One major investment category is missing, though: Investing in you.
Spending 30 minutes a day investing in yourself will produce better long-term results than any other investment you can make.
Here are five ways to invest a little time each day in your most valuable asset -- you:
1. Build strong connections. Forget Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter for a moment. Social media connections can be useful, but the best connections are personal. For example, every few days I check out readers who comment on or tweet my BNET posts. I look at their websites and profiles and when I find something interesting or helpful, I send a short email. (I also thank them for their comment or for the implied compliment of an article tweet.) I'm not looking for replies but occasionally receive them, and some have led to article ideas and input... or just a nice personal connection.
What to do: Take a couple minutes a day and reach out -- by phone or email, not by social media -- to customers or colleagues or a person you just want to compliment or thank. Good karma is reason enough, but you'll be surprised by the real connections you can build.
2. Do something stupid. Okay, not stupid to you, but stupid in the eyes of others. Pick something no one thinks you should or can do and do it. If you want to think outside the box you have to live outside the box at least part of the time. If you want to have a different life than other people you must be willing to do what other people won't.
What to do: Challenge yourself. Get a part-time job, one that is "beneath" you. Or be the only overweight person you know training for a marathon. Or take a class you'll struggle to even pass. Whatever you do, make sure it's well outside your comfort zone. You'll learn and grow and become better, stronger, and a lot more self assured. Not caring what others think about you -- in a healthy way -- is incredibly empowering.
3. Build a "side business." Maintaining a laser-like focus is great but so is broadening your horizons. One of my clients is a financial adviser and wrote a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu book on the side. Another developed an information-based site that produces nice revenue compared to the time he puts in. A CEO friend occasionally builds decks on the weekends. Each took something he was interested in and made it a "business" of sorts. You don't need to start a company, but you can leverage your interests to broaden your perspective -- and in the process bring some of what you learn "outside" back into your business.
What to do: Pick something you enjoy doing and think of ways to make money from it. The point isn't to get rich; the point is to open yourself up to new ideas and new challenges. The business aspect helps spark creativity and keep you focused.
4. Follow a morning ritual. Face it: Aside from personal hygiene, a lot of your time before work is wasted. Deciding what to wear, lingering over breakfast, checking TMZ -- all wasted. Heck, you just slept for six hours; you've had enough slack time. Not only will you arrive at work more energized, you'll also feel better about yourself.
What to do: Choose things you want to accomplish and create a morning plan that gets you there. Maybe all you want to do is exercise; if so, great. Or choose other productive tasks. Then use your evening to set up the morning: Pick out clothes at night, get your breakfast ready (a protein bar and a glass of milk is a very efficient breakfast)... do whatever you can to make it easy to get up, clean up, tackle your morning ritual, and head to work. Easy. And effective.
5. Take 10 minutes and think. You think all day... but not really. Mostly you react: To problems, issues, concerns, challenges... that's a very different type of thinking. Thinking when you don't have to think is completely different and much more productive.
What to do: Force inactivity and quiet. Turn off the radio when you drive to work. Stand in line and just stand there. Or sit outside without a phone or book. Force yourself to be stuck with yourself. It will feel like death for a few minutes, but then out of boredom your thoughts will wander and ideas will flow. (If nothing else you'll realize you don't need to be constantly diverted or entertained.) Without time to think you can't have ideas -- and your ideas are the best asset you possess.
And a bonus item:
6. Call your parents. They miss you.
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