You're not alone if your lunch hour often looks a little something like this: Balancing a salad in one hand while checking Facebook with the other. But those five hours each week go to waste if you're not using them to climb the corporate ladder.
"This disposable time is an ideal time to further commit to developing your career," explains Vicki Salemi, Monster's career expert. "If we don't make our own career management a priority, no one else will. And time is such a prized commodity—we always wish there was more of it. The lunch break provides a solution—a lot can get accomplished with pure focus in 60 minutes!"
Ready to get to work and launch your career on your lunch break? If so, here are 11 expert ways to do just that.
1. Get visual: "Consider multi-tasking at your lunch hour—eating while getting the training you want, how you want it, and when," says Lindsey Pollak, millennial workplace expert and author of Becoming The Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders. "It's can be as simple as watching a YouTube video or TED talk on leadership, networking, or a topic related to your career. Read an article in an industry publication or a few pages of a book."
2. FaceTime—the in-person version: "Take your mentor out to lunch every other month, because nothing replaces good old-fashioned face-to-face time," says Salemi. "Ask for advice and input on long-term strategies, bounce ideas off each other. This proactive approach can help give you valuable insight to steadily propel your career."
3. Update your digital brand: After all, social media isn't just for creeping on your ex and bragging about your latest beach vacation. "When was the last time you updated your online social media profiles?" asks Nicole Williams, LinkedIn's career expert and founder of WORKS. "Use your lunch hour to make these updates. Upload examples of your work, and update the recent projects that you've been working on."
4. Log the lunch hours you work, and share them with your boss: "Keep track of your own personal training and development," says Pollak. "Bring it up with your manager during a performance review or one-on-one meeting. It'll demonstrate your initiative to be a leader."
5. Study as if you were still in school: "Consider your lunch hour as a 'networking' hour," suggests Pollak. "If there are people [you admire] in your industry, check out their LinkedIn profile, follow them on Twitter, and scan other social media accounts." Take note of their work histories, what they're reading, and what you have in common. Then, "Use the information that you've found on social media or news articles to reach out to recruiters, hiring managers and others at the company and have meaningful conversations."
6. Take part in lunch-and-learns: Your "school" hours don't have to be logged exclusively online. "If your employer offers a lunch-and-learn seminar, definitely attend," Salemi says. "It will get you out of your own head and you'll get to connect with the instructor, as well as colleagues from other departments." Networking, she says, even with your current colleagues is key to career advancement. "Arriving to work every day with the mindset of punching a clock and not interacting with anyone outside your own team won't bode well when you look to expand your reach," says Salemi. "Talk to other people in different departments, be friendly, and ask questions. Instead of a cubicle silo, think of your office as a cubicle barn with many different stalls to interact with and learn from."
7. Work up a sweat: "I am a big believer in attaching a physical goal to a career goal," explains Williams. So hit the gym—or, if you can't afford a membership, even your office building's staircase—during your break. "Many gyms offer shortened classes for the lunchtime crowd, and some companies even bring in yoga instructors to help employees relax and refocus during lunch," she says. "You'll return to your desk relaxed and refreshed for the afternoon ahead!"
8. Get organized: "Taking some time to regroup and write your personal to-do list is a valuable way to successfully spend your lunch hour," Salemi says. "You will free up mental space that is better served for work. This simple task can really help you regain control of your time and headspace."
9. Work on a company committee that meets during the lunch hour: "Better yet, if your office runs lunch-and-learns on a monthly basis, volunteer to plan future ones," suggests Salemi. "You'll expand your skill set and also connect with other people. This can put you in a valuable position to be recognized as a leader."
10. Give back: Put your professional skills to use helping others. "Professional skills such as graphic design, event planning, social media, fundraising, and programming are high in demand," says Williams. "If you are looking to build your skills in one department you can learn easily by working as part of a team. Volunteering also helps put you in touch with people inside and outside of your industry. It's a great way of getting in front of people who have similar values and are leaders."
11. Treat yourself to a lunch out of the office: "Networking and informational interviews are still important, but you'll need uninterrupted time to assess this info and map out your next moves," explains Salemi. Your game plan? "Gather the information you've learned from the previous week, recent conversations, job leads, and information about internal opportunities. Whether you jot them down into the notes of your phone or create a spreadsheet, schedule stillness time one day a week to review your information and create new action items."
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