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Advice / Career Paths / Training & Development

10 Ways to Become a Smarter Person Without Taking an Extra Second Out of Your Day

Most professionals want to continue learning and developing regularly—the question is when? Between working, commuting, running errands, exercising, and socializing, it can feel like you barely have time to breathe, let alone pick up a new skill, learn another language, or get more informed about your industry.

We get it. So we’ve put together a list of 10 ways you can improve yourself without taking up an extra second of your day. Each of these ideas is either an activity you can add right on top of your daily routine or a simple swap for your most common time wasters (hello, Snapchat!). Read on to see just how easy it is to build learning into your day.

1. Wake Up Thinking

Let’s start with the moment you wake up: Instead of scrolling through social media after the alarm goes off, have a few short videos queued up on the TED app to watch instead. Or, try Ignite Talk videos, which are meant to enlighten you in just five minutes.

Want an even bigger challenge? Install a puzzle alarm clock on your phone. Not only will this prevent you from falling into a snooze trap (because you literally have to solve the problem in order for the alarm to stop), it will get your brain ready to think the whole day through. Try one for iPhone or Android.

2. Learn While You Browse the Web

How many times per day do you open a new tab on your browser? 50? 60? More? By downloading Magoosh Vocabulary, a Chrome extension for your new tabs, you’ll learn a new word every time.

These words were hand selected by Magoosh’s test prep experts as the 1,000 most important vocab words on the GRE—so it’s even more useful if you’re planning on applying to graduate school!

3. Read a Quick Newsletter (or Two)

We all have to spend time in our inboxes every day—so why not make a little of that time productive to your lifelong education? Subscribing to a newsletter is an easy way to stay up-to-date on a topic, get quick tips, or learn something new.

My favorite is Highbrow. It offers 10-day courses on all sorts of subjects, from architecture to space. Better yet? Each daily newsletter takes just five minutes to read. For more great options depending on what intel you’re looking for, check out our list of great newsletters.

4. Listen to Articles While You Work

If you’re constantly saving articles to read later (but always running out of time to actually read them), you’ll love Audiofy, an app that converts articles into audio.

It’s completely free, and the conversion process takes just five seconds. I use it to listen to career and professional development articles while I drive home from work or walk the dog, but you can use it to make better use of your time while doing virtually any mindless activity in your day.

Podcasts are great for this, too—here are a few of our podcast recommendations.

5. Eat Lunch With Someone You Can Learn From

First, identify a skill or focus area that you’d like to learn more about. Then, figure out which co-worker is most qualified to help you with it.

Shoot him or her an email saying, “Hey! I know you’re the resident expert in [topic]. I’d love to [learn more/ask you some questions]—could I buy you lunch sometime this week so we can chat?”

You’ll learn something new without losing a minute of your day—or your co-worker’s.

Want a workplace where you can learn every day? Check out jobs at Magoosh!

6. Play Brain Games

Rather than turning to Candy Crush or Solitaire next time you’re bored, pull up a smart game like Elevate or Lumosity. These games are designed to be educational, and the “training programs” can be customized to the areas where you especially want to improve. (Elevate even has one designed to boost your name recognition and retention—perfect for helping you out at networking events.)

Plus, the games are just as fun and addictive as their non-educational counterparts, meaning you won’t even feel like you’re working your mind.

7. Make Your Facebook Feed Smarter

Let’s face it, the “trending” topics on Facebook can be pretty silly—Kim Kardashian sharing a picture of her child or zoo animals surrounded by snow aren’t exactly valuable news. So download Fluffblocker, an app that’ll replace those topics with headlines from The New York Times, NPR, The Washington Post, or another publication of your choice.

You can stay on top of breaking news while checking out your friends’ weekend photos. It’s the best of both worlds!

8. Transform Your Instagram Feed

On a related note, make browsing Instagram less of a time-suck by following educational accounts.

To discover more about our natural world, follow National Geographic, the National Aquarium, the National Park Service, the American Museum of Natural History, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Or, brush up on your science knowledge by following astronaut Scott Kelly, Liberty Science Center, NASA Goddard, and Science Museum.

And to pick up business jargon and learn random facts, check out BizWords and 8factapp, respectively.

9. Learn Grammar While You Write

Being a strong writer will serve you well your entire life, so try installing Grammarly to improve your writing while you work.

Grammarly plugs into virtually anywhere you write online—social media, your Gmail account—to catch and correct grammar errors you’ve made, from the basic like a misspelled word or missing period to the tougher stuff, like incorrect verb usage or word repetition. It will even explain why the change is correct, helping you learn from your mistakes and become a better writer down the road.

10. Watch a Webinar on Your Lunch Break

Webinars—a.k.a. instructional presentations you attend online—are an excellent way to explore both new and unfamiliar topics. Plus, unlike podcasts or videos, you can interact with the presenter, so you won’t be left with unanswered questions.

If you tend to eat lunch at your desk anyway, pop on your headphones and watch away. Normally dine with a group of co-workers? Watch the webinar together and join forces to execute on what you’ve learned.

BrightTALK has a running list of live and upcoming webinars. You can also find relevant ones by Googling “[your industry] webinar.”

With a little creativity, you’ll find tons of opportunities to learn throughout your day. These tricks will make your professional development almost effortless.

Photos of women at lunch and woman on phone courtesy of Shutterstock.