What would you do if someone gave you the gift of an entire day? Well, you're in luck. Thanks to Julius Caesar, we get an extra day every four years, and this February 29th you have the chance to put that windfall to good use. Caesar tucked in those extra 24 hours to compensate for the fact that the Earth takes about six hours longer than 365 days to travel around the sun. So tacking on this extra day every four years became a way to keep our calendars on track.
In times long past, Leap Day even inspired some interesting traditions, such as women extending marriage proposals to men back when such an idea was well outside the norms of acceptable behavior. Maybe it's time to create a Leap Day custom with a 21st Century twist. Why not adopt your own tradition by devoting February 29 to thinking creatively about your career? And if you can't devote the whole day to yourself, then savor the newfound time by spreading it out across the year. Regardless how you parcel out those 24 hours, think of Leap Day as extra time for focusing on your professional development. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Catch up on industry news. When is the last time you read an article about your industry or your chosen field? Often we get so caught up in the day-to-day blur of work that we don't give ourselves the chance to see what's going on around us. So take 30 minutes - maybe at lunchtime or during your commute - to browse through a trade or business magazine, or listen to a podcast to hone your awareness of what the competition's up to or the challenges your industry faces. Or keep the focus on learning how to sharpen your career strategies. For example, the Harvard Business Review home page offers plenty of ideas for improving your effectiveness in the workplace.
Learn new skills. We all know that learning shouldn't stop when we step on the career ladder. But it's easy to plead lack of time when it comes to adding to our skills inventory. So use some of your newfound time to learn a skill, either one you can apply to your job right away or one that can challenge you to explore something longer term. Many companies offer their employees free access to online training, where you can learn everything from time management to presentation skills. If that's not an option, check out the countless podcasts, audiobooks and video tutorials available online or at your local library.
Pay it forward. You might consider ways to share your own experience by participating in a mentoring program, either within your company or elsewhere. Besides helping others improve their skills, mentoring is a great way to grow your own network. I guarantee you'll be surprised to discover along the way that you can learn a lot from mentoring others.
Catch up with a former colleague. Too often we undervalue the power of our own networks. After someone leaves your organization, make it a point to keep in touch with them. You never know what perspective they may be able to share after having worked at another company.
Do nothing. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your career is to take a break. Build in time to do nothing. Nothing, that is, except clear your mind to focus creatively on a question you've been trying to answer or a problem you want to solve. One of the keys to creativity, according to many experts - including funny-man John Cleese - is to let your mind apply gentle pressure to an issue, without distraction or interruption.
While Caesar was fixing the calendar, he might have taken a moment to advise his subjects (in his best Latin, of course): "carpe diem." So seize the day for yourself. Consider Leap Day from now on your own personal Leap Forward Day and a gift of time you will use to full advantage. Make every minute count!