This is a guest post by Sarah Landrum.

balloonA strong commitment to lifelong learning has a large impact on the growth one experiences in his or her field. Growing in your career means you are seeking knowledge and experience that will push you forward and stretch you into new places.

The key is to maximize “downtime” by seeing it as an opportunity to develop thought processes, implement change or bring about opportunities that excite and motivate.

Yes, those who look for ways to push their work beyond what’s expected of them are the ones who create positions that are influential and meaningful to both themselves and the world surrounding them.

Not sure where to start? Here are 10 unique — and mostly free — ways to seriously grow your career:

1. Participate in Water Cooler Talk

Though taking a break with your co-workers may not seem beneficial to your work, it’s important to make time to just “hang out” for 10-15 minutes every once in a while. These rather informal meetings often bring great insight into what issues people may be experiencing, which gives you the opportunity to act before a supervisor asks you to.


2. Download Podcasts to Your MP3 Player

Make the most of long lines by popping in earbuds and listening to educational podcasts. For those who are interested in learning a language or brushing up on the skills they already have, try listening to Coffee Break, a program that breaks down language learning into 15- to 20-minute increments.


3. Take Advantage of Long Commutes

Driving time is another great place to add in some extra learning. Books on CD from the local library can give you a free way to get in some professional development before you even walk in the door of your workplace.


4. Volunteer

There’s no greater way to be stretched than by volunteering. Through volunteering your time, you may be assigned to complete tasks that are out of your comfort zone or are unusual to you. Pick a type of organization that matches your values system, but then be open to what it is that the organization really needs of you. You never know how something like this could help build up your network of connections or help you learn new skills to boost your career.


5. Listen to Lectures During the Workday

In addition to online courses for the hopes of getting another degree, there are also online courses that simply seek to inform for the benefit of informing. MIT offers open courseware to the public with a variety of audio and video lectures that can be found on their website. Listen to everything from linguistics to civil engineering. And the best part? It’s available free of charge.


6. Read

If lounging on the couch in the evening is part of your routine, make it a little more productive by reading. Career-development books and books that speak to the trends in your field are great places to start, but don’t limit it to just those. Seek out information on all subject areas that interest you. You never know when you’ll hit your next niche.


7. Start Blogging

Blogging provides an outlet for all of the material that’s being discovered in your journey to growing your career. The best thing to do with all of that new knowledge is to share it. And what better way to do that than to start blogging? You’ll find writing down what you’re learning only helps to solidify the information so it can become part of your everyday practice.


8. Take Online Courses

It may be time to start earning a second — or first — degree. If moving forward in your career requires more formal education, take advantage of online degree programs to get your education done without ever really needing to leave home. If another degree isn’t what you need but workshops may be beneficial, search for online courses that are specific to your field.


9. Follow Top Specialists in Your Field on Twitter

Look for favorite authors, speakers, or specialists who are “on trend” in your field and begin dialoguing with them about current events. You could also try to locate feeds that are discussing some of the professional development books you’re going through. However you decide to do it, take advantage of the technological age.

10. Ask for Assignments Outside of Your Job Description

Go to your supervisor and ask for opportunities to get involved in other areas to help you grow and learn more about what your co-workers do. Good supervisors will see this initiative as a valuable asset and will oblige your request to grow professionally within the company.

Growing in your career can be simple and worthwhile if you follow these 10 unique ways to get the job done and increase your effectiveness both in — and out — of the office.


About the Guest Post Author:

Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer and the founder of Punched Clocks, a blog on which she shares advice on navigating the work world and finding happiness and success in your career. Follow her on Twitter @SarahLandrum and subscribe to her blog for more tips on making your career a bright one.