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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

Need a Brain Boost? Follow These 3 Tips to Get Your Learn on

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Curiosity got the best of you? Well, it should. Humans are hardwired to figure things out, for better or worse. Just ask Pandora how tough it was to resist cracking the lid on that forbidden box.

But, don’t worry, you don’t need to follow in Pandora’s footsteps. Most brain boosting activities won’t land you in the doghouse—and just might land you your next big gig. So, let your curiosity run free, starting with your industry.

Stay Ahead of the Curve

Who doesn’t want to feel like the smartest person in the room? Or even better, the office. The best past? It’s pretty simple to do.

Stay up to date with what’s happening in your industry by researching blogs and newsletters. Be sure to subscribe so you get notifications of new posts, or make it a habit to check in weekly. And, look for thought leaders who regularly write on topics that are relevant to your interests, and follow them on LinkedIn.

If you’re new to an industry, scour social media using keywords to find the right accounts to follow, connect with college alumni networks, and join Facebook groups focused on your field.

Clients and co-workers alike will appreciate discussing industry updates and interesting tangential topics with you. Plus, you’ll start to be seen as a thought leader in your own right.

Now that you’re current in your own industry, here are three ways to take it a step further and make that innate urge to learn work for you and your career.

1. Lunch and Learn

Wait. Learn on your lunch hour, when you could post pictures, scroll through Instagram, or just kick back and relax? It may sound like a chore, but utilizing your lunch break to learn is a great way to maximize productivity, and it can be fun too.

If your employer doesn’t already offer lunch and learn programs, it’s a great opportunity for you to help shape how those programs will look. And if you suggest a casual, inexpensive approach to continuing education, your employer just might be convinced.

Try suggesting your company tap into its natural resources—employees with varied expertise—rather than hiring expert speakers. Read: high interest, low price tag. For the cost of lunch, your company can offer growth opportunities—and everyone will want to come see the CFO’s hidden talents.

Of course, there are other ways to learn new skills. If your employer isn’t sold on formal lunch and learn programs, you can arrange your own. Seek out an expert coworker, or an office buddy who’s proficient in an area you’re interested in. Express your interest in sharing a casual session or two, and offer to bring the chow.

2. Gadget Gaze With a Purpose

If you prefer a more solitary lunch hour with your phone or tablet, resist Facebook for a couple of weeks and download SoloLearn, a free app that will guide you through coding basics.

Already a programming pro? Enhance your marketability as a creative asset by mastering a design app. You can build a website right on your Android using Infinite Design, or download Universe on your iPhone and test your skills with graphics.

You can also register for career advancing MOOCs, free online courses in topics as diverse as cyber security and marketing analytics. There’s no shortage of opportunities at your fingertips (ie: phone). Your brain will thank you for the new habits.

3. Think Outside the Box

It’s not all about learning for work. Lifelong learners don’t exclusively study subjects directly related to their job or industry. Exploring outside of your field can earn you the respect of peers and higher-ups.

So tear the plastic off that language-learning program you got five birthdays ago. Say "Buongiorno" an hour early on Sundays, and prep for your bucket list trip to Tuscany.

The more skills and subjects you master, the more you’ll bond with peers, the more roles your employers will envision for you—and the more retirement years you’ll have to put that Italian to good use.

So, consume that nonfiction bestseller, trot out that old sewing kit, and for crying out loud, learn Excel already. Your brain has been ready and waiting all along!