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OWNER'S MANUAL

Your Most Important Investment

Chances are, you're failing to invest in the most important asset of all. Do these five things and your business will be better for it.

You make investments every day: in employees, in advertising, in expanded product lines, in websites and social media... You put your time and money where it will hopefully generate a positive return.

What's missing from the items above? Investing in you.

And that's a shame, because even spending just 30 minutes a day investing in yourself will produce better long-term results than almost any other investment you can make.

Here are five ways to invest a little time each day in your most valuable asset--you:

1. Build strong connections.

Forget Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter for a moment. Social media connections are useful, but the best connections are truly personal.

Simple example: Every day I spend a few minutes checking out readers who tweet or share my articles. (My 13-year-old would call it stalking. I call it market research.) I scope out profiles and websites and occasionally send short thank-you emails. I'm not looking for replies, but I occasionally get them, often starting a relationship. Some even lead to articles: That's how I met her and him and him.

Here's how: Take a couple minutes a day and reach out--by phone or email, not by social media--to a customer or colleague or just a person you want to compliment or thank. Good karma is reason enough, but you'll be surprised by the real, not virtual, connections you will build.

2. Do something crazy.

Well, not crazy to you, but crazy in the eyes of others. Pick something no one thinks you should or can do... and do it. If you want to think outside the box, you have to live outside the box, at least part of the time.

If you want to have a life that's different from other people's, you must be willing to do what other people won't.

Here's how: Challenge yourself. Humble yourself. Get over yourself. Get a part-time job, one that is "beneath" you. Be the only overweight person you know training for a marathon. Take a class you'll struggle to even pass. Volunteer.

Whatever you do, make sure it's well outside your comfort zone. You'll learn and grow and become better, stronger, and a lot more self-assured.

Learning to not care what others think about you--in a healthy way--is incredibly empowering.

3. Build a side business.

Maintaining a laser-like focus is great.

So is broadening your horizons.

One of my friends runs a Web design firm and builds furniture on the side; as he puts it, "It's nice to sometimes create things I can touch." Another restores 1960s Corvettes and accidentally built a solid little parts business. A CEO friend designs landscape gardens on the weekends. Each took something they were interested in and made it a "business" of sorts.

You don't need to start a company, but you can leverage your interests to broaden your perspective--and in the process bring some of what you learn "outside" back into your core business.

Here's how: Pick something you enjoy doing and think of ways to make money from it. The point isn't to get rich; the point is to open up to new ideas and new challenges.

The business aspect will help spark creativity--since necessity is the mother of creativity--and help keep you focused.

4. Create a morning ritual.

Face it: Aside from showering, most of your time before work is wasted. Deciding what to wear, lingering over breakfast, checking out what your social media friends are doing (the answer is always "nothing")... That's all time wasted. Besides, you just slept for six or seven hours; break time is over, you slacker.

When your morning is productive, not only will you arrive at work more energized, but you'll also feel better about yourself. We can all use a little more of that.

Here's how: Choose things you want to accomplish and create a morning plan that gets you there.

Maybe you want to exercise. Maybe you want to work on a presentation, work on your book, read things you need to read but never seem to find the time or energy to get to after work. You know what you've been wanting to do but haven't done. Start doing it.

Then use your evening to set up the morning: Pick out your clothes, get your breakfast ready (quick tip: A glass of milk and a protein bar make a very efficient breakfast). Do whatever you can to make it easy to get up, clean up, tackle your morning ritual, and head to work.

Easy. And effective.

5. Take a few minutes and think.

Yeah, yeah, you think all day--but not really. Most of your thinking is reactive: to problems, issues, and challenges.

That's a very different type of thinking. Thinking when you don't have to think is much more productive.

Here's how: Force inactivity. Turn off the radio when you drive to work. When you're stuck in a line, don't look for something to do--just stand there. Sit outside without a phone or book. Take a walk. Create situations where you're stuck with only yourself.

Sure, it will feel like death for a few minutes, but then out of boredom your thoughts will start to wander and your ideas will start to flow. And you'll realize you don't need the company of other people all the time because you're pretty good company yourself.

Without time to think, you can't have ideas; your ideas are the best asset you possess.

And here's a bonus item:

6. Call your folks.

They always want to hear from you. And you always feel better after you make that call.

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IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Jul 12, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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