When you think about professional success, you think about the strategies and behaviors that people exemplify when at work. You think about what people do during the 9-5 working hours, and whether they extend those hours by coming in early or staying late to tackle projects. What they do when they get home, or on weekends, when they're away from the office and away from their computers, doesn't enter your mind. But here's the thing: it should.
How people spend their free time can actually have a big impact on their success in the professional world. Successful people tend to spend their free time in these seven ways (and more, of course), so read below and find out why:
1. They Exercise. Physical exercise is important for both physical and mental health. Taking a half hour after work or on a weekend can get your blood pumping, get your endorphins flowing, and revitalize your spirit. You'll build muscle, burn calories, and oxygenate your brain--giving you a release after a day of stress. Exercising regularly also helps you remain disciplined, which can be valuable in a demanding work environment, and can reduce the long-term effects of stress as well--meaning regular exercisers tend to be less stressed about their jobs. You'll also look better and feel better, which gives you greater confidence.
2. They Read. Reading is a lifelong skill, and successful people never stop reading new books. Whether it's fiction or nonfiction, books help give you a greater understanding of the world around you. They introduce you to new characters, new environments, new cultures, new philosophies, and new ideas, and might even help you build new skills (if you're reading nonfiction, at least). Similarly, reading regularly helps to build your vocabulary and your semantic comprehension, giving you greater communication skills--and something to make small talk about during those particularly awkward business meetings.
3. They Take Classes. Education shouldn't stop at college, and shouldn't be restricted to institutions. The most successful people in the world are the ones who make a commitment to never stop learning. They're always incorporating new skills for their resumes and learning new aspects of the world around them. Instructional courses aren't particularly difficult to find, either, especially in the modern era. Many local colleges offer courses for free, and you can peruse local forums or gatherings to find impromptu group workshops. And don't underestimate the value of free online courses. If you have a free hour and an Internet connection, you can start learning a new skill.
4. They Volunteer. Volunteering, no matter where or how you do it, is beneficial for you and your community. Whether you're helping to clean up a highway, working in a soup kitchen, or providing mentorship to a group of young professionals, your time goes a long way toward improving the community around you. Professionals primed for success realize the importance of giving back to the community, and feel happier because of it. Volunteering is also a valuable networking experience, introducing you to other people who, one way or another, can help you drive your career forward.
5. They Network. Many networking events exist outside the realm of corporate hours. They include weekend breakfasts, cocktail hours, and after-hours gatherings for conversation and usually food and drinks. Successful people are willing to step outside their comfort zones in an effort to meet new people--regardless of any professional circumstances surrounding that effort. They're not necessarily interested in meeting people to land new sales or find a new employee--instead, they simply like talking to people and meeting people, and success naturally follows them from there. The wider your network of contacts is, the more opportunities you'll have down the road.
6. They Have Hobbies. Focusing exclusively on work might seem like a fast track to success. With nothing else distracting you, you can funnel your full effort into your job and do in one week what would take most people two. But this approach has a nasty downside; it stresses you out, sets you up for burnout, and prevents you from developing skills in any other areas. Finding and pursuing a hobby, on the other hand, helps you relieve stress, put your job in perspective, and build skills that complement ones you use at work. It's a breath of fresh air that keeps you grounded, and if it's a social hobby, also offers networking opportunities.
7. They Spend Time With Friends and Family. I implied it in the last point, but I'll reiterate it more strongly here: your job isn't everything. Focusing too much on your career is self-sabotage, no matter how counterintuitive that might sound. If you want to be successful in life, you have to prioritize your personal relationships--your bond with your friends and family members. No matter how much you want to be successful and climb the corporate ladder quickly, you can't neglect your friends and family to do it.
If you don't spend your free time like this, it doesn't mean you have no chance of being successful. However, picking up some of these strategies can improve your abilities, improve your mindset, and expand your network to levels that will increase your chances for success in the workplace. Start incorporating a few of them into your free time routines and you might just be surprised at the results.