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4 Ways Successful People Get More Out of Their Careers

By Marguerite Ward

The happiest and most motivated professionals are often those who have found meaning in their work, psychological research shows.

But finding a sense of purpose is easier said than done.

According to a national Gallup poll, only 30 percent of professionals feel engaged at work, which leaves 70 percent that feel apathetic or disinterested.

Career and leadership experts, supported by a growing body of workplace research, know that there are multiple ways to start taking control of your career.

Here are 4 ways successful people get the most out of their work life:

1. They set high goals for themselves

“Ask an entrepreneur or business leader these days about who they admire professionally,” says leadership expert Dorie Clark, “and Elon Musk is almost always at the top of the list.”

“That’s because he inspires others with audacious goals,” she tells CNBC, “from electric cars and space travel to his new initiative to alleviate traffic congestion in Los Angeles by building underground tunnels.”

While your career goals probably don’t include colonizing Mars, you should be thinking about where you want to be one year from now, says Jenny Blake, career expert and co-founder of Google’s mentorship program.

“Sometimes people stay in the same job out of fear of making a transition or of making a change,” Blake says. “And often what happens is they’ll experience physical signs of decline — they’re getting sick more often at work.”

High-achieving professionals don’t let fear keep them from making important career decisions. Instead, they surround themselves with like-minded people and visualize their big goals.

2. They break those goals down into benchmarks

Behavioral psychologist and bestselling author Dan Ariely says that the reason most people don’t achieve their big goals comes down to time management.

“Everything we do with time and money is a trade-off,” says Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University.

To follow through on your career goals, identify monthly and weekly benchmarks for yourself, he says. Then at the start of each day or week, jot down times in your calendar to complete those tasks.

This routine will keep your big goals top of mind, and boost your chances of achieving them.

3. They invest in their work relationships

Workers who have a friendly, professional relationship with their bosses feel more engaged at work and are more likely to get a raise.

So instead of only focusing on your assignments, take time to connect with your boss. You could propose a quick “walk and talk” meeting where you walk around the building or your floor for five minutes and chat or share a fun story from a recent trip you took.

Successful people also make sure to help their colleagues out, according to bestselling management author and CNBC contributor Suzy Welch.

Usually, after a few years of working, Welch says, most people wake up and realize that likeability and teamwork matter, sometimes even more than talent. She says there is a big “favor economy” in business, and that performing kind acts for other professionals makes you more likeable and could even be returned down the line.

4. They make learning a habit

Success is often learned, says Tom Corley, an accountant and financial planner who studies millionaires.

“Most people assume that success requires exceptional intelligence,” Corley tells CNBC. “This is false.”

Corley, who surveyed 233 self-made millionaires and wealthy people, found that most make a conscious effort to learn new personal or professional skills. Nearly 90 percent of respondents, he reports, say they devote 30 minutes or more each day to education or self-improvement through reading.

Take for example, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. He taught himself how to code in college. Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk taught himself about rocket science reading books.

“When you do things that are outside your comfort zone and outside that circle, it causes discomfort,” Corley writes in his book “Change Your Habits, Change Your Life.”

“But each time you engage in a new activity that causes discomfort, you expand your circle; you grow as an individual.”

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