Things to do after work that can help your career

At The Bar: Four Friends Having Drinks iStockphoto

(MoneyWatch) The last thing you probably want to do after work is more work, or think about work. So I'm not suggesting you take work home. Here are five things you can do after work that will make you better at your day job -- without any work at all.

Share a hobby with a co-worker.
Do you like the same music, play the same sport or love the same TV show as a colleague? Meet up for a pick-up game or a viewing night after hours, and 9-5 might be smoother than ever, says Amanda Haddaway, author of Destination Real World: Success After Graduation. "Doing activities together outside of the office can be a great stress reducer and can help you solidify your working relationship with the other person." If you don't have a mutual interest, organize a company volunteer project. Everybody can get on board with a good cause.

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Hop on the happy hour train.
Whether you share waters and a veggie platter or beers and burgers, happy hour experiences can make for a more cordial work atmosphere. "I have seen many situations where tensions can mount during the day until such events humanize work dynamics," says Lynn Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant. Just remember that these are still your co-workers and not friends or family, so stick to a drink or two and leave before last call.

Go back to school.
Whether it's a career-related class, something that interests you personally, or a public speaking course like Toastmasters, additional education is always going to benefit your career, says Taylor. Some classes may teach you information you'll use in your daily work life, while others may just get your creativity going and inspire you to bring better ideas to your next project or meeting.

Become an insider in your industry.
Networking when you don't need anything is the best time to do it. "You should always be positioned to leverage your professional and personal contacts when the need arises. So, adopt the discipline of blocking-out time on your calendar specifically for networking activities - every week, every month, and every year," says Ford Myers, author of Get The Job You Want, Even When Nobody's Hiring. He also suggests joining and taking on leadership roles in industry-related trade associations. "This will boost your visibility and enhance your credibility in your industry."

Book an eye-opening trip.
To get perspective on your job and career, find a new viewpoint. "I find that travel provides me with a change of perspective, fresh approaches to problem solving and inspiration for new projects. Getting out of my routine and experiencing new cuisine, art and customs gives me a creative shot in the arm that I can bring over to my work life," says Paula Crerar, director of content marketing for online presentation company Brainshark, Inc. If you can't afford to go to far, a stay-cation -- seeking out new-to-you places and experiences in your local area -- can have the same effect.

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    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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