Your Greatest Business Investment Is in Yourself

We’ve all been there. Life and work gets crazy and you start having to prioritize tasks. The problem is, most of us prioritize work and family over ourselves, so it gets easy to skip that Thursday workout at the gym (“I’ll make it up on Tuesday”). Or, you put off reading that new best-selling business book you downloaded a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately short-term task juggling almost always turns into a lack of investment in yourself and the results eventually start to show.

Not to sound too much like your doctor (or your mother), but if you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll eventually be unable to take care of anyone else—including your family or your business. Doing the little things may not seem glamorous, but if you stick to them, you’ll reap the benefits. Even better, you’ll zip past all those competitors who didn’t make time for personal investment.

Here are six personal investments you should commit to immediately: 

1. Get enough exercise and rest 

Yes, this is #1 for the reason I stated above. If you don’t have your health, none of the other things matter. Burning the midnight oil and then getting up before sunrise is OK in very infrequent short spurts. However, anything longer than two to three weeks will take its toll. Even if you’re the “Hey, in college I made it with only two hours of sleep a week!” kind of person, your body now needs seven to eight hours of sleep every night. But I get it … sleeping eight hours a night and working out several times a week can look like a huge time sink when those activities compete against pressing family commitments, work projects and an ongoing torrent of email.

However, you have a lot more time than you think. Moreover, it just takes some planning and you can organize your days, nights and weeks just fine. You just have to make the effort.

A little life math:

There are 168 hours in a week. Take out 49 hours for the seven hours of sleep you need each night, leaving you 119. Subtract 40 hours for a standard work week and you still have 79 hours to play with. To maintain a healthy lifestyle, you need 30 minutes of exercise four to five times a week, so we’ll put that at a simple 2 hours a week on average. That leaves you with 77 hours left without work, sleep or workouts. That’s more than three days worth of time each week to make those personal investments in yourself. You can do this! (And, if you’ve already thought, “Yeah, but ….” then you need to pay attention to this blog post more than anyone. “Yeah, buts” have killed more dreams than anything I’ve ever encountered!)

2. Sharpen your skills whenever possible (and make it possible!)

Stephen Covey calls this, “Sharpening the Saw,” in his 7 Habits book and it is critically important at every stage of your career. I have a writer that works for me who has co-authored books and is published, but he takes a creative writing course at the local community college every few months. He always wants to get better at his craft. No matter how successful you are at your craft, it’s never a bad idea to keep learning. Even the smallest improvements can have a big impact on your career. I’m amazed at how many top executives believe that they have everything figured out and stop trying to improve. Suddenly, their skills are out-of-date and they have to work ten times harder to try and catch up than if they had just kept sharpening their saw the whole time.

Periodically reviewing your habits and holding them up against best practices can provide meaningful new perspectives. Keep abreast of the NY Times Business Best Seller lists, or take a class to hone your skills. It’s not going to kill you to spend a day learning new PowerPoint techniques or take a finance for non-financial managers seminar, because new ideas are the lifeblood of successful leadership.

3. Build a network inside your company 

Every networking expert will tell you that the time to work on your network is when you DON’T need it. Because, when people already know and like you, they’ll go that extra mile for you. Furthermore, if you try to network and ask for something at the same time, you come off as “that person” who wants to connect only because you need something from the other person.

I have a terrific manager that invites someone from a different department out to lunch each week in order to build connections and get a better understanding of how our company works. Word traveled fast that she was a great person and an even better co-worker. Later on, when she needed help from the warehouse for her best customer, her emergency rush order went to the top of the list and the warehouse manager made sure it was taken care of himself. THAT is internal networking at its best.

4. Develop your outside network as well

About six months ago, an executive friend of mine decided to change jobs after being with one company for the past eight years. When he started actively searching, he was horrified to realize that virtually all of his connections were inside his company, which complicated his job search. Luckily, he eventually landed in a good job. Unfortunately, he knew he had missed out on a couple of great opportunities because he let his outside network lapse.

These days, like my manager above, my friend now schedules networking breakfasts or after-work meetings with his counterparts at other firms, executive recruiters, and people in related fields. Though he doesn’t plan to leave his new job anytime soon, he now has options because he made an investment. In addition, he has the side benefit of being regarded as an “information hub” at his company, able to sniff out small firms or talent worth acquiring.

5. Make the investment of time and go to conferences, seminars and workshops  

When work piles up—and because many bosses still insist on a minimum amount of face time at the office—it can be hard to escape for a day or two to participate in a conference. In fact, some people deride conferences as boring, pointless, or an excuse to write off a vacation. Those knocks may be justified—sometimes. But … conferences can be remarkable opportunities to showcase your skills (it’s always a good idea to present, or speak on a panel), pick up industry best practices, make connections and get new ideas. If your company has professional development dollars set aside for you, use them. It’s a waste—like lost vacation time—if you don’t. No one else is going to care about your professional development as much as you do. Even if you foot the bill yourself, an investment in your career and professional growth will pay off.

And finally …

6. Keep up with the news 

You can almost hear the anguished screams of certain productivity gurus around the world as I write this. They’ll squawk that starting your day reading newsfeeds is a waste of time that puts you in a productivity hole right away. Meh … that’s their opinion. As a professional in the adult learning industry, I’ll stand on my soapbox to say that every serious educated professional should absolutely stay updated with a newsfeed at least a few times a week. And, honestly, reading several of them daily is best.

If you’re looking to climb the management ladder, you need to be able to have a decent, well-informed conversation about what is going on in the world. Productivity experts be darned. Yes, it’ll take an investment of 15 to 30 minutes a day. However, not looking mystified when someone mentions Parkland, bitcoin or Cambridge Analytics is priceless.

If you take even one step toward these investments in yourself, you’re going to be a more interesting, healthier person and a better business pro. So what are you going to do today? What techniques will you use to make an investment in yourself?


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