Get a hobby and up your sales game

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Free-time activities can help you build professional skills—and you’ll have fun doing it

hobby

Many of us think we don’t have time for a hobby, not with work and commutes, kids and family responsibilities. But what if we told you that regularly making time for a little fun could improve your skills at work?

An article by Kathleen Harris in the March issue of Real Simple magazine looks at five hobbies that can help you hone specific career skills.

1. Do you get nervous when a shopper starts making too many objections to the sale? Do you stress out when a customer calls with a complaint? If so, start practicing music in your free time.

“Engaging in an ongoing creative activity, like learning to play an instrument, helps people manage negative feelings like stress,” the article says, citing research from the American Journal of Public Health. You’ll be in good company if you start strumming the guitar. Super successful people like Warren Buffet (ukulele aficionado), Steve Martin (banjo player extraordinaire) and Steven Spielberg (you can hear him play clarinet on the “Jaws” soundtrack) all use music to unwind.

“Cognitive research says that adults can learn to play a new instrument at any age. Just pick one with a sound you love and find a teacher who works with adults,” Harris writes. “…Or join a choir. Study after study shows the benefits of singing—from releasing endorphins to strengthening the immune system.”

2. Do you struggle to keep sales conversation going? Do you boringly recite the features and benefits of a mattress? If so, take a creative writing class.

“The best public speakers tell the best stories,” Harris writes. “Finesse your storytelling skills by taking a creative writing class, where you’ll learn the art of crafting narratives. Classes often require you to read your story aloud to the group, so you’ll practice presenting, as well.” Other options that will make you more comfortable speaking with shoppers include improv classes and even making toasts at family events.

3. Would you like to move into management or even open your own store someday? If so, join a sports team.

Being on a team—basketball, soccer, softball, lacrosse—helps improve leadership skills because you’re working toward a common goal. “You don’t need to have been a high school all-star to reap the rewards—anyone can benefit from getting active and having fun with a team,” Harris says.

4. Do you feel like you can’t get everything on your to-do list done? Do you leave the store at the end of the day with tasks unfinished? If so, join a cooking or recipe club.

“Cooking for a dinner party or a recipe club, in which you meet monthly to swap recipes and taste one another’s creations, can improve your time management skills,” Harris writes. Having to create menus, shop, prep and cook all force you to focus on getting a lot done in a short period of time and help you to become more efficient.

“Even the simple act of scheduling hobbies can make us feel more focused and in control of our time,” Michelle Gielan, author of “Broadcasting Happiness,” tells Real Simple.

5. Do you want to map out a new strategic course for your store? Do you want to plan a new marketing campaign? If so, make time for video games.

“Any game that promotes complex thinking, where you need to map out your next few moves, can help you develop thinking and reasoning skills,” clinical psychologist Richard Shuster tells Real Simple. Video games also can reduce stress by allowing people to unwind and focus intently on something other than what’s bothering them.

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