TIME Careers & Workplace

33 Ways to Fix Being Utterly Bored at Work

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Here's how to keep yourself motivated

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

You’ve taken on new projects. You’ve gone above and beyond. You’ve talked to your boss about additional responsibilities and gotten the old “definitely—once we have a position open / more budget / don’t need you to focus on X anymore.”

Frankly, you’re bored with your job.

And while sometimes, that’s a sign that you should hightail it out of there, others it’s a matter of keeping yourself moving forward (and not gouging your eyes out) until the next busy season, new client, or promotion comes along.

If you’re in that boat, you’re in luck: Here’s a roundup of things you can do in the office or during off-hours to up your professional game even when your current job isn’t exactly doing it for you.

If You Want to Network

1. Start a Book Group

Pick books that are related to your field—or a general business read that everyone can get some use out of, like something from the 99U book series orGood to Great. A great cadence is once per month—take over a conference room for your lunch hour or, better yet, meet for happy hour and chat at a bar.

2. Create a Networking Group

Have a few friends in your field you see from time to time at industry events? See if they’d all want to get together every month for an informal networking group, where you all meet to chat (and get advice!) about challenges you’re facing.

3. Go on Lunch Dates

Ever heard of “Let’s Lunch?” It’s a (free!) online network that matches you up with someone in your area for lunch during the workweek. Connect your LinkedIn profile, provide your availability and geographic flexibility, and the site’s algorithm matches you up with a like-minded lunch partner. It’s a great way to grow your network utilizing the free time that’s already built into your day. (Via Allison Stadd)

4. Ask a Co-worker to Join You

Go out to lunch with a co-worker you don’t know well. Not only will you get to know someone new, you’ll learn more about how your company operates—and potentially find new ways to collaborate and get involved.

5. Start a Lunch Club

Grab four other officemates, and assign everyone a day to bring enough lunch for everyone else on a specified day of the week. Cook once, get delicious meals (and team bonding) all five days!

6. Start the Company Softball League

Or frisbee team. Or 5K for charity. Showing some initiative to get everyone out of the office and hanging out with each other on a non-work basis will show the higher-ups you have what it takes to shine in the office, too.

7. Build Your LinkedIn Following

One expert suggests we should be using LinkedIn more like Twitter—finding and engaging with as many followers as possible. So start building your network. Here are a few more things you can do on LinkedIn every month, week, and day.

If You Want to Boost Your Skills

8. Try Morning Pages

Start every day with 15 minutes of creative writing. Entrepreneur Chris Winfield says it has “become an essential way to clear his mind, unleash creative ideas, and quiet his inner critic, reducing his anxiety.”

9. Start a Blog

It can be a place for you to write about happenings in your field, share thoughts on pop culture, or even pursue a hobby—just be clear on what your purpose is and who you want to read it. Then, get started by making a long list of topics you could potentially write about. Commit to pushing something out at least once a week to keep your (obviously avid) followers engaged.

10. Or a Podcast

Blogging not for you? Start a podcast. Better yet, invite industry leaders to be interviewed on your podcast. You’re boosting your personal brand and your professional network at once!

11. Write an Article

Then, try to get it published on an industry website. You’ll hone a new skill—writing and researching—and you’ll start to build your name as a thought leader in your space.

12. Get Your Voice Heard

Look for an upcoming conference or event you could speak at, and pitch yourself as a panel speaker or leader. Here’s exactly how to do it.

13. Look for Hidden Benefits

Browse your company’s benefits page, and make sure you’re taking advantage of all of them. Many companies offer free financial planning services, a professional development budget, or even sabbaticals or trips to other offices. Hey, if it’s cool with HR, it’s bound to be cool with your boss.

14. Learn to Code

No, really—it’ll boost your career no matter what you do (take it from this PR pro).Here’s a cool way to get started.

15. Or Learn Something Else

Pick a class, any class—here are 50 (cheap) ideas.

16. Or Teach Something

Consider developing live or online courses, workshops, or seminars in your areas of expertise. (Platforms like Skillshare make it easy to share what you know.)

17. Build a Personal Website

No matter what field you’re in, it’s a great idea. We have a seven-day plan that makes it super easy, and at the end of it all you’ll have an online presence that shows off who you are and displays your best work.

If You Want to Make Your Office Happier

18. Revamp Your Cubicle

It’s amazing what some fresh photos, some non-fluorescent lighting, and some organization can do for your inspiration (not to mention sanity). Here are a few ideas to get you started.

19. Fix Something

Look for a process, procedure, or meeting that everyone grumbles about, and think of one or two ways to improve upon it. Put together a plan, present it to your boss, and see if you can be the one who turns it into action.

20. Teach the Group

Offer to research and present on something to your team—whether it’s socially responsible business practices or a new project management tool.

21. Launch a Brown Bag Program

Once a month, invite cool speakers in to chat with your team about something in your field.

22. Mentor a Junior Employee

Look to see if your company has an official program you can participate in, or just look for younger co-workers who you could take under your wing.

23. Make a List

Create a list of resources you find helpful, sites you love to read, the best conferences or classes in your field, or anything else you think your co-workers might find useful, and send it out to everyone on your team.

24. Ask for a New Employee

If you don’t already have one, come up with a proposal for getting an intern or other direct report. Having someone to take some work off your plate can open up space for you to work on more inspiring projects—and having someone to mentor can be a great growth experience.

25. Create a Client Survey

Ask your customers and potential customers key questions that could help you better serve them (as well as for their general feedback). At minimum, you’ll get some helpful guidance for future sales or initiatives, and you’ll probably look like a star while you’re at it.

If You Want to Get Out of the Office

26. Plan a Trip

Research shows that just the act of planning a trip makes you happier, as you’re anticipating what’s to come. While we don’t recommend doing the actual planning on company time, daydreaming about your destination will certainly make the day go by faster.

27. Plan a Fundraiser

Or otherwise get involved in a cause you care about. Bonus: It’s a great way to network—reach out to people you haven’t talked to in a while or think are interesting with an invite.

28. Do Something Totally Unrelated to Your Job

Take a bartending class, sign up for a half-marathon, get SCUBA certified. While it might not have anything to do with your job, you’ll definitely be more inspired in your off hours, and that’ll give your life inspiration an overall boost.

29. Learn a New Language

Along similar lines, even if you don’t speak Spanish or German at work, speaking and reading in a new language can get your brain thinking in totally new ways. (Here are five fun ways to give it a whirl.)

If You Want Something Totally New

30. Take on a Side Project

Start that funny Tumblr you’ve always wanted to, sell your wares as a consultant in your field, or start an Etsy store. It’ll give you a good challenge outside of your day job—not to mention some cold, hard cash.

31. Go Pro Bono

Use some of your free time to do some work for a nonprofit or early-stage startup with a mission that you’re really excited about. This will give you a chance to grow your skills (or potentially learn new ones) and remind you why you loved your work in the first place, plus it could even turn into an exciting full-time opportunity down the line.

32. Get a New Job

If you’ve tried everything and are still bored at your current gig, it’s probably time to look for a new one. Start making a list of your favorite companies, polishing up your resume, and getting some informational interviews on the calendar. On that note:

33. Take a Day Off

Hey, if you’re bored at work, you can probably afford it. Try this one-day, 10-hour plan to totally kick start your job search on a day off.

TIME Careers & Workplace

28 Secrets of Exceptionally Productive People

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Want to work smarter, not harder? Learn from the best

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.

By Jeff Haden

Occasionally, I stumble on my own productivity tools and strategies, but mostly I borrow them from others.

So does Ryan Holiday, the author of the best-selling The Obstacle Is the Way (a really great book) and the compulsively readable Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator.

He’s also the founder of Brass Check Marketing and somehow finds time to give monthly book recommendations to 30,000 people.

“Like all people, I like to think I am a productive person,” Ryan says. “If I am, though, it’s because I’ve been ruthlessly efficient at one thing: stealing secrets and methods from people a lot smarter than me.

“In my career, I’ve had the fortune of coming in contact with best-selling authors, successfulentrepreneurs, investors, executives, and creative people. Others I didn’t meet but found their thoughts in books. Whether they knew it or not, I cased all of them and took from them what I thought were their best ideas on productivity.”

Here are productivity secrets Ryan has borrowed–and you will, too:

Bryan “Birdman” Williams

Birdman founded Cash Money records and is worth about $500 million. I was shocked the first time I was supposed to meet him at the studio at 1 a.m. on a Sunday. His day was just starting. He works at night and sleeps during the day.

Like I said, at first it was weird, but then I realized: He picked the hours that were most productive for him.

Screw what most people think is normal.

Casey Neistat

From this popular YouTube filmmaker and artist I picked up the trick of keeping a small Moleskine journal I write in every day: thoughts, reminders, notes, lessons. I prefer one that can fit in my back pocket; that way, I always have paper on me.

The past few months have been incredibly difficult, and my journal helped me cope. More important, I learned how to keep track of these journals (and everything else I own) in case I lose them: In big letters, write “If Found Please Return [insert name & number].”

Tim Ferriss

From Tim, I learned the art of the to-do list. A simple, straightforward to-do list: one note card, five to six big items, that’s it. Every day, I cross items off and tear up the card. Simple and extremely effective.

Another from Tim: You don’t have to be the first person to sign up for things. Wait a bit on new apps and social networks. Let things sort themselves out, let other people do all the trial and error, and then when you come into the picture, just be the best.

Robert Greene

Robert Greene, renowned author of The 48 Laws of Power, showed me how he creates books.

His note-card system has changed my life. Every book I read I fold key pages and later go back through and transfer the information to note cards I organize by theme in card boxes. I now have hundreds of thousands of these cards, which I always turn to if I need an anecdote, a fact, inspiration, a strategy, a story, or an example.

From Robert I also learned that swimming is a great productivity tool. Why? Because it requires total isolation: no music, no phone, no possible interruptions–just quiet, strenuous exercise.

I’ve had some of my most productive brainstorming sessions in the pool.

Dov Charney

The first time I called Dov, I got his voice mail. It said: “I don’t use voice mail; email me.”

I’ve taken it a step further; I don’t even have a voice mail message. If it’s important, they’ll call back. If I have time, I’ll return the missed call. Either way, having “6 new voice messages” is something I haven’t worried about in years, because they don’t exist.

Ramit Sethi

Ramit has built a 40-plus employee, multimillion-dollar education business right before our eyes (he and I grew up in the same small town).

One trick I learned from Ramit–after first ignoring his advice several times–is that if you’re going to hire an assistant, make sure the person you hire is older and more responsible than you are.

Too many people make the mistake of hiring someone young and cheap, which is ridiculous, because it’s impossible for the person to understand the value of time and organization and he or she will wind up making you less productive, not more. If you’re going to have an assistant, do it right.

Another from Ramit: You don’t have to answer every email you get. The Delete key is a superquick way to get to inbox zero.

Tobias Wolff

In his book Old School, Tobias Wolf’s semi-autobiographical character takes the time to type out quotes and passages from great books. I do this almost every weekend.

It’s made me a) a faster typist, b) a much better writer, and c) a wiser person.

David Allen and Merlin Mann

Inbox zero.

Never touch paper twice.

Let these two phrases sink in, and follow them.

Napoleon Bonaparte

There’s a great quote from Napoleon about how he would delay opening letters so that by the time he did unimportant issues would have resolved themselves.

I try to do the same thing with email and issues from staff.

Marco Arment

Instapaper changed my life. I don’t play games on my phone; I read smart articles I queued up for myself earlier in the day. I don’t get distracted with articles while I am working at my desk–because I can easily put them in the queue.

James Altucher

No is a powerful, productive word (James also wrote a book about it). We think we’re obligated to say yes to everything, and then we wonder why we never have enough time. Learning to say no–more specifically, “No, thank you”–will energize you and excite you.

Use it–as much as you can.

Another from James: Entrepreneurs (and writers) are nuts. To save yourself many wasted hours of time and insanity, find a spouse who is better adjusted and balanced than you. James and his wife, Claudia, are an inspiring example of this important pairing.

Montaigne

From Montaigne I also learned the importance of keeping a commonplace book. If something catches your eye, write it down and record it. Use it later. Simple as that.

Andrew Carnegie

Carnegie has a great line about “being introduced to the broom” at an early age. In other words, intimately know even the most “lowly” tasks.

That doesn’t mean you still have to do the grunt work, but you should know how.

Aaron Ray

Aaron Ray was my mentor in Hollywood. He’s a hugely successful movie producer and manager, but I noticed one thing: He was never in the office. And he always had a ridiculous excuse why he wasn’t.

Eventually, I realized why: He was avoiding the office BS that sucks up most peoples’ time. By staying away, he got way more done. He could see the big picture.

And as an extra bonus, everyone was always talking about him: “Where’s Aaron?” “Has anyone seen Aaron?”

Tucker Max

You may be surprised, but Tucker has the biggest library you’ve ever seen. Why? He buys every book he wants.

So now I don’t waste time thinking about which books I want or where to get them cheapest. I buy them, read them, recommend them, benefit from them–end of story. (See my library here.)

I’m never without something to read, and I’m always driven to read more–because the shelves are looking down on me as a reminder of what I have left to do.

I also think Tucker was the guy from whom I learned the practice of listening to the same song over and over. It lets you space out and get into the zone (or flow state). My iTunes playlist is embarrassing, but I don’t care. Listening to the same song hundreds of times is how I get so much done.

Nassim Taleb

Speaking of books, from Nassim Taleb I learned about the “anti-library.” Don’t just collect books you have read; collect the books you haven’t read. It’s a testament to what you don’t know–and an on-hand resource whenever you need it.

Samantha Hoover

From my fiancée I learned a nice little trick: Delete Facebook from your phone. Just do it. Trust me. (Note: Pretty sure she’s relapsed, but I haven’t.)

Samuel Zemurray

The entrepreneur behind United Fruit (and one of my favorite books) said, “Don’t trust the report.”

We waste a lot of time trusting numbers and opinions we’ve never verified. Going backwards and doing something over ends up costing us far more than we saved by skipping over the work in the first place.

Anonymous

I forget who gave me the idea, but never buy in-flight Wi-Fi. Go off the grid for the whole flight. Catch up on stuff. Think. Read.

Adam Corolla

When he was doing Loveline, Adam would complain about how the producers wanted him to arrive 15 minutes before the show started. His refusal was simple: Every week that added up to an extra show–for free.

Important people can get a lot done in “just” 15 minutes, so they don’t give that time away. And they don’t mind looking bad in order to protect their time.

Niki Papadopoulos

My editor always says, “OK, well, try writing it then.” In other words, she means, get started. She usually says this right after I explain a big sweeping idea for a book or a chapter or an article.

Planning is great, but productive people get moving.

Frederick Douglass

“A man is worked on by what he works on.”

Steer clear of quagmires, toxic work environments, busywork, and unsolvable problems.

Aaron Ray

One more from Aaron: As a talent manager, Aaron showed me why you never waste your time, or your own money, doing your own negotiating.

His lesson has served me well. I pass incoming inquiries to a speaking agent, book projects to a book agent, interview requests to an assistant, movie or TV stuff to Aaron, etc. Yes, that means I pay them a fee, but guess what? All valuable services have a cost.

Only a fool represents himself or herself.

TIME Careers & Workplace

40 Inspiring Motivational Quotes About Gratitude

Sometimes, a totally different perspective can be found in a few simple words

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.

By Jeff Haden

Whatever your definition of success (everyone’s definition of success is and should be different), we all want more. That desire for more can blind us to what we already have–and should be grateful for.

Here are 40 quotes about gratitude that will not only remind you that what you have is pretty awesome, but will also, I hope, spur you to express that gratitude to the people who deserve it most.

  1. “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”William Arthur Ward
  2. “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” G.K. Chesterton
  3. “‘Enough’ is a feast. Buddhist proverb
  4. “If you count all your assets, you always show a profit.” Robert Quillen
  5. “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” Robert Brault
  6. “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.” John F. Kennedy
  7. “Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” Charles Dickens
  8. “Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” Eckhart Tolle
  9. “If a fellow isn’t thankful for what he’s got, he isn’t likely to be thankful for what he’s going to get.” Frank A. Clark
  10. “If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily.” Gerald Good
  11. “Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie
  12. “The world has enough beautiful mountains and meadows, spectacular skies and serene lakes. It has enough lush forests, flowered fields, and sandy beaches. It has plenty of stars and the promise of a new sunrise and sunset every day. What the world needs more of is people to appreciate and enjoy it.” Michael Josephson
  13. “Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves, and spend without fear of bankruptcy.” Fred De Witt Van Amburgh
  14. “The way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement.” Charles Schwab
  15. “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” Epictetus
  16. “At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” Albert Schweitzer
  17. “The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.” William James
  18. “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” Oprah Winfrey
  19. “Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” Buddha
  20. “Silent gratitude isn’t very much to anyone.” Gertrude Stein
  21. “Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.” Henri Frederic Amiel
  22. “You cannot do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
  23. “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” Willie Nelson
  24. “It is impossible to feel grateful and depressed in the same moment.” Naomi Williams
  25. “One can never pay in gratitude; one can only pay ‘in kind’ somewhere else in life.”Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  26. “Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out.” John Wooden
  27. “No one who achieves success does so without the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude.” Alfred North Whitehead
  28. “Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” A.A. Milne
  29. “Forget yesterday–it has already forgotten you. Don’t sweat tomorrow–you haven’t even met. Instead, open your eyes and your heart to a truly precious gift–today.”Steve Maraboli
  30. “We should certainly count our blessings, but we should also make our blessings count.” Neal A. Maxwell
  31. “In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  32. “The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you.” John E. Southard
  33. “I truly believe we can either see the connections, celebrate them, and express gratitude for our blessings, or we can see life as a string of coincidences that have no meaning or connection. For me, I’m going to believe in miracles, celebrate life, rejoice in the views of eternity, and hope my choices will create a positive ripple effect in the lives of others. This is my choice.” Mike Ericksen
  34. “Gratitude also opens your eyes to the limitless potential of the universe, while dissatisfaction closes your eyes to it.” Stephen Richards
  35. “Gratitude and attitude are not challenges; they are choices.” Robert Braathe
  36. “They both seemed to understand that describing it was beyond their powers, the gratitude that spreads through your body when a burden gets lifted, and the sense of homecoming that follows, when you suddenly remember what it feels like to be yourself.” Tom Perrotta
  37. “Gratitude is more of a compliment to yourself than someone else.” Raheel Farooq
  38. “Keep your eyes open and try to catch people in your company doing something right, then praise them for it.” Tom Hopkins
  39. “In life, one has a choice to take one of two paths: to wait for some special day–or to celebrate each special day.” Rasheed Ogunlaru
  40. “This a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.” Maya Angelou
MONEY Shopping

8 Things We Already Know About the 2014 Holiday Shopping Season

Mark Cerqueria, software engineer for the application software company Smule, performs as Santa Claus
In all likelihood, Apple will have good reason to celebrate during the upcoming holiday season. Jeff Chiu—AP

Among other things, it looks like it will be a terrific holiday season for Apple, "Frozen," and workers seeking temporary jobs.

It’s still only September, and there are many unknowns about the end-of-the-year holiday shopping period. We don’t know exactly how aggressive retailers will be in terms of starting price wars with the competition, for instance, nor what the chances are of a surprise “it” toy emerging as a must-have gift for legions of American children. Still, even at this early date, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see the way much of the season ahead will play out. Here’s what we know:

The holiday season already started. Sure, the back-to-school shopping period is considered to last through September, and autumn and Halloween are increasingly important for the marketing of everything from scary costumes to pumpkin spice lattes. But everything—everything—pales in comparison to the importance retailers place on the winter holiday shopping season. That’s why stores try to make the season a little bigger every year. Kmart launched its first Christmas ad, or rather a coy “non-Christmas ad,” in early September. And soon after, Walmart, Target, Toys R Us, and others rolled out various versions of the season’s “Hot Toy” list, long before kids even start thinking of making wish lists of their own.

You’ll be required by law to buy gadgets and “Frozen” merchandise. OK, it will only seem that way. That’s because the hot toy lists are dominated by “Frozen” products even though it’s been months since the Disney film was in theaters. When the lists aren’t directing parents to 3-foot-tall Elsa dolls, they’re steering buyers to techie items for kids like this Vtech smartwatch. Tech for adults will arguably be an even hotter category this season, what with a series of new tablets from Amazon and, of course, Apples’s hot-selling iPhones.

Stores will have longer hours and shorter checkout lines. Shoppers have come to expect the former around the holidays, with stores sometimes open for 88 hours in a row, or even longer, in the days leading up to Christmas. This year, Target launched longer hours (including midnight closings at some locations) before the summer even ended, with the hope of rebuilding its reputation as a convenient, fashionable spot to shop. What’s come as more of a surprise—and a welcome one at that—is Walmart’s promise to keep all of its checkout lines open during peak shopping hours throughout the season, starting on Black Friday weekend. As for Thanksgiving store hours themselves, experts expect big box retailers to open doors on the holiday even earlier than they did last year.

Black Friday won’t have the season’s best prices. On the day after Thanksgiving, stores will surely draw in the masses with promises of amazing discounts and doorbuster deals—but only on some merchandise. Because Thanksgiving store hours essentially mean that Black Friday begins on Thursday, because “Black Friday” sales start appearing days or even weeks before the actual Black Friday, and because retailers are known to launch wild sales out of the blue to stir up business before, during, and after Black Friday week, it’s foolish to assume that all of the prices shoppers encounter on the day after Thanksgiving are the lowest of the season. For some merchandise, including toys, name-brand TVs, and jewelry, shoppers can expect prices to drop after Thanksgiving weekend is over. Meanwhile, the discount-shopping site Ben’s Bargains anticipates that tablet prices will hit rock bottom in early November, and that prices for sports apparel and winter clothing will be cheaper in mid-November than they will be around Black Friday.

It’s a great year to snag a seasonal job. In 2008, retailers hired about 325,000 workers for the holiday period. The figure’s been on the rise ever since, hitting 786,000 a year ago. In a new report, researchers at Challenger, Gray & Christmas say they expect “seasonal employment gains in the retail sector to significantly outpace 2013.” Toys R Us, for instance, announced this week that it is hiring 45,000 seasonal employees, which more than doubles the company’s existing workforce, while UPS is planning on hiring 95,000 workers for the upcoming season. “We could see retailers add more than 800,000 seasonal workers for the first time since 1999,” said Challenger CEO John A. Challenger.

People will shop online earlier to avoid last year’s shipping nightmare. According to a new survey from Pitney Bowes, an e-commerce and shipping consulting firm, half of the consumers polled (49%) said that for the upcoming holiday season they will shop online earlier than they did last year. The most popular reason for doing so is to ensure that gifts and other packages arrive in plenty of time for the holidays. A year ago, many families were disappointed on Christmas morning because shipping delays caused orders from Amazon, Kohl’s, and other retailers to arrive after December 25. (Hopefully, the additional hires made by UPS will help ease the shipping problems of a year ago, but it’s smart for shoppers to play it safe by ordering well in advance.)

Apple loyalists will outspend Android users. Last November, the average order placed on a mobile Apple iOS device was $121.48, compared to just $89 for Android devices, according to a new IBM report. The data also shows that while we do more web-surfing with smartphones (accounting for 24% of all website traffic, compared to 14% via tablets), consumers are more inclined to make purchases on tablets (11.5% of website sales) than smartphones (5%). Again, Apple mobile device users outspend the rest of the field, representing 13.6% of web sales in March 2014, compared with 2% of site sales made via Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola, and Nokia devices combined.

We’ll be heavily influenced by digital, but make most purchases in person. The forecast from Deloitte calls for a 4% to 4.5% overall increase in consumer holiday season spending. While researchers point out that 50% of sales will somehow be influenced by digital interactions (browsing online, for instance), only 14% of purchases will come in the form of non-store sales (primarily, e-commerce sales).

TIME Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley Is Not Happy About a Tax on Its Free Lunches

A Tour of Google's New York Headquarters
The Washington Post—The Washington Post/Getty Images

If the IRS has its way, tech employees would have to pay taxes on their free meals

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

By JP Mangalindan

For years, many tech workers in Silicon Valley have enjoyed free meals — one of several cushy perks offered the likes of Google, Facebook, and countless startups. But complimentary grub could become a thing of the past if the Internal Revenue Service has its way.

A report on Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal revealed the IRS is pushing to tax employees for their free meals. Companies would have to add in the value of free food when calculating employee tax withholding.

News of a potential tax on free meals has many worried in Silicon Valley, where all-you-can eat buffets are a basic recruiting tool. They’re also a subtle way to get employees to work longer hours by giving them no reason for them to leave the office except to sleep.

“Having food available or catered in is kind of expected of most tech firms, so this is a bit of a concern,” admits Steve Sarner, VP of Marketing, at the social networking site Tagged, where employees get at least one free meal a week cooked up by nearby restaurants in San Francisco’s Financial District.

Nathan Grady, a front-end engineer at Weebly, a service that lets users build web sites with custom software tools, called the idea of taxing free food awkward. The practice is a social catalyst that makes it easy for a company’s staff to talk to one another, he said. Weebly makes that easy enough by serving free catered lunch daily.

For the rest of the story, please go to Fortune.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

The Secret to Not Flubbing a Job Interview

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Zero Creatives—Getty Images/Cultura RF

A phone interview can be a convenient first step for job-seekers and employers alike because it takes less time and expense than an in-person meeting. Be aware, though, that phone interviews present some unique pitfalls.

Want the edge on your fellow applicants? Read on. If you’re looking for a job, here’s what experts say you need to do to make sure that time on the phone gets you a call back.

Do your homework. “Have handy a copy of the job description, talking points about your qualifications, and the questions you’ve prepared for the interviewer,” says Amanda Augustine, job search expert at mobile career network TheLadders. Read over them before the interview to refresh your memory.

Find someplace quiet. “Make sure you are in a quiet place with the doors closed so no one can barge in and disrupt the call by creating noise,” says Scott Dobroski, a career trends analyst at jobs and salary site Glassdoor. A crying baby or barking dog in the background isn’t going to help you project the professional image you want.

Don’t use, like, verbal filler. “Avoid verbal crutches like “um,” “like,” and “uh” that can undercut your communication skills and make you sound like you’re not confident,” says Robert Hosking, executive director of staffing service OfficeTeam.

Make clarity a priority. “Over the phone, the interviewer needs to be able to hear what you are saying as clearly as possible,” Hosking says. “Make sure you have at least one glass of water before the interview so your voice doesn’t crackle or become dry,” he says. It’s not a bad idea to keep a glass of water at hand in case you get a tickle in your throat, too.

Practice “verbal nods.” “Remember, the interviewer can’t see you shaking your head through the phone,” Augustine points out. This means you’ll need to give the interviewer verbal cues that take the place of a nod. Phrases like “I understand,” “Sounds great,” “Alright” and “That makes sense” will all do the trick, Augustine says. “Basically, you’re making sure the person on the other end of the line knows you’re following along with the conversation and on the same page,” she says.

Keep on track. Since people tend to ramble when they’re nervous, Hosking says it’s important to make sure you get to the point quickly. “While you certainly don’t want to give a series of one-word responses, aim to be thorough, yet succinct. It’s OK to pause and collect your thoughts before you begin to speak,” he says.

Sound confident. “Your interviewer is likely trained to glean from your conversation your level of self-confidence, personality and ability to communicate effectively,” Arnie Fertig, founder and CEO of Jobhuntercoach, writes in US News & World Report. Don’t rush through your replies to the interviewer’s questions, ramble during pauses in the conversation or slip into overly colloquial language. “At the same time, do show something of your personality,” he says.

TIME Time management

6 Ways to Take Control of Your Schedule

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Paul Bradbury—Getty Images/Caiaimage

Reduce your stress levels with these important tips

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This story was originally published on StartupCollective.

By Jordana Jaffe

Way too often, we feel like our days and hours guide us, rather than vice versa. Our schedules are the master and we their abiding servants.

But not only does that arrangement not feel great, it can also only last so long. When you and your energy, needs, or desires aren’t aligned with your schedule, you will crash and burn sooner rather than later. To help you avoid that crash, or even better, to stop the madness once and for all, here are some things that you can start doing right now to finally feel in control of your time.

1. Take inventory.

Get super clear on what’s going on in your day right now. If you already have an organized calendar, get clear on where your time is spent. If you don’t, spend the next few days keeping a time journal: write down everything you do and to the minute how long each task takes you. It may feel a bit tedious, but the results will astound you.

2. Identify what’s not working.

Where is too much of your time being spent? What do you absolutely dread doing? What are the time wasters in your calendar? Make a note of all of these things and also jot down how much time you currently spend on all of them.

3. Write down what you would rather be doing.

Have you been craving going to that yoga class? Are you longing to catch up on weeks’ worth of your favorite shows on DVR? Write a list of all of the things you would love to start including in your schedule as well as the time commitment for each.

4. Reevaluate.

Now it’s time to make some changes. Look back to what’s not working in your schedule: how can you delegate or outsource some of these things?

Here are two great resources for outsourcing:

  • Fancy Hands: For $45/month, you are given 15 virtual tasks that you can delegate. From setting up doctor’s appointments to booking tickets for a show to researching where to find that dress you love, this resource is a must (note: it may seem like all of these tasks shouldn’t take you very long, but trust me, they add up).
  • Task Rabbit: This is for all of those tasks that you need an actual person to help you with. For example, building the baby’s crib, dropping those envelopes at FedEx, or even picking up groceries.

Now think about all of the time wasters you can eliminate all together. If you’re having a problem prying yourself off of Facebook, ask yourself why. What is Facebook giving you? Entertainment? Connection? Consider seeking those feelings from something more fulfilling.

5. Makeover time.

Now it’s time to start including all of that stuff you’ve actually been wanting to do. Fit these activities in the white space you now have thanks to eliminating the time wasters and outsourcing everything you don’t absolutely need to be doing.

6. Live into it.

Making a change takes time, no matter how badly you may want it. See how your new schedule is working out. Figure out what is working really well and what needs to be adjusted, and then shift things accordingly. Above all, make sure to be gentle with yourself. Progress always trumps perfection.

TIME Business

Equal Opportunity Is Over. It’s Time for ‘Racial Realism’

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A shift in demographics means that, increasingly, many employers are treating race as a qualification

Californians, like other Americans, like to think that race should never be a qualification for a job, that everyone deserves an equal opportunity and a fair shake. This principle undergirds our Civil Rights Act, which turns 50 this month. And yet increasingly, many employers are treating race as a qualification, especially for people of color. Just look at the Los Angeles Lakers’ acquisition of Jeremy Lin. “We think Jeremy will be warmly embraced by our fans and our community,” said General Manager Mitch Kupchak. Putting Lin on the court is a smart economic move in the country’s largest Asian-American market.

The prevalence of this kind of hiring—particularly in California, America’s most populous and most diverse state—suggests that the Civil Rights Act needs to be updated. California in 2014 certainly looks nothing like Alabama and Mississippi of 1964, which were Congress’s focus when it passed that year’s Civil Rights Act. The main question then was how to provide equal opportunity for African-Americans. The answer at that time was Title VII of the act, which prohibited racial discrimination in employment, and later court decisions allowing for affirmative action.

Twenty-first-century employers have come to value racial differences in ways that were unheard of in 1964, and do not fit with traditional conceptions of affirmative action. Organizations of all kinds today hire and place workers using a practice I have called “racial realism”: seeing color as a real and significant part of workers’ identities, a qualification that is good for business.

As with the Lakers and Lin, employers use racial realism to make customers of different backgrounds feel comfortable. As San Francisco-based Wells Fargo explains on its website: “To know our customers and serve them well, the diversity of team members throughout our ranks should reflect the diversity of the communities we serve.”

Government employers, including police departments and school districts, have also invoked racial realism, seeking to mirror the populations they serve to deliver more effective services. For example, California’s Education Code declares the importance of hiring racially diverse teachers so that “the minority student [has] available to him or her the positive image provided by minority classified and certificated employees.”

In low-skilled jobs, racial realism is often linked to perceived variations in abilities, rather than customer reactions. One study of Los Angeles employers found a common pattern of preference for Latinos due to their perceived diligence.

While racial realism lacks the animus that characterized the racism of the Deep South 50 years ago, it is still problematic. The Civil Rights Act provides no authorization for race to be a job qualification. And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has denied the legality of motivations like Wells Fargo’s. If employers in Alabama could claim they preferred white workers because their customers preferred white workers, the cause of equal opportunity would never have gotten off the ground. Courts have ruled that firms should have their workforces mirror their job applicant pools, not their customer bases. And California’s rationale for teacher diversity would seem to have been precluded by a 1986 Supreme Court decision, which explicitly stated that hiring teachers to be racial role models was impermissible.

Moreover, the employer preference for Latino workers, often immigrants, is often propelled by stereotypes, and often at the expense of other workers stereotyped differently, especially African-Americans. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has initiated action against employers who use this strategy, grouping the cases under a heading no one would have considered in 1964: “Hispanic Preference.”

For high-skilled nonwhite workers, racial realism can be a double-edged sword. They may have ready access to jobs—then find themselves pigeonholed in positions where they deal with same-race clients or citizens.

Why the shift from equal opportunity to racial realism? Demographics. American birthrates declined as the country became more educated, creating a great demand for low-skilled immigrant labor. Employer demand for labor brought immigrant workers here, but now immigrants themselves, and their descendants, are shaping employment patterns as consumers. Employers are feeling pressure to balance the rights of their workers and the interests of customers and citizens, including those of color, who rightfully expect the best service from businesses and especially from government.

The Civil Rights Act, as written, puts employers and employees alike in a bind. It is time to revisit the law, and make adaptations that fit our new demography—and the law’s original goal of equal opportunity for America’s most disadvantaged.

John D. Skrentny—co-director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies and professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego—is author of After Civil Rights: Racial Realism in the New American Workplace (Princeton University Press).

TIME Careers & Workplace

6 Things That Define Indispensable Employees

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Sam Edwards—Getty Images/OJO Images RF

An employee survey turned into much more when a set of fascinating themes emerged

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.

By Christine Lagorio-Chafkin

Here’s the Danny Meyer school of thought on how to make a traditional service business into an enlightened, customer-centric hospitality mecca: Put your employees first and shareholders last to create a “virtuous cycle of enlightened hospitality.”

That’s lovely and all, but can it really be applied to a startup? It seems a little overwrought.

When Greg Marsh, CEO of Onefinestay, a home-rental startup based in London, set out with his co-founders to survey the hospitality company’s 100 employees more than a year ago, he was looking for insight on the very company he’d built. He and his team didn’t expect to find what they did.

“We listened to their answers and videotaped them all and noted the themes that emerged, and from that discovered a set of truths or behaviors that were fairly universal,” Marsh said.

The behaviors of existing employees helped Onefinestay identify its existing company culture and pinpoint traits it would look for in ideal new hires. Key among the findings was an unusual mix of applied problem solving and natural empathy. Call it the left brain and the right, in harmony.

There was also, in those employee videos, what Marsh calls “a distinctive pattern of drive and raw determination to succeed.”

Onefinestay boiled down the traits it loved in its existing employees to what it has dubbed “The Magic Six.” These traits now serve as motivators for the company’s now more than 500 employees, and a guideline for the culture the company is striving for as it grows.

Want employees who are competent and hard-working, and truly care? Here’s what to seek out and nurture.

1. Fire in the belly.

Take risks. Be determined, be ambitious, and get stuff done.

2. Smart works.

Be practical with your intelligence and apply it wisely.

3. Empathy is your friend.

Understand yours, and others’ feelings and motivations, and act accordingly.

4. Integrity is integral

Earn trust by telling it straight. Honesty gets you a long way.

5. All for all.

We’re all dependent on one another. Be ready to help, and willing to accept help.

6. Remember Alice.

(Yes, this means Alice in Wonderland, the little girl who dreamt she dined with the Mad Hatter, and got advice from a caterpillar). The quirks make us who we are. Embrace them.

TIME Careers & Workplace

6 Sure-Fire Signs They’re Planning to Replace You

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A J James—Getty Images

What to look out for and how to deal with it

LinkedIn Influencer Liz Ryan published this post originally on LinkedIn. Follow Liz on LinkedIn.

There’s lot of wildlife in Boulder. I was gobsmacked the first time bear came into our yard, after living in Chicago and New York for years. It got to be more normal, and then we had a mountain lion on our street. Now there’s a mother lion and two cubs wandering the neighborhood. We didn’t have this kind of thing in New Jersey.

They say that a prey animal’s nervous system shuts down when the prey animal is snatched by a predator. Humans have a bit of that going on, too. We tune out signals that should alert us to be on guard and on our feet, at home and at work.

Most of us are so tuned into the next thing on our to-do list and the general crush of daily obligations that we shut down our antennae for new information, especially scary information. We don’t take it in, for example the signals that tell you “You are not going to have this job much longer.”

Every day in our office we hear people say “I was completely blindsided. I got called into someone’s office, they gave me papers to sign and I wasn’t tracking with the conversation, I was so overwhelmed.”

When you lose your job suddenly, you’re in shock. It’s normal. When you get bushwhacked, how else would you react?

When you turn on your antennae to be mindful of signals in the energy field around you, you’ll be in a better position whether you’re working for someone else or for yourself.

The more information you can take in and attend to, the better. The closer you can keep an ear to the ground and all your other senses working at a high level, the stronger your position will be.

When people get in a rut at work it’s called falling asleep on your career. Your spidey sense weakens. Your old street muscles from the playground or the basketball court atrophy. You forget how to pay attention to what’s going on around you, and the press of your work makes that inattention even more likely.

Just then you get the lightning bolt and you’re out of a job without warning. Two weeks later when your body has had time to process everything, you’ll say “Actually, there were signs. I missed them.”

I don’t want to make you paranoid, but every time I write about this topic we get letters from people who say “I was guided to read your column today. I see it now. I’m putting the breadcrumbs together. My boss wants me out.”

That early warning helps you get centered. When you see the storm swells forming as you look out across the water, you can prepare. You can be proactive then. First we’ll walk through the six signs they’re planning to replace you, and then I’ll tell you what to do about them.

You’re Pulled Off a Big Project for No Reason

Be suspicious when you’re on a big project doing fine, and all of a sudden you’re off the project for no reason. That’s not a sensible business move, unless they can tell you what you’re doing next and why that’s good for your employer (and you). If you ask why you were pulled off the project and the answer is mushy and non-committal, get your job-search engine going and start building your mojo for a job search.

All of a Sudden, Your Knowledge is Valuable

God bless our colleagues who lack emotional intelligence, because they broadcast their intentions. One way they do it is to suddenly have an interest in everything you know about your job.

They’ll say one random day “Why don’t you train Elissa, our temp, on how you create newsletters and marketing brochures, and teach her how to do trade shows?” Cross-training is great, but there should be a particular need for it, because cross-training takes a lot of time. If you feel sketchy about somebody’s sudden desire to pick your entire brain, trust your feelings.

Former Strategic Conflicts Disappear

Knowledge work can get us emotionally and philosophically attached to our jobs. We care about decisions made at work when we’re connected to our power source there. Strategic disagreements can get fierce and personal at times.

If you’ve been in a wrangle with someone and suddenly it’s all forgotten, there’s no discussion and everything is fine, the word may have come down that you aren’t staying.

You Can’t Get Forward Visibility

Most folks outside the executive suite don’t get formal employment agreements unless they’re contractors, but we like to have some visibility a year or so into the future. We like to know what the organization is trying to do, and to hear as often as possible how well it’s doing with its goals.

If you can’t get a hint from your manager about your future, that’s a bad sign. Most people would rather waffle than tell you something and have to backtrack later. They may keep you treading water until they’re ready to toss you out of the pool completely.

Your Red-Hot Project Goes Suddenly Cold

A screaming neon sign of an upcoming personnel switch-out is for a person’s pet project which was high-priority suddenly to slip to the back burner almost without mention. It typically means that the leaders still still love the project but don’t want you running it, for whatever energetic-disturbance reason they have. They’ll low-key the project until you’re gone and then rev it back up.

Don’t take it personally. It isn’t about you. Your flame can grow from an experience like that, even if you leave. Look what influence you had! Your great ideas travel with you wherever you go.

You Just Feel It

Humans are an old species. Once I traveled to visit a friend, and on the last day of my visit she scheduled a half-day off work to show me her city. In the morning she had a meeting to attend at work, and she said “Come to my office and meet everyone. There’s a spare office where you can work.”

She went into her meeting and I sat in her office working. I felt a chill. I was in a private office but the door was open to a suite of three other offices in a corner of the building. I stopped typing and felt it. Something in the looks of my friend’s co-workers when they walked by — I couldn’t put my finger on it. I scribbled on a Post-It Note “Went down the street for coffee. Call me.”

My friend called me an hour later and said “Which coffee shop are you at? I’ll join you. I just got fired.”

The bad energy was in the air – the tension. It drove me out. You will feel things and your job is not to judge or pooh-pooh them but to let them sit in your right brain and percolate for a few days. Is there a change in the air temperature? If so, you’ve got to mention it.

What To Do If It Happens?

What if you see some of these signs, or all of them? Take the bull by the horns and find your center. Set up a time to talk with your boss and warmly ask him or her what’s up.

Jump here for a script to guide you.

Liz Ryan is the CEO and Founder of Human Workplace.

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