there’s a sense of progress as you process each email from yesterday and remove it from your inbox, and there’s actually a point when you have zero emails left to process from yesterday. There is actually a sense of completion when you’re done, which is amazing.”

This is a great strategy for anyone who feels like they’re constantly drowning in email. While I recommend reading his entire how to, the best part is definitely the amount of control you’ll regain over your inbox. Unlike other methods, your target remains the same as the day goes on, and you’ll find over time that you get a better handle of how long email will take you to get through. Did you receive 25 emails yesterday? OK, that might take you a little over an hour. Have a big day with 70 emails coming in? You can plan ahead and block additional time to manage the volume.

4. Inbox Zero

A term coined by Merlin Mann, Inbox Zero is an email strategy by which the goal is to always keep your inbox 100% empty. There are some big benefits to this: Everything is always handled, and you don’t waste time re-reading an email for the third time before actually taking action. This strategy is good for Type-A list-makers (like me!) who like to have complete control on their inboxes. But from my experience, it’s easy to let your inbox dictate your life if you take this too far. Pro tip: Couple Inbox Zero with Boomerang for Gmail, an app that lets you file messages out of your inbox until the date and time of your choosing, so you can decide between actually answering and delaying for later, as need be.

If you’re trying it for the first time, I recommend checking out Lily Herman’s week-long challenge to stay at Inbox Zero before you start.

After trying each method, I can say with certainty that choosing a strategy is all about matching your personal preferences with any habits you’d like to encourage (or discourage). You may find that mixing and matching works best for you. I went a long while at Inbox Zero and have decided that the stress of getting those last few done wasn’t worth it. But I do keep my inbox under 20 emails by the time I go to bed each night—just short enough that I can see all of them on my screen for a quick check that nothing fell through the cracks. As long as you’re not a slave to your inbox and anyone who needs to hear from you is getting an answer in a timely manner, who’s to judge?

This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article above was originally published on The Muse.

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TIME Careers & Workplace

Why You Need to Stop Saying ‘Awesome’

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When something describes everything, it describes nothing

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Awesome. I would advise any entrepreneur who aspires to be taken more seriously to eliminate this ubiquitous word from his or her vocabulary.

Urbandictionary.com describes awesome as “something Americans use to describe everything.” When something describes everything, it describes nothing.

I just got back from Inc.‘s GrowCo convention in Nashville. Lots of useful, enjoyable, wonderful stuff there, as always, but I was stunned by how almost every speech by every presenter and almost every overheard or casual conversation was peppered with the word awesome. It was inescapable, like verbal kudzu choking out the variegated richness of the English language–so omnipresent it seemed like an acceptable substitute for just about any word. “Awesome.” “Awesome.” “Awesome.” “Yeah, really awesome, man.” It was like a lingua franca of evanescent mush, a meme of meaninglessness masquerading as communication and cool.

Fact: People in Shakespeare’s time had working vocabularies of around 54,000 words. They actually talked like characters in Shakespeare’s plays. The working vocabulary of the average American is 3,000 words and, I suspect, declining.

So, is “awesomeness” the beginning of the end for nuanced, accurate business communication? Does it render exact words irrelevant, mute, and dead? Does the practicing and practical entrepreneur even need words and vocabulary to be awesome?

Well, yes. For innovation and thinking, we absolutely need words. As German philosopher Martin Heidegger put it, “Language is the house of being.” There is no being outside of language. Without words, we are grunting our way to Gomorrah. The more impoverished our language, the less our ability to be innovative, growing, effective human beings. As Steve Jobs memorably put it about his own entrepreneurial company, “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.”

Perhaps one of the reasons businesspersons default to the use of awesome for their writing and conversations may be that they have not been trained in language as an essential business skill. Arthur Levitt, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Bloomberg commentator, has been on a jihad about business language and communication. He calls much of business speech and business writing “incomprehensible.” He states, “[Business communication] lacks color and nuance, and it’s not terribly interesting to read.”

I believe it is utterly tragic that STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) curriculum seems to be routing the liberal arts–English, history, philosophy, psychology, et al. I understand that students want to have a good immediate job when they graduate, but that is short-term thinking. Especially for incipient entrepreneurs and business leaders. Even engineers, coders, and quants need words for genuine thinking. Without the right word and the right use of words, there can be no right thinking; there can be no accurate perception; there can be no exactitude. Words give a context, a reality, a structure for logic, innovation, and our eureka moments. Language creates a long-term ability to understand and cope with a brave new world moving and changing at the speed of light. It gives us a context to see the forest as well as the trees.

So, the use of awesome as a default word for just about everything is a killer of business accuracy and clarity. It bespeaks imprecision, inaccuracy, comfort with noncommunication, and impoverishment of imagination. “Awesome” is not cool. It is not outré. It is not out-of-the-box. It is mindless, shallow, slothful, ersatz, and, ultimately, disrespectful of anyone you are speaking to. I would suggest it is a good word for any entrepreneur to shake from his or her sandals.

Words are not irrelevant in a post-Jetsons world. They are ever illuminating. They are necessary. They are the house of the truth of being. They are grandiloquent, magnificent, magical, stupendous, fabulous, unbelievable, and extraordinary. These words have meaning. Awesome does not.

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

TIME Careers & Workplace

8 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Accepting a Job Offer

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Is this a short-term or long-term career move?

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Job offers come with so many emotions. You’re excited, happy, and—likely—quite relieved. This relief, while so very sweet after a long job search, can actually be kind of dangerous. You don’t want to let your desire to be done with the whole process prevent you from asking yourself some important questions about the job.

Obviously, you’ll want to ask your potential new employer some questions about the role, but then it’s time to sit down with yourself and consider what this means for you. Before you say yes to a job offer, go to a quiet place and ask yourself these eight questions.

1. Am I Comfortable With This Job—and Do I Actually Want to Do It?

Clearly, the hiring manager thinks you can do this job, but now it’s time to see if you agree. Review your day-to-day responsibilities, and see if there is there anything you just don’t feel good about. You can obviously do the job skill-wise—it’s about whether you want to or not.

2. Is This Position Interesting and Challenging?

Taking a position and then getting bored in a month is a bit of a waste. Make sure you’re not only able to do the job, you also find it difficult (in a good way) at times. Otherwise you’ll probably lose interest a lot faster than you think.

3. Do I Like My Boss and Co-workers?

Ideally, you’ll have competent, fun, and thoughtful colleagues. But one thing you might feel guilty about thinking about is whether you, you know, actually like them. This is not something to take lightly: Is this a group of people you can feel at home around?

4. Is the Work Environment Somewhere I Can Be Productive?

In other words, is the office space a place that helps you stay focused and happy? And, do you have the resources necessary for success? It can be a really wonderful job, but if you’re more productive on your commute to work than you are at work, that’s a problem.

5. Does This Job Allow for the Lifestyle I Want?

Speaking of commuting, is your commute awful? Do the hours freak you out? Is the vacation package paltry? More importantly, does the job pay well enough (or at least eventually pay well enough) for you to afford a lifestyle that makes you happy? These will all make a difference in how you feel about your job.

6. Will I Feel Professionally Satisfied?

This is evaluated differently for everyone—so it might make sense to think about or clarify your career values before answering—but consider whether your position allows you to create value for the company and if the company in turn invests in your professional development.

7. Is This a Company I’ll Be Proud to Work At?

Whether you want to evaluate this based on your values or on the company brand, think about how you’ll feel to be associated with this company. Having pride for the work your company does is one of the intangible things that can make a surprising difference in how much you end up liking your job.

8. Does This Job Fit Into My Career Narrative?

In other words, is this a short-term or long-term career move? You want to make sure you’re not taking a job just to run away from another job. Does this new position allow you to work toward a professional goal? If not, you may want to reconsider.

Hopefully, you’ll answer yes to all eight of these questions with ease, but if not, take the time to explore why that might be. It may not be a deal breaker, but it’s still good to know where this new job stands on all these fronts before you decide to take it (or not).

This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article above was originally published on The Muse.

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TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Ways to Make Your Workday More Productive

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Eliminate distractions in your daily routine

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It’s easy to get distracted given the countless details that come with running a successful business. If you’re ready to outshine your competitors and take your business to a whole new level, there are five things you need to start doing today:

Outsource

Proper investment of time versus money is an art. Smart outsourcing ensures that a qualified professional handles every aspect of your business and frees up your time to focus on the parts of your business you’re best at.

If you’re used to running a one-person operation, it’s natural to feel anxious about giving up control and trusting others with your hard-earned money. The beauty of outsourcing is that it doesn’t have to come with high financial risk — since you don’t have to commit to hiring full-time or permanent staff, you can try it out in small steps.

Try an experiment: Identify one relatively simple task and outsource it to an independent contractor for a temporary position of a week or two. Commit to using those extra hours to work on something you’ve been putting off. At the end of the week, evaluate your results. You might be surprised at the time you end up saving for a minimal investment.

Automate

Evaluate your current strategy to ensure that you’re automating everything you possibly can without detracting from the quality of your product or service. If you’re still struggling to keep on top of everything but you’re not sure what to change, you may need to consider adjusting your business model or product offerings.

For example, if you find yourself spending intensive hours each day addressing queries about minor items, you may benefit from trimming back your product line, instead investing in a PPC campaign to promote higher ticket items that require less customer maintenance. In many cases, less is more.

  • Use an autoresponder to send out pre-written email blasts to your subscribers.
  • Introduce a policy to curate a higher percentage of your content.
  • Use HTML forms to streamline staff intake processes.

Improve

Successful entrepreneurs learn by doing. It’s entirely possible to build a multimillion-dollar business without ever having gone to college, but if you really want to maximize your long-term potential, you can’t neglect to invest in self improvement.

There are an abundance of quality learning resources available online. Sites like CourseBuffet make it easy to browse an array of free courses offered by top universities. You can also try out subscription-based learning services such as Lynda.com. If you’re interested in improving your skills in SEO, social media marketing or web analytics, check out Udemy for a wide variety of affordable courses to help boost your business.

Simplify

Perhaps the most common obstacle to success for today’s entrepreneur is lack of focus. Allowing yourself to become distracted at the most critical times of the day can be detrimental. Try out these tips for eliminating distractions in your daily routine:

  • Check emails only at certain times of the day.
  • Resolve to put aside any interesting blog posts or articles you come across during the day.
  • Each morning, identify one major task and assign the best hours of your day to work on getting results.

Re-energize

We all do our best work when we’re feeling inspired. It’s crucial to take some real time off every now and then — that is, time spent thinking about anything other than your business.

Often, all it takes is a change of pace to break the cycle of monotony and get re-energized. For example, if you’re an extrovert, attend after-work meet-ups with locals who share your interests. If you enjoy reading, ask your friends what books have inspired them lately and set aside some reading time during your daily coffee breaks. Once you’re feeling rejuvenated, take advantage of the opportunity to tackle that big fish you’ve been putting off.

Old habits are hard to break, so don’t be discouraged if it takes some time to find your groove. Once you do, you won’t look back.

Robert Sofia is a best-selling author, award winning public speaker, and financial industry thought leader. He has developed marketing strategies for Fortune 500® companies, consulted with over 1,000 companies nationwide, and is the cofounder of Platinum Advisor Strategies – ranked #362 on the INC 5,000 list of America’s fastest growing privately owned companies in 2013, and #10 on the Agency 100 list of the nation’s fastest growing agencies.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

TIME

How to Ace the Most Important Part of Your Job Interview

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You're a perfect fit for the job. But that doesn't mean you're definitely going to get it

We’ve all been there. You aced the job interview and your credentials are a perfect fit for the position. Now comes the hard part – the ‘beer test’ or the personality test, a casual chat over drinks or dinner meant to determine how well you will fit with an organization on a personal level. Since your resume can’t really capture what kind of person you are, both you and the interviewer are walking into an unknown situation with unpredictable results.

But despite the dangers of the process, it’s possible to pass the test with flying colors if you recognize the priorities of your potential employer and the questions they are really trying to answer:

What else are you good at other than work?

This may seem irrelevant to the job but it’s not. While serving on the board of a mid-sized radio group, I was tasked with identifying and hiring a new Chief Operating Officer. The leading candidate was a long-time consultant for media companies who checked all the technical boxes for the job. However, learning about her passion for composing music in her spare time and sailing gave me a sense of a well-rounded person who could not only manage the firm’s logistical operations but also liaison with the quirky radio personalities that were our bread and butter.

She got the job and was extremely successful at securing popular new radio hosts for us, many of whom enjoyed discussing her music with her more than audience ratings. She also organized a sailing outing for the firm, which was a hit with the employees. Revealing your outside interests can help your interviewer see the three-dimensional person you are and (maybe) tap into some of your hidden talents.

Are you socially adept?

There are two aspects to this. Some very smart and capable people are bad at social interaction. In some professions, such as medical research or back-office accounting, that might not matter. But in other jobs, such as in marketing, sales, or even general management, social skills are extremely important and can determine your ability to do your job. How well you engage with your interviewer during a beer test will show him or her how good you are at interpersonal communication.

In addition, your future employer may be trying to gauge if you know how to socialize with a work colleague, which is not necessarily the same as with your friends. When spending time with a colleague, you need to be aware of personal boundaries that would be dangerous to breach. You may not, for example, want to discuss the subject of dating, which a colleague might consider intrusive and which could cause problems in the work environment later. It also opens up the company to lawsuits.

Being friends with your co-workers without being too friendly isn’t easy but essential, especially in smaller organizations where socializing is inevitable. Too much closeness can lead to awkwardness, misunderstandings, and office gossip. When confronted with this type of challenge, your best bet is to show your acumen by using it – chat engagingly but casually, avoid sensitive topics, and show your interviewer that you know how to have a good time within boundaries.

Are you Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

In vino veritas as the saying goes. In wine (or beer) there is truth. This is probably the single most important reason for employers to want to meet a candidate socially. We all put on our best face during official interviews, but from an employer’s standpoint that can be a problem. After all, no one wants to hire the polished Dr. Jekyll and wind up with the wild Mr. Hyde instead – especially in the age of social media where that picture of you dancing on a table with your shirt off can go viral.

A social outing tends to entice people to let their guard down. That’s totally fine, as long as you don’t let it too far down and maintain the same decorum you would with anyone you respect. Another vital thing to remember is that just because it’s called a beer test doesn’t mean that you have to overload on the beer. Whenever you’re around co-workers, it’s always best to moderate your drinking, and this is something a smart interviewer will watch for.

And if you’re a party animal who just can’t help himself, and manage to offend your potential employer with your behavior, then you may be better off working at a different company or in another profession.

Why do you really want the job?

When interviewing analyst candidates during my investment banking days, I would routinely receive canned answers to this question, but what I was really looking for was that spark of honesty that gave me confidence the candidate was truly motivated to work at the firm and would go that extra mile for his or her job.

In a beer test, the logic is that without the pressure of being in an interview room, a candidate will feel more comfortable giving a heartfelt answer to the question. If you’re in this position, keep in mind that there isn’t one ‘right’ answer. In some cases, the fact that you want to use the job as a stepping stone to some other career in the distant future is perfectly acceptable – as long as it’s clear to the employer that you’ve really thought about it and have a convincing motivation to excel at the job.

The problem arises when you really don’t have a compelling reason for wanting the job except for being unemployed at the time. If all you want is a paycheck and the job you’re interviewing for requires deep commitment, then the job may not be right for you. That’s a reason to take a step back, be honest with yourself as well as your future employer, and decide if you have a better reason for taking that job.

Great employees flourish in great jobs, but only if the two are compatible. The beer test is designed to determine this very intangible.

Sanjay Sanghoee is a business commentator. He has worked at investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, at hedge fund Ramius Capital, and has an MBA from Columbia Business School.

TIME

This Is the Silver Bullet to Reducing Workplace Stress

It’s something almost everyone can do

Ever get so stressed you want to tell your boss to go take a hike? Maybe you’d be better off if you took that advice yourself.

New research finds that a half-hour walk at lunchtime promotes increased relaxation and reduced stress among office workers. “Walking… seems to have both energizing and relaxing properties in the workplace,” writes lead author Cecilie Thøgersen-Ntoumani, an associate professor in the Psychology and Speech Pathology School at Curtin University in Australia.

In an experiment with 75 university administrative staff members that asked participants for frequent, real-time feedback over the 10-week course of the study, subjects reported being more relaxed, more enthusiastic and less nervous on afternoons following the lunchtime walks they took three times a week.

“On days in which participants walked during lunchtimes, they experienced significantly greater levels of enthusiasm and relaxation at work during the afternoon compared with afternoons when they had not walked at
lunchtime,” Thøgersen-Ntoumani writes. This combination, she finds, gave the employees more motivation and made them feel like they were doing a better job at work.

The new study does come with some caveats: Among the subjects (more than 90% of the whom were women), some seemed to experience more fatigue after walks on days that were dark or cold, and the walking was conducted in groups, leaving open the possibility that the social interaction could help boost people’s moods as well as the physical activity.

But these findings are worth taking seriously because they build on a body of earlier research that say exercise can effectively reduce stress, including workplace stress. For instance, British researchers found that people who exercised before work or at lunchtime reported enhanced performance on the job, being better able to manage their workload and time management. They also said they were more motivated and better able to deal with stressful situations that arose.

An online Harvard Business Review article last year offers some clues as to what’s behind this. People who exercise feel more capable of tackling tasks or challenges — and feeling like you’ve got a handle on whatever the boss or a client throws at you can go a long way towards lowering your stress.

One of the biggest obstacles to exercise is a lack of time, but you don’t need an hour — or even a half-hour — to benefit: “The link between exercise and mood is pretty strong,” psychology professor Michael Otto tells the American Psychology Association’s Monitor on Psychology. “Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect.”

And you don’t need to be a gym rat to begin with: The subjects in Thøgersen-Ntoumani’s study were all sedentary, defined as getting less than 150 minutes of physical activity a week, and they benefitted from those midday strolls. “The increase in sedentary jobs requires innovative solutions to help get employees more physically active at work,” she writes. “The lunchtime walking program tested as part of this study… indicated that it was effective” at targeting sedentary employees, she concludes.

TIME Careers & Workplace

10 Behaviors of Smart People

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They don’t have all the answers

“Stupid is as stupid does.” The great irony of Forrest Gump was how insightful his simplistic sayings really were. Sort of the opposite of Peter Seller’s character in the classic movie, Being There. Everyone thought Chance the Gardener was brilliant but he really was a dolt, albeit (spoiler alert) a dolt who could walk on water.

In case you don’t know, Gump’s line means you are what you do. In other words, it doesn’t matter how intelligent you think you are or are supposed to be, if you consistently do dumb things, you’re still dumb.

I’m sure this offends the politically correct crowd. Want to know what I say to that? Stupid is as stupid does. If you can’t discuss something as fundamental as human intelligence for fear of offending people, I don’t care how smart you think you are, you’re just dumbing yourself down.

Smarts are ridiculously important and I’ll tell you why. Smart people make smart decisions and that’s the most important factor in how things turn out for you.

One of the smartest choices you’ll ever make is to seek out smart people in your work relationships. Just to be clear, I don’t mean those who think they’re smart but do dumb things. I mean the real deal. Since we don’t have smart meters built into our foreheads, here’s how to tell if someone’s smart, starting with the obvious:

They make smart decisions.

Smart people know their actions have consequences. They also know that they have to earn business results one decision at a time. In other words, a few smart calls won’t make you omnipotent. Consistently making good decisions takes discipline and focus.

They learn from their mistakes.

From our first steps to our last, we learn everything in life by trial and error. We all make mistakes because that’s how we learn. Smart people learn from theirs. After all, if you don’t face reality and judge yourself honestly, you’ll never do better next time.

They don’t have all the answers.

There’s an old saying, “Those of you who think you know everything are annoying to those of us who do.” It’s a funny line but if you say it in earnest, that’s pretty annoying. Smart people don’t need to constantly reinforce the fact by acting like know-it-alls. They’re smart enough to know how much they don’t know.

They surround themselves with smart people.

No man is an island. Individuals may be smart but small teams do the best work. Steve Jobs may have been a control freak, but he made sure the eight or nine people on his leadership team were the most talented he could find and taught them to do the same with their teams. That’s smart.

They are resourceful.

Since human intelligence is an evolutionary advantage — we didn’t evolve an enormous neocortex for no reason — intelligent people are generally more adaptable and creative in the way they make use of their surroundings to achieve results.

They can reason.

I will never get this as long as I live: Even when presented with irrefutable evidence that they’re wrong, many people will consistently hold their ground as if their life depended on it. Without critical thinking, logical reasoning, causality, and the scientific method, we’d still be living in the dark ages.

They don’t follow fads.

We live in the golden age of fads and pseudoscience. Frankly, nothing speaks louder to the dumbing down of society that was portrayed so accurately in Mike Judge’s futuristic spoof Idiocracy. Urban Dictionary calls it a “movie that was originally a comedy, but became a documentary.” Truth.

They don’t live beyond their means.

Don’t get me wrong, we all stretch ourselves somewhat when we’re young. But once you’ve achieved something you don’t want to lose, it’s not very bright to squander it needlessly by living beyond your means.

They’re often their own worst enemy.

As developed as our frontal lobes are, everyone has at least one emotional blind spot that haunts them. Oftentimes that’s just the flipside of whatever it is that makes them smart to begin with. Like yin and yang, they need each other to coexist.

As entrepreneurs, they’re not always successful.

In my opinion, when it comes to business success, intelligence is necessary but not sufficient. I’m not talking about shysters who sucker people or someone who made a fortune off a single smart trade. To found and run a successful business over the long haul, you’ve got to be smart. Period.

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.

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TIME psychology

5 Secrets to Always Making a Good First Impression

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Research shows that first impressions are even more important than you think:

The findings indicate that getting off on the wrong foot has devastating long-term consequences.

And once first impressions are set, they’re very hard to change.

Via David McRaney’s You Are Not So Smart:

A study in 1997 by Wilkielman, Zajonc, and Shwartz created first impressions in subjects with images of smiles and frowns. The people in the study saw a photo of either a happy or a sad face flash briefly on a screen and then were shown an unfamiliar Chinese character and asked to say whether or not they liked it. People tended to say they liked the characters that followed the smiles over the ones that followed frowns, but later on when they saw the same characters with the expressions preceding them reversed, they didn’t change their answers. Their first impression remained.

Most important part of a job interview? Yup, the first impression:

By careful analysis, the researchers found that all of these factors influenced the final interview ratings, and that this was due to the way they shaped first impressions: after those first few minutes, there was little extra influence of these qualities across the rest of the interview.

So they’re really important. But don’t get too worried; there are a number of simple things you can do to make a great first impression.

Let’s get to it.

1) Assume They Already Like You

Be “socially optimistic.” Assume people already like you and they probably will:

Social optimists, of course, are in the happy position of expecting to be accepted and finding that, generally speaking, they are. Social pessimists, though, face the dark side of what sociologist Robert K. Merton—who coined the expression ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’—has called a ‘reign of error’. Expectation of rejection leads to the projection of colder, more defensive behaviour towards others, and this leads to actual rejection.

(For more on how to get people to like you, click here.)

Okay, let’s get slightly sneakier…

2) Drug Them

I’m not talking about anything illegal or scandalous here. Be like a loving mom and drug them with tasty food. A cheeseburger can be a powerful influence tool:

The consumption of proferred food induces a momentary mood of compliance toward the donor that is strongest at the time the food is being consumed and that decreases in strength rapidly after the food has been consumed.

Neuroscience research shows that two cheeseburgers is the pleasure equivalent of one orgasm.

Or just offer them some coffee. The smell of java makes us nicer to one another:

In a preliminary study, passersby in a large shopping mall were significantly more likely to help a same-sex accomplice (by retrieving a dropped pen or providing change for a dollar) when these helping opportunities took place in the presence of pleasant ambient odors (e.g., baking cookies, roasting coffee) than in the absence of such odors. Participants also reported significantly higher levels of positive affect in the presence of pleasant odors.

(For advice on how to best use caffeine — from a neuroscientist — click here.)

And some ways to click with others are obvious, but even more critical than you think…

3) That Handshake Matters

Definitely shake their hand:

The study was led by Beckman Institute researcher Florin Dolcos and Department of Psychology postdoctoral research associate Sanda Dolcos. They found, as they wrote, that “a handshake preceding social interaction enhanced the positive impact of approach and diminished the negative impact of avoidance behavior on the evaluation of social interaction.”

In fact, a firm handshake was correlated with being hired after a job interview:

Five trained raters independently evaluated the quality of the handshake for each participant. Quality of handshake was related to interviewer hiring recommendations.

(To learn what people can tell about you from your handshake, click here.)

So your handshake should be firm. Should you make yourself sound good or be modest?

4) Spin Things (Just A Bit)

Speak positively about yourself. It’s actually better than being modest:

Overly positive statements about oneself were beneficial only when perceivers had no reason to believe they were unfounded. In addition, conveying self-knowledge was more beneficial than being modest. The results are consistent with the presumption of calibration hypothesis, which states that confidence is compelling because, barring evidence to the contrary, perceivers assume others have good self-insight. Therefore, to make the best impression, people should be as positive as is plausible to perceivers.

Frame the conversation with a few well-rehearsed sentences regarding how you want to be perceived. This will end up being the structure the other person forms their memories around.

Via Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To:

The take-home point is that having the appropriate schema or context for encoding information helps us understand and recall this information, but only if we get the schema at the outset.

Sound shady? Not really. Research shows that putting your best self forward actually reveals your true self more accurately:

In sum, positive self-presentation facilitates more accurate impressions, indicating that putting one’s best self forward helps reveal one’s true self.

(To learn a shortcut to bonding with a romantic partner, click here.)

Think you should be suave like James Bond when trying to make friends? Don’t do it…

5) Don’t Play It Cool

You know who makes a better first impression than you do? People with racist beliefs. Seriously. You know why?

Because they have to put in effort to not come across badly. Going the extra mile to come across well has positive effects:

We tested the hypothesis that, ironically, Blacks perceive White interaction partners who are more racially biased more positively than less biased White partners, primarily because the former group must make more of an effort to control racial bias than the latter.

What’s the best way to make that effort? Simply show interest. Listen to what people have to say and ask them to tell you more:

Compared to control participants, participants who received a question rated their debate counterpart more favorably, were more willing to engage in future interaction with their counterpart, and acted in a more receptive manner.

(For more on how to be the kind of person people love to talk to, click here.)

Okay, we’ve got a number of good insights. Let’s round them up.

Sum Up

5 research-backed tips on how to make a great first impression:

  1. Assume they already like you and they probably will.
  2. Drug them! Meet over food or coffee, if possible.
  3. Always shake their hand. It makes a big difference.
  4. Being positive about yourself is better than being modest.
  5. Don’t play it cool. Show interest and ask questions.

First impressions make a huge difference but improving them is quite simple. Even if social skills aren’t your strong suit, you can make a solid connection with people. As Oscar Wilde said:

It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Careers & Workplace

3 Reasons Traveling Abroad Can Help Your Career

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Learning to accept and appreciate cultural differences is a good move for your career

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I remember the first time I left the United States. I was about eight years old, visiting family in El Paso, Texas. During the trip, we traveled to nearby Juarez, Mexico, to visit the market.

Everything about the market was different from any previous shopping experience I’d ever had. It was an open-air market with a dirt floor, and it was packed to the brim with booths. Vendors negotiated their prices, and children peddled wares. I saw goods for sale that were new to me, like a Mexican soft drink I’d never heard of or ever tasted. It gave me a new appreciation for—and curiosity about—other cultures.

I spent a lot of time thinking about that trip and the many things I saw and experienced that were different from my everyday life. That trip is a significant reason why, to this day, I have an itch to travel and an interest in other cultures.

In the work I do now on a college campus, I see students return from study abroad trips with similar wonder in their eyes. It’s amazing to witness the impact that a change in environment can make in a person’s life and career.

Students come back with a greater understanding of the intricacies of conducting business abroad, which makes them more competitive when applying to companies that do international work. They bring new perspectives and ideas to their careers and see opportunities they may not have seen otherwise.

Even if you’re not a student, travel can significantly benefit your career—here’s how.

1. It Might Open Doors You Aren’t Expecting

Consider Scott Harrison, who actually paid to work with a medical mission team in West Africa when he grew tired of his (very successful) career in club promotions. His experience left him bursting with passion to improve lives in the impoverished areas he visited.

Today, he’s the founder and CEO of charity: water, a highly visible and highly successful organization that provides access to clean water all over the world. But that may not have happened if Harrison hadn’t set foot on that ship bound for Liberia.

Leaving your comfort zone can provide inspiration, awareness, and ideas you wouldn’t likely consider if you continued following the same routine in the same place, day after day.

Not every person who travels abroad will come home and found a wildly successful organization, of course. But you may think of new ways to approach old problems, make a new business contact, or learn about a new career path that wasn’t previously on your radar.

2. It Can Help You Learn a Language

Immersion in a new city or culture is an almost surefire way to pick up a language. There are other ways to learn a language—for example, traditional classes or online-based resources like Rosetta Stone or Mango Languages—but the best, most effective way to become proficient in a new language is to put yourself in a situation in which you have to use it consistently in your day-to-day interactions.

Understandably, the thought of simply dropping into a foreign country and hoping you’ll develop the language skills to survive may be intimidating. To ease the apprehension, look for opportunities that will provide a little more structure and support in your immersion experience. For example, consider taking a study-abroad class through a local university or traveling with a group that will be providing a service in the country you want to visit.

But what does learning a new language have to do with your career?

Consider this: The United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects a 46% increase in employment of interpreters and translators by 2022. That means the demand for people who can communicate in multiple languages is—and will continue to be—very high.

But if you’re not specifically interested in working as a translator, language skills can still benefit your career. For example, if you can speak more than one language, you can save your company from having to hire a translator for global meetings.

And, in general, as technology allows organizations to interact with others across the globe, language will become increasingly important to effectively collaborate and develop partnerships.

3. It Can Increase Your Cultural Competency

One branch of a large, global corporation is located in the relatively small community (i.e., the population is about 19,000) where I live. Employees at that branch have collaborated with colleagues in Singapore, Scotland, Nigeria, Brazil, and Dubai.

Many of the people who work at this company weren’t necessarily looking for an international experience when they found employment there, but they have to understand their position in a global corporation to be effective.

For example, I once watched a family member return to her office at this company at 9 PM, after being home from her workday for several hours. When I asked what in the world she was doing, she explained that she’d forgotten to enter some critical data in the system, and the Nigeria team would be arriving for their workday in a few hours and needed that information to complete their part of the work. Leaving it for the next day just wasn’t an option because it impacted the processes of an entire plant overseas.

Employees at the local plant also have to be mindful of customs and holidays at other locations that may impact the work schedule or their ability to reach their colleagues in those locations, as well as communicating our local holidays to their counterparts worldwide who might not know that the local office will be closed.

In an increasingly globalized society, learning to accept and appreciate cultural differences is a good move for your career. You certainly don’t have to leave the country to increase your comfort when interacting with people of different races or cultures, but immersing yourself in another culture can create an unparalleled awareness and understanding of people who are different than you.

With that kind of understanding, when you have to talk to a colleague in Singapore to figure out why something has gone awry with an assignment, you’ll be less stressed about the interaction and less likely to feel barriers to communication—which means you’ll be more likely to easily reach a solution. Everyone wins.

Traveling abroad can be a pricey investment, but it doesn’t have to be an insurmountable barrier. Look for scholarships if you’re traveling with a class, or read travel websites and blogs to learn how to cut expenses while you’re abroad. It’s worth it: This is an investment that can change your world—and your career.

This post is in partnership with The Muse. This article was originally published on The Muse.

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