TIME Careers & Workplace

10 Ways to Use Competition to Your Advantage

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A little competition can actually be a good thing

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This story was originally published on StartupCollective.

Question: How can I use my competition to my advantage?

Out-Innovate Them

“Look at what your competitors are doing and where they all have assumed the same outcome — whether that be market, product offering, etc. — and then try the opposite of what they’re doing. Companies that follow will never prosper. Be the company that takes the lead and explores new territory, and you might end up taking the entire market!” — Liam Martin, Staff.com

Attack Their Biggest Weakness

“A lot of people see competition as a negative, but there’s always a way to leverage it to your advantage. One of the most effective ways of doing that is to find your competition’s most glaring weakness and attack it head-on. If you can do this one aspect so well that your competition’s customers simply can’t ignore you, then you’ve already won a significant battle.” — James Simpson, GoldFire Studios

Monitor Complaints

“Monitor complaints customers of your top competitors make via Twitter/Facebook, and try to glean insights from them. We launched free shipping after seeing a ton of complaints from customers about shipping charges on some of our competitors’ sites.” — Josh Weiss, Bluegala

Support the Larger Community

“By listening on social media, you can hear the problems customers are having with your competitors and offer solutions. While you can’t offer full tech support, you can offer ideas, generalized information and, most importantly, help them switch to your product. You can jump out in front of your competition by helping people with their products directly.” — Thursday Bram, Hyper Modern Consulting

Partner With Them

“I find that your competition can actually be a great partner for two reasons. First, there is often enough to go around — people usually read more than one blog or buy more than one kind of coffee. Second, no product offering is exactly the same. Highlight your differences, package your products or services together, and then share marketing costs.” — Vanessa Van Edwards, Science of People

Analyze Your Competitors

“Analyzing our competitors has honestly been one of the best sources of data for our business. Analyzing where they put their marketing dollars, the way they organize products on their sites, their best-selling products and site design elements they use have all helped us greatly.” — Pablo Palatnik, ShadesDaddy.com

Learn From Their Mistakes and Successes

“Let them figure out what works and what doesn’t, and learn from it — you can often avoid costly mistakes by paying attention to your competitors!” — Alexis Wolfer, The Beauty Bean

Use the Advantage of Multiple Winners

“In a big market, there will likely be multiple winners. You can use that to your advantage. When a competitor gets press in one outlet, try and get similar press in another. This will raise the profile of the industry as a whole. Even if you wind up in second place, the pie has still gotten a lot bigger and your business will have grown.” — Wade Foster, Zapier

Spy on Them With SpyFu

SpyFu exposes the search marketing secret formula of your most successful competitors. Search for any domain, and see every place they’ve shown up on Google: every keyword they’ve bought on AdWords, every organic rank and every ad variation in the last six years. Then, use your competitors online activities to improve your own.” — Brett Farmiloe, Markitors

Use the Association of Professionals

“As fellow professionals, other attorneys are actually one of my best sources of clients and can be great resources for my practice and clientele. I may bring them in for a client because of a conflict with one of my other clients on a project, for extra help during an upswing in business or if the other attorney is just a better fit for the client’s immediate legal needs.” — Peter Milton, Minton Law Group, P.C.

TIME Careers & Workplace

The Unspoken Leadership Skill You Need to Survive

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No matter how large or small your organization, your political skills play a critical role in your success as a leader

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

Recently, I attended the Inc. 5000 conference, where I conducted a session on skills for moving an agenda. To open, I asked the group if any of them had good ideas that they’ve successfully implemented. One colleague and entrepreneur from Texas told the story of having a great idea, but not having talked to right people, and not having gained the right support.

More often than not, entrepreneurs fail not because of a lack of good idea, or even because of a lack of resources. Leaders fail because they have not honed their political competence. For the past generation, we’ve talked all about “leadership,” but political skills are only politely whispered about, if they are mentioned at all.

Look around. What differentiates a failed entrepreneur from one that is successful? What is the defining factor between a successful corporate leader, and one who has failed? Put simply, successful leadership comes down to having the ability to rally people behind an idea and gather the support necessary for your idea to bear fruit. Regardless of the quality of your idea and the appeal of your charm, if you lack political competence, you are not a leader. Without the skills of political competence, your most brilliant innovation, your best-laid plan will get stuck in the quagmire of inertia, in the muck of repetition, in the doldrums of inaction. Your dreams will become delusions, and your agenda will be nothing more than talk.

People who push ideas that never get off the ground may become organizational casualties. Their idea is crushed by opposition before it has a chance of survival. On the other hand, successful leaders not only push an idea, but understand the opposition, get people on their side, and make things happen. Maybe–just maybe–the difference between casualties and successful leaders is not a question of which one has a better idea, but rather a question of their political competence.

Political competence is the ability to understand what you can and cannot control, when to take action, who is going to resist your agenda, and who you need on your side to push your agenda forward. Political competence is about knowing how to map the political terrain, get others on your side, and lead coalitions. More often than not, political competence is not understood as a critical core competence that is needed by all leaders in organizations.

Having studied the behavioral skills of leaders, specifically their political skills, I’ve learned that this isn’t mysterious. These specific behavioral skills can be learned. At their core, these political skills enhance your ability to win people over, to get others to join your effort, to mobilize, and get results.

I am often reminded of a discussion that I once had with a corporate leader. I told him that what he needed to do in his organization was to enhance the political skills of his people so they could work across turf and across departments. He responded with a condescending look and told me with a touch of moral indignation, “I don’t do politics.”

He implied that he lived in an apolitical reality. While this may be an aspiration, it is not a reality. We all operate in the political context. As for his moral indignation, I simply reminded him that many of our heroes–Martin Luther King, Jr., Dwight Eisenhower, Mahatma Gandhi, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mother Theresa–were all leaders who mastered political competence. Every single one of them will were pragmatists who knew how to politically sustain their campaigns to achieve results. They understood that the leadership wasn’t achieved by having flair or great sound bites, but by keeping the focus and mastering the micro-skills to go the distance. What they had in common was the understanding that in order to survive that they needed the skills of political competence.

TIME Careers & Workplace

10 Awesome Companies That Give You Unlimited Vacation

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Especially among the startup community, unlimited vacation policies are more common than you might think

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

It seems every time a new company announces that it’s switching to an unlimited vacation or “no vacation policy” policy, there’s a whole new flurry of media (and job-seeker) excitement. And while it is exciting to see companies rethinking how they approach work-life balance (and to imagine yourself working for a place where you can take time off without meticulously counting the days), we’ve got a secret for you.

There are plenty of companies already doing this.

Especially among the startup community, unlimited vacation policies are more common than you might think. If you’re looking for a workplace that gives you enough time off to take that two-week trip to Bali, look no further than these 10 workplaces already offering this highly desired perk.

Disclaimer: Unlimited vacation policies do not mean you can take half the year off (hardly). If you’re working for a company with a policy like this (or considering it), make sure to read our run down of how it actually works.

1. Factual

From mobile apps to social media sites, modern businesses need a way to get good data to optimize their products. At Factual, the team collects, structures, and organizes facts and information from many different sources to create very clean, high-value databases for all types of businesses—letting companies use the power of data without spending all of their time dealing with it.

Crunching numbers all day is hard work, so Factual gives employees plenty of ways to wind down when they need to, including enjoying a nice lunch or cup of tea with your co-workers, taking a break for an in-office yoga class, or, yes, using whatever time off you need.

See Open Jobs

2. Sailthru

Sailthru is an incredibly client-focused company. The team believes that every user is unique and does everything it can to help clients engage with their customers one-on-one, use data to generate and deliver the most highly personalized, connected digital experiences, and ultimately increase their revenue.

And while the client comes first, the culture at Sailthru is one where the company seriously invests in its employees. Professionally, this means offering talent development stipends to learn about topics you’re interested in, speaker series’ from industry experts, leadership training, and the like. But the company understands that it’s important to invest in the well-being of its employees, too; that’s why it also offers things like unlimited vacation, a flexible working policy, and regular company-sponsored lunches, happy hours, and chair massages.

See Open Jobs

3. Pocket

Pocket is revolutionizing the way customers interact with content online. Offering a beautiful desktop and app experience, Pocket gives users the ability to save articles, videos, or anything else they find online to view it later.

Pocket thinks the best teams are happy and healthy ones. All employees are given a membership to the Sports Club LA—conveniently located next door—and are encouraged to take a break and catch a yoga or spin class. There’s also an unlimited vacation policy, meaning employees can take time off and come back refreshed, recharged, and ready to keep redefining how people consume content online.

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4. Umbel

Umbel is on a mission to take the world by storm (using data). The smart data company helps clients gain a deeper understanding of their target demographics by responsibly managing massive amounts of data through a beautiful and intuitive interface.

Like the company’s fictional Lucha Libre wrestler mascot El Umbel, each employee is eccentric, mysterious, technical, tactical, and hard-working. Still, even the best need a break, and that’s why you can take it when you need it at Umbel.

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5. ZestFinance

ZestFinance’s goal? To help the 60 million Americans who aren’t supported by the traditional finance system get access to fair, transparent, and low-cost credit.

And while you’ll be working hard toward this lofty goal, life at ZestFinance is kind of like an eternal vacation. First, you’re based in sunny LA, you are encouraged to wear whatever makes you comfortable to the office (hello, t-shirt and jeans), and you get to enjoy daily catered lunches from a local restaurant. And when you need to escape this fantastic environment for some reason? Unlimited paid vacations should do the trick.

See Open Jobs

6. PaperG

The New York Times called PaperG “an ad engine to put Mad Men out of business.” The advertising technology company makes display advertising simple for any size business by automatically creating and distributing display ads across platforms and devices—thus drastically lowering the cost of online advertising for small- and medium-sized businesses.

It’s great for businesses—and great for employees. As senior account executive David Benitez says, “My favorite thing about working here is that PaperG takes care of me.” What excatly does that mean? Everything from buying employees breakfast and lunch to offering education credit for books, conferences, and courses to help employees expand their skills and enough vacation days to keep employees happy.

See Open Jobs

7. Prezi

Prezi is on a mission to make the world better by improving the way people communicate. How? By wiping out boring presentations. Prezi is a totally different kind of software that lets users engage their audiences and share their story in entirely new ways, far outside the confines of traditional slides.

Whether you’re working from the company’s San Francisco or Budapest office, you’ll be having fun while doing it. You’ll never have to look far to find a furious ping-pong battle, a chilled-out yoga session, or a silly word game in full swing. Prezi eats well, too—healthy and delicious. Plus, there are plenty of opportunities to travel all around the world, either with the company or during your unlimited time off.

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8. SoFi

SoFi wants to help save graduates from the rising problem of student debt. Focused on building a community around traditional financial products, SoFi connects students and recent graduates with alumni and other community investors through school-specific student loan funds, meaning a better deal for everyone.

In terms of office life, the SoFi team knows how to have a great time. Aside from fantastic events, SoFi also treats its employees to plenty of the standard startup perks, including gym benefits, a fully stocked cafeteria overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, and of course, unlimited time off.

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9. Chegg

Chegg is an education hub that provides college students with the textbook rentals, eTextbooks, online homework help, course organization, scholarship tools, and more to take control of their educational experiences. With Chegg, students economize their time, save money, and get smarter all with the help of an online community that truly gets their needs.

While the company puts students first, the company has plenty of perks to make it worth its employees’ while. In addition to food, games, a gym, and great employees, the company offers plenty of time away from the office, including nine scheduled holidays, five days off to volunteer each year, and no set number on how many days you can take off for your own well being.

See Open Jobs

10. Crowdflower

CrowdFlower is changing the way work gets done. The company takes clients’ large data projects and breaks them into smaller, more manageable tasks that are then doled out to hundreds of thousands of contributors around the world, allowing clients to accomplish in hours tasks that would take their in-house staff weeks to finish.

CrowdFlower is all about making sure its team is as productive as possible, too, and understands that this often means letting people recharge so they can come back and do their best work possible. Whether that means enjoying free food in the kitchen, playing a quick game with your co-workers, or taking a nice vacation when you need it, you’ll come back more productive than ever.

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TIME Careers & Workplace

The Surprising Things Wealthy People Spend Their Money On

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A new study sheds light on the spending habits of the wealthiest consumers

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

If you had to take a guess, what would you say were the top auto brands purchased by the wealthiest Americans? You’d probably guess Mercedes, BMW, Bentley… But according to the Martini Report, a study conducted by Ipsos MediaCT and Martini Media, you’re entirely wrong.

Among consumers that make more than $100,000 a year, the most widely owned car brands are Ford, Toyota, Honda, Chevy, and Nissan. Not only that, but these affluent consumers are shopping at Amazon, Target, and Walmart.

“Of course they’re the main target for more upscale stores as well, but you can go to pretty much any outlet, any retail environment, and find often a majority of the dollars being spent by this minority of the population,” Ipsos chief insights officer Stephen Kraus said when he presented the Martini Report findings in New York City on Wednesday.

The objective of the report was to learn more about the wealthy so that brands can better target them in their advertising. It looked at four subcategories of the affluent consumer: The aspiring affluent are those above 40 years old who make $75,000 to $99,000. The emerging affluent are between ages 18 to 39 and make $75,000 to $99,000 a year. The mass affluent make $100,000 to $249,000, and the hyper-affluent make $250,000 or more.

One of the big takeaways from the study was that the rich are really just like us. They buy mainstream brands in addition to luxury brands, and at the end of the day, they’re looking for advertising that’s relevant and entertaining.

What differentiates them, however, is how much of the national spending they account for.

The affluent spent 65 percent of all U.S. dollars paid for cruises, 60 percent paid for suits, 54 percent for hotels, 52 percent for airfare, 47 percent for online videos, and 42 percent for new cars.

It’s clear that brands should consider these statistics when figuring out their content and messaging strategies.

Another major finding from the Martini Report was that affluent consumers are hyper-technological.

“They live technology-infused lifestyles,” Kraus said. “They think of their lives as completely intertwined with technology.”

Which in turn means that they’re increasingly spending that money online. Sixty-seven percent of affluent consumers said they had made a purchase on a computer in the past week.

According to Ipsos, 70 percent of people who make more than $100,000 a year visited Amazon in the past 30 days, averaging 3.4 purchases. About a third are also Amazon Prime members.

That same category is purchasing airline tickets, women’s apparel and accessories, hotel reservations, event tickets, and books on a computer. They’re buying music, apps, games, takeout and delivery, and event tickets on smartphones. And they’re buying books, apps, games, women’s apparel and accessories, and music on tablets.

As Kraus explained, affluent consumers are spending tons of money online and across a variety of retailers and brands, so it behooves the average marketer to consider this sector when crafting strategies.

“Where do affluents shop?” Kraus asked. “They shop everywhere.”

TIME Careers & Workplace

27 Pre-Written Templates for Your Toughest Work Emails

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

Communication is hard work. A 2012 survey by McKinsey found that highly skilled desk workers spent an average of 28% of their work weeks dealing with email—a number that is surely rising. And that doesn’t even take into account the stress involved in figuring out how to convey a potentially difficult message, like asking for help, saying no, or admitting you messed up.

(MORE: Answering Emails After Work Is Bad for Your Health)

To help make the most of your time and energy, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite scripts and templates for making email (and a few other things, like that pesky LinkedIn recommendation you need to write) much easier and less time consuming. Whether you’re job searching, networking, dealing with day-to-day work communications, or trying to be a better manager, find your situation below, tweak the template to your liking, and send it off!

(MORE: 9 Rules For Emailing From Google Exec Eric Schmidt)

Job Search

1. You Need Your Network’s Help Finding a Job

Reaching out to your current network and letting them know you’re on the hunt is a surefire way to make your job search easier: Why search on your own when you could have a whole army of contacts keeping an eye out for opportunities, too? But, to make it more likely that they will help you, make it as easy as possible for them by sending an email like this.

See the Script

2. You Need a Referral at Your Dream Company

You’ve applied to a job at your dream company—and then noticed a friend is connected to someone there. Asking him or her to connect you and vouch for you can feel weird, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s how to do it the right way.

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3. You Want to Write the Perfect Cover Letter to Strut Your Skills

Your cover letter shouldn’t just walk through your job history (that’s your resume’s job). Highlighting your skills can be a great way to mix things up or show why you’d be an ideal candidate if you have a less traditional path. Try filling in this template, and see how impressive you sound.

See the Script

4. You Need to Write a Thank You Note for an Interview

Especially if you’re interviewing a lot, there’s no need to fret over each individual thank you note. For a basic note that gets the job done, start with this template, tweak it slightly for each company and role, and send it off by EOD after you’ve interviewed.

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5. You Want to Send a Thank You Note That Really Goes Above and Beyond

If you just interviewed for your absolute dream job, you may want to go a bit beyond the basic thank you note. Check out this template for an idea of how you can add value to the company before you’re even offered the job. With this approach, the hiring manager will have a hard time not bringing you on board.

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6. You Applied to a Job a Week or Two Ago—and Want to Check In

Haven’t heard back from your dream job? If you’ve been holding your breath for a few weeks, it doesn’t hurt to send a short, professional follow-up email, like this one.

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7. You Need to Turn Down a Job Offer

You interviewed, you’ve been given an offer—but you’ve decided you need to turn it down. Keep your message appreciative, give a brief explanation why, and make sure to keep the door open. These ideas should help craft your message.

See the Script

In the Office

8. You Don’t Really Know What the Sender is Asking For

You know the email: There are a lot of words, but nothing is really said, and you’re left wondering what the other person wants from you. It can seem like a tricky situation, but the solution is actually pretty simple: Punt it back to the sender nicely to ask for clarification.

See the Script

9. You Need to Say “No” to Something

Even if we need to do it (or really want to do it), we all have a hard time saying “no.” No matter the situation, these short and sweet scripts will make it much, much easier.

See the Scripts

10. You Need to Say “No” to Someone You ReallyWant to Help

Saying “no” is especially hard when it’s someone really want to help, you just don’t have the bandwidth: a friend, a close colleague, or someone who has given you support in the past. Use this template to make it easier and to let him or her down in the most caring way possible.

See the Script

11. You Receive a Complicated Laundry List of Thoughts, Ideas, and Tasks

This email is one full of action items, questions, thoughts, comments, tasks—the list goes on and on. It would take you forever just to weed through the message, let alone do the work. Your response will be a little different depending on if this is a boss or a colleague, but either way, you’ll need to ask for some help prioritizing.

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12. You Need More Information to Answer

Someone asks you a question out of the blue, and you have no idea what he or she is talking about. Or you have a sense, but know you need a little more information to answer well. Quickly email the sender back asking for context or the specific details you need.

See the Script

13. Your Colleague is Making a Project Too Difficult

Are you working with someone who is making something much (much) more difficult than it needs to be? It can be hard to suggest a better way without hurting somebody’s feelings, but by doing so you’re making everyone’s lives easier. Simply choose your words wisely and use phrases that remind your colleague that you’re working together collaboratively on this.

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14. You’ve Got a Workplace Conflict—and YouNeed to Tell Your Boss

Obviously, running to your boss shouldn’t be the first thing you do when you’re having problems with one of your co-workers; try working it out on your own first, before enlisting the higher-ups. But if the situation keeps coming up, it’s okay to go talk to your manager—as long as you follow this script to do it without sounding like you’re whining.

See the Script

15. You Need to Turn Down a Project

If you’ve been asked to do a project you really don’t want to do, you want to write a little more than “absolutely not” back. Whether it’s not part of your job or you just don’t think it’s worth your time, start with these scripts to nicely say “no.”

See the Script

16. You’re Quitting Your Job

Writing a resignation letter can be scary to say the least, but with this easy template you’ll have a great letter written and be out the door in no time.

See the Script

Management

17. You’re Inviting a Candidate in for an Interview

Whether you are interviewing someone for the first time or do this on the reg and are just tired of writing the email, we’ve got the perfect template for inviting a candidate in for an interview—full of all the details he or she needs to know.

See the Script

18. You’re Offering a Candidate a Job

You’ve interviewed someone who killed it, and you’re excited to invite him or her to the team! Use this easy template to get that offer out the door ASAP.

See the Script

19. You’re Turning a Candidate Down

This one can be tough, but the trick is to keep it short and to the point. Copying and pasting this template should make the job much easier.

See the Script

20. You Messed Up—and Need to Tell Your Customers

Delivering the news about a crisis or problem to your customers or clients can be hard, but it gives you the chance to show that you’re on top of it and working on the issue. This script should help get the message out fast—so you can spend more time fixing the problem.

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21. You Need to Write a LinkedIn Recommendation—Fast

Don’t hem and haw when you’ve been asked to write a recommendation for someone on LinkedIn. Fill in the blanks of this template, and you’ll have a stand-out recommendation done in less than five minutes.

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Networking

22. You Need an Introduction

You find out a friend or colleague knows somebody who would be perfect for you to know, whether it’s for your career growth, your job search, or your sales efforts. How can you ask your contact to introduce you—without sounding needy and annoying? This template should do the trick.

See the Script

23. You’ve Been Asked to Make an Introduction

If you’ve been asked by a colleague to introduce him or her to a contact. But you don’t just want to connect them right away—you want to make sure your contact is okay with being introduced, so as not to annoy him or make him uncomfortable. Here’s the email to send to get the OK.

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24. You’re Actually Making the Introduction

All is said and done, and your contact is happy to be introduced to your friend. Great! Use this short template to briefly remind each person why you’re introducing them, and then get this out of your hands!

See the Script

25. You Need to Explain What You Do

Whether in person at a networking event or over email with a new contact, it can be tricky to explain exactly what you do in a way that’s not totally boring. Hint: Don’t just tell your job title. Then look at this template to make your elevator pitch more memorable.

See the Script

26. You Want a Client to Recommend You to Others

Have some clients who love you—and hoping they will spread the word about how great your products or services are? This email will make it incredibly easy for anyone to help you out.

See the Script

27. You Have Way Too Many People Asking to “Pick Your Brain”

Don’t have time to answer all the emails asking for informational interviews, let alone actually going on them? Here are some strategies for making it work—or turning them down—with easy-to-email scripts for each.

See the Scripts

TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Non-Business Books That Will Super Charge Your Career

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Spare time is so precious—use it to take your mind to new places

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

Real thinking is hard and most people don’t like it. A recent experiment showed that most people would administer mild electric shocks to themselves in preference to sitting alone and thinking. But reading, at least, gives you a companion.

Most of the reading we do, however, is transactional: information we need to make decisions. Little of it is discursive or challenging; it merely requires processing. So when you take discretionary time to read, what is that precious time for? I’d argue it’s for thinking, not processing.

So don’t spend that precious time reading about business. Spend it on something that will challenge and stretch your mind. Fiction, in particular, has been shown to enhance theory of mind—that is, the ability to see the world through the eyes of others. There’s no more useful capability in any kind of work—but you won’t get it reading stock charts or productivity primers.

If you don’t have time or patience for fiction, try reading about leadership from a wildly different angle. My favorite piece recently was by William Deresiewicz, a former English teacher at Yale, writing about leadership and solitude. It gave me more insight into true leadership than any of the books I’ve read on the topic. And yes, great leaders need solitude and time to think.

Why is reading off-topic good for you? Because it forces your mind to go to different places, to access different parts of your brain. And that’s the beginning of creativity: when ideas collide and spark new thoughts. Sticking to areas and information you’re comfortable with may feel great, but it’s only doubling down on what’s familiar. For real insight, your mind needs to travel.

So here are some suggestions:

Foreign literature: If you do business in foreign countries, read their literature. I do a lot of business in Italy and have been reading the novels of Elena Ferrante, author of Days of Abandonment. They are great stories, modern, and give a lot of insight into the reality—not the myths—of Italian life.

History: Ed Conway’s book, The Summit, is about the forging of the Bretton Woods agreement, which determined global economics after World War II. It is a master class in the power of personality and the genius of fierce collaboration. You have to ask: If 44 nations could solve this hard problem in just three weeks, what could you do in a business summit in just a few days?

Judgment and decision making: It’s hard to imagine a harder job than Kenneth Feinberg’s when he was appointed to decide how much compensation victims of 9/11 should receive from the federal government. His story of administering the fund—What Is Life Worth?is a masterpiece of judicious empathy.

Natural sciences: Martin Nowak’s SuperCooperators is a landmark work on the true science behind evolution and altruism. It’s a worthy riposte to the stale idea that we all need to compete forever.

Fun fiction: My favorite book this year has been Dave Eggars’s The Circle. Eric Schmidt says it isn’t about Google, but he’s either in denial or hasn’t read it. It is a marvelously acute portrayal of a superpowerful company that believes it knows what is best for us. My tech friends love it; my non-tech friends love it; neither can decide whether to laugh or cry.

But if you don’t like reading, there’s always the option of that empty room and mild electric shocks.

TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Things You Didn’t Know Sex Could Do for Your Career

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Having more sex has been linked to lower stress levels at work and higher pay

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

You’ve probably heard the saying “sex sells,” which is why sexy images appear so often in advertisements. But did you know sex can also improve your business and boost your career?

We often think of our business and personal lives as two entirely separate spheres, but in fact what happens at home and what happens at work often have overlapping effects. For instance, a stressful day at work can often send you home cranky, and workplace stress can elevate your blood pressure and cause everything from headaches to insomnia.

Similarly, happiness at home can have a calming effect at work, helping you make more clear-headed decisions and making you less likely to fall ill or feel overwhelmed with stress. Sure, sex sells, but it also has the power to improve your 9-to-5 life, whether you’re a worker bee or the boss. Here are just a few ways a good sex life can turn your career around:

1. People who have sex get paid more. Apparently there are some outside-of-the-bedroom perks for having more sex. One of those perks is a higher paycheck, at least according to research from the Institute for the Study of Labor. The study found people who have sex at least four times a week make more money than their peers who get less busy. It seems the correlation lies in how those who have more sex tend to be both happier and healthier, leading to more enthusiasm at work, better decisions, and less discrimination, which in turn leads to higher paychecks.

2. Sex reduces stress and prolongs health. Sex is a major stress reduction agent, which means better health and fewer sick days. According to the book Your Doctor is Wrong by Sharon Norling, frequent orgasms can increase life expectancy by three to eight years. Plus, a study by Arizona State University showed sexual behavior with a partner correlated with lower negative mood and higher positive mood the following day in middle-aged women.

3. Sex produces immune system-boosting hormones, resulting in fewer sick days. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone released during sexual encounters, and it has a whole host of benefits. Some of these include health benefits like reducing symptoms in women with lupus and alleviating depression. In fact, DHEA can even take years off your real age. According to a study by the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, people in their 40s who reported having 50 percent or more sex than their peers also appeared to be about seven to 13 years younger than their actual age when judged by a panel of strangers.

4. No more office migraines: Oxytocin is pain relief. Oxytocin, released during sex, is also important in pain relief. Often called the “love hormone,” oxytocin is also released during labor in order to relieve pain. With its power to help relieve pain, the hormone could keep you feel healthier in the office.

5. Entrepreneurship can actually improve your sex life. Taking control of your own destiny by becoming an entrepreneur can be empowering–and it can empower more than just your career prospects. A recent survey of entrepreneurs found 14 percent reported having more sex after ditching their 9-to-5 job. So it works both ways–more sex can help your career with better health and higher wages, and finally breaking out on your own and following your entrepreneurial dreams can lead to more sex.

You might think your career and your sex life are completely separate entities, but what happens at home and at work can often intersect in interesting ways. By spending more time with your partner, you’ll actually be improving your chances of getting that promotion or taking your business to the next level.

TIME Careers & Workplace

Here’s What Basically Everybody Gets Wrong at Work

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The one quality you need to make your mark

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

Ever wonder why some managers just can’t get along with their teams? Or have you seen a boss who’s lost touch with reality?

Maybe you’re the leader, and you’ve noticed a slow-but-sure disconnect from your team. What can you do about it?

You’ve heard the advice time and again: Learn to show more empathy.

Empathy is considered by many to be a basic human quality. So why is it often still missing in our day-to-day work?

Many persons confuse empathy with its closely related cousin sympathy. The two qualities are definitely related, but the key to demonstrating empathy is knowing the difference.

According to Merriam-Webster, empathy is “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s feelings and emotions.”

Whereas sympathy involves feeling sorry for someone, empathy requires us to go a step further, and it lasts longer. Here’s an example:

Imagine a colleague goes through a difficult situation; let’s say he loses a close family member in an accident. We naturally feel sympathy for him. We may even write a card or express those feelings somehow. For the most part, though, we move on with our lives.

But when we show empathy, we take more time–time to remember how we felt when we lost someone close to us (or how we would feel, if we haven’t had this experience). We think about how this affected our work, our relationships with others.

Even further, we try to imagine specifically how our colleague feels in this situation. We recognize that he (like every individual) will deal with the trauma in his own unique way.

Empathy has been described as “your pain in my heart.”

The problem is, despite the fact that we crave for others to try fitting into our shoes, we’re often not ready to do the same for them. We see this every day: broken marriages, strained parent-child relationships, deteriorating communication in the workplace. (Author Mike Robbins illustrates this perfectly here.)

If a leader can demonstrate true empathy to individual team members, it will go a long way toward encouraging them to perform at their best.

It may even inspire the team to show empathy for the leader.

That’s right—empathy begets empathy.

So how do you get your company leaders—and employees—to be more empathetic?

  • If you’re a manager, the next time an employee comes to you with a problem or complaint, resist the ‘Not again. What now?’ attitude. Try to remember: You once had a similar problem. If not, someone you respect did. Ask yourself: Why does this person feel this way? What can I do to make the situation better?
  • If a specific task or process is causing problems, try to work alongside a disgruntled team member, to better understand the person’s point of view. Showing empathy in this way takes time, but you will often motivate the one(s) you are trying to help. Not to mention the benefits this will bring to your working relationship.
  • If you are an employee who feels your manager is being especially unreasonable, try to understand why. Maybe the manager is dealing with extreme pressure of his or her own, or maybe there’s a problem at home, or maybe … you get the drift.

Simply put, empathy starts with giving others the benefit of the doubt.

Once, I learned the value of showing empathy firsthand. I had been working a number of years for the same organization, and was now engaged to my fiancée from Germany. As we were trying to determine where to start our new life together, my office made it clear that it was reducing personnel, and my department was being reorganized. I was being considered for a new position, and my fiancée and I decided that if I got it, I would remain in New York City and she would join me. If not, we would move.

I was told I would be informed of the decision within four to six weeks. Six weeks came and went. Then seven. Eight. Nine. The wedding date was getting closer, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could take the suspense—I didn’t care anymore what happened; I just needed to know something.

After going through the normal HR channels, I decided to try something different. I wrote an email directly to Mr. Pierce—a member of the executive board who was the head of personnel (whom I had never met). Since our organization had about 6,000 staff members at the time, I wasn’t sure how he would take this: I was traveling to Germany to see my fiancée in a few days, and I thought it would be great to have some news to share with her personally. (Call me a romantic. Or call me stupid–I’ve heard both.)

After two months of anticipation, it took exactly two days after my email to get a decision. I then boarded a plane to Germany, and less than 12 hours later, my fiancée and I were planning our new life together—in New York City. We couldn’t have been happier.

Sadly, Mr. Pierce passed away some months ago. I’ve often wondered how many similar emails, letters, and requests he read throughout the years. A press release issued by my former agency made the following statement:

Mr. Pierce served on various committees … [and] his organizational responsibilities required that he travel extensively … Despite his workload, he was well known for never being too busy to listen to those needing assistance or advice, and he put others at ease with his warm smile and good sense of humor. His closest associates noted that people from different backgrounds or cultures were naturally drawn to him.

When Mr. Pierce read my email all those years ago, he wasn’t just reading the random request of a junior manager. He was reading my deep concerns and feelings. The problem was important to me, so it was important to him.

Mr. Pierce knew empathy. My pain in his heart.

Employer or employee, empathy makes us more flexible and compassionate. It makes us easier to work with, and in the eyes of others, it makes us more human.

So the next time you realize that the relationship you have with a colleague is not what you want, take the time to show some empathy.

It might be just what the person needs.

One day, it’ll be what you need, too.

TIME advice

How to Feel More Empowered on a Daily Basis

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The most truly powerful women are those who are self-empowered

This article originally appeared on Levo.com.

The word “power” can conjure up a lot of opinions and reactions, especially for women.

Many of us, when we think about powerful women, imagine (best-case scenario) Olivia Pope in all her white-wardrobe glory or (worst-case scenario) Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada—no-nonsense, borderline-aggressive, delegating pros wearing power suits and designer heels.

While I’m all about great shoes and bold women, the distinction I want to make here is that powerful does not need to mean power over other people. In fact, the most truly powerful women are those who are self-empowered.

So what does that actually mean? I think the word “empowered” has become so overused that it’s almost lost its meaning. To me, empowered means feeling charged, confident, proud, inspired, and passionate. It’s feeling like you’re in the driver’s seat of your life (instead of in the back seat, watching your life pass by through the window).

Sadly, most of us don’t feel empowered on a daily basis… maybe not even a weekly or monthly basis.

What can you do to feel more powerful and in control of your daily life?

Consider the areas of your life that currently feel disempowering.

Maybe you feel trapped, stuck, or unfulfilled at work. Or maybe some of your relationships are making you feel undervalued or invisible.

Feeling disempowered can make you feel completely out of control and at the mercy of your situation. Most people’s default reaction to feeling disempowered is to either 1) shut down and want to give up or 2) to blame someone or something else. In both cases, you relieve yourself of responsibility, which only serves to make you feel more powerless.

So how can you take back your power over one small (or large) piece of this situation?

Here’s a great example:

I was working with one of my life-coaching clients recently, and she was feeling completely powerless about her work schedule. She really values freedom and flexibility, and she hated that she had to sit at her desk until 5:30 or later every afternoon, regardless of whether she’d finished her work for the day or not.

Every hour that she sat at that desk, with no work to do, she felt increasingly more resentful. It got to the point that she was considering quitting because she was so frustrated.

I asked if she’d talked to her boss about having a more flexible schedule, based more on productivity rather than arbitrary hours. “Oh, no, I can’t ask that. That’s not how my company works. Plus, I’m afraid my boss will think I’m lazy.”

(MORE: The Power of Power Poses)

But eventually, her misery outweighed the discomfort of having that conversation with her boss. She decided to take action and ask for what she wanted; we even planned out, in advance, how she could frame it as a win-win for her and her company.

The result? Her boss was completely open to the idea, and now she has a much more flexible work schedule. She feels valued and unrestricted at work now, and her resentment and powerlessness evaporated.

That’s exactly what I mean about getting back in the driver’s seat of your life.

Consciously relive your wins on a regular basis.

When was the last time you feel completely charged, confident, proud, inspired, and capable of anything?

Whether it was yesterday or six months ago, you probably haven’t thought back on that moment much since it happened.

But the criticism or negative feedback you got about your last project? That’s probably running through your head on repeat.

As humans, we’re wired to hone in on the negatives and quickly forget about the positives in our past. It takes consistent effort to consciously rewire your brain to relive your past wins more often than your failures.

One way to do this is to create a personal “Brag Sheet”—I’m not talking about a résumé, here. This is a list of all the things that you’ve done that have made you feel proud and amazing, big or small. No one has to see this but you, so you get to include anything you want.

Keep your brag sheet somewhere visible—on your computer desktop, the notes app on your phone, or the nightstand by your bed—so you can see it regularly and continually add to it.

Bam, instant internal power boost.

Challenge yourself to face your fears regularly.

A while back, I wrote an article called Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You, which was inspired by the book, My Year With Eleanor. In the memoir, the author, Noelle Hancock, released her social anxiety and regained her confidence and passion for life by facing one of her fears every single day for an entire year.

While I’m not necessary suggesting you to go extremes like she did, I do believe that deliberately facing down your fears (whether it’s speaking up in a meeting or going skydiving) is an instant confidence booster. It puts the other stressors in your life in perspective and makes you realize, “If I could do that, then I can do anything.”

(MORE: Is Short Hair the New Power Move?)

TIME

10 Essential Habits for Working at Home

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Working from home is a luxury, and you have to work hard and work smart if you want to make the most of it. Integrate these habits into your at-home work life

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

Working from home is becoming an increasingly popular option, with employees from secretaries to CEOs utilizing the advantages of a home office at least part of the time. While there are still some lingering critics who insist that working from home leads to stunted professional relationships and lower productivity, the majority of employers in the United States are becoming more lenient with the alternative work environment.

Regardless of whether you work at home once a month or every day, there are a handful of crucial habits you’ll need to adopt if you want to work effectively. Working from home is a luxury, but you have to work hard and work smart if you want to make the most of it. Integrate these habits into your at-home work life:

1. Establish a designated working area.

It’s called a “home office” for a reason. Working from your bed may not be a great idea because you’ll be tempted to sleep or relax. Working in your living room in front of your TV may not be a great idea because you’ll be tempted to watch it. Instead, create a designated working space; it doesn’t have to be a whole room, but it does have to be a distraction-free setting that isn’t used for any other purpose. Arriving at your designated “home office” will set a tone of diligence and focus on work for the rest of the day.

2. Dress for the job.

The prospect of working in pajamas is appealing to just about everybody, but there is a real psychological benefit to dressing for your job even when you’re at home. You don’t have to wear a full suit and tie every day, but it pays to take the time to get dressed professionally. It will help get your mind into “work mode” and avoid the temptation of staying in sloppy “pajama mode.” Plus, it looks a lot better when it comes time to use Skype or a similar video-chatting platform. Speaking of which…

3. Learn different mediums of communication.

Phone calls, emails, text messages, instant messages, and face chats are all available means of communication for telecommuters. Deep down, you probably have a strong preference for one of those methods–we all have biases. However, in order to function efficiently as a telecommuter, you need to learn several of these mediums and how to use them practically. For example, there are times when a phone call would be a waste but an email would work perfectly. There are also times when instant messages have no advantage over a video chat. Use each medium wisely and be open to different forms of communication for different coworkers.

4. Set hours and stick to them.

Be strict with yourself. Set the start of your day and end of your day at very specific times, and adhere to those times. It’s not just about making sure you work a certain number of hours–it’s about maximizing the time you do have. Starting at 8 a.m. sharp will give you a specific initiation point, rather than a fuzzy period of procrastination and distraction. But ending at say, 5 p.m. sharp, is also beneficial. Working from home can cause your personal life and work life to bleed into each other, so it’s important to draw firm lines between them for your mental health.

5. Specify tasks for each day.

Creating a task list for each day you work from home can help you stay focused and give you a measurable indication of how well you’re performing in a work-from-home environment. It’s a good idea in general to create task lists, but using them for your independent work is especially critical. Organize your tasks by priority, specifying which tasks must be done by the end of the day. Then, at the end of your day, look back at your list and review all the items you were able to complete. This will give you an opportunity to evaluate your performance and set new tasks for subsequent days.

6. Take breaks.

Just as it’s important to wear clothes like you would in an office, it’s vital to take breaks like you would in an office. It’s another advantage to having a designated work area in your home; when it’s time for a break, you can leave and relax in the kitchen or in the living room for a while. Taking a break clears your mind and gives you a refreshed perspective, so instead of allowing your day to bleed in with your personal time, make a clear distinction between “work time” and “break time.”

7. Avoid interactions with family or friends.

This habit is a bit misleading–you shouldn’t ignore your family members if they need you, obviously, but don’t make working from home a group activity. Close yourself off, if necessary, and tell your family and friends to treat you as if you are in a real office. Conversing with friends or family regularly throughout the day can lull you into a casual state of mind and distract you from your focus on work.

8. Don’t sacrifice face-to-face interaction.

That being said, face-to-face interaction is still important. If you’re working from home all day, every day, for an extended period of time, it’s important to meet with your co-workers and clients in person. Get out and go to an office lunch to commune with your teammates, or try going back to the office one day a week, if possible. The physical interaction is important for your psychological health, and just video chatting isn’t enough to fulfill that need. It’s easy to get lost in the digital world, but try not to let yourself.

9. Create mini-routines.

Routines can be annoying or tedious, but they provide an easy structure to your day. Create specific routines in your work-from-home days that help you get into the flow of work. For example, in the morning you could read your emails while eating breakfast and spend 15 minutes outlining a task list for the day. If you do this every morning, it will become easier and easier to fall into that habit and seamlessly transition into your work schedule. The same type of routine can be applied to your breaks and midday habits as well.

10. Reward yourself.

When you do a good job, you deserve a reward. Don’t hesitate to make yourself a fresh pot of coffee after overcoming a major hurdle, or to take a long break after finishing that burdensome task. Rewarding yourself appropriately throughout the day gives you positive feedback for your accomplishments and keeps things from getting stale. Your home environment has many more opportunities for relaxation and enjoyment than your office, so use them to your advantage by pursuing them after you’ve done something worthy of reward.

Keep these habits strong in your work routine, and you’ll enjoy all the benefits of working from home without sacrificing your productivity or your satisfaction. If you’re just getting started working from home, keep in mind that everybody works differently, and it will take some time to find a structure that works best for you. Stay committed to your goals, and eventually you’ll create a near-perfect system.

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