Thank you notes. Send them after interviews (Hey Shop Girl, I don't think the horrible shoe company deserved one...just fyi). Not only does this thank the person who took time out of their busy schedule to hear you out but it also puts your name across their desk (and mind) one more time. When I recently stopped by for an interview myself I found out that for a different position that was opened they had received 300 applications! With 299 people in competition, that leg up can't hurt.
Don't limit thank you notes to interviewers only. Who doesn't appreciate a good thank you note? My mom and I recently had a conversation in which she said that my relatives (namely her side of the family) had pointed out how appreciative they were to receive thank you cards from me after gifts. Not half as thankful I'm sure, as I was to be the recipient of their generosity. No good deed should go unthanked, right?
Another great opportunity to use this? When someone helps you out at work. For example, at my soon-to-be-old-job we had to gather volunteers for events. This task fell on me several times. Taking the time afterwards to send a personal note to each person who gave up there day or weekend to aid us with our tasks went a long way in making those people feel appreciated. They would have been appreciated either way, but now they have the chance to know it.
I'm big fan of cards in general as I talked about here. But for now, I'll just stick to encouraging notes of the thank you variety. It takes 5-10 minutes to write a thank you card and drop it in the mail...just do it. I'll be generous and say that takes 10 minutes of the time (you have to walk to the mailbox, after all). That leaves me 50 more minutes to help you get ahead.
Return every phone call. Yes, I said it. Every stinking one. There's nothing worse than having to phone-stalk someone to get the answers you need. Don't be that person. Besides, with all the people participating in the bad habit of dodging phone calls, how much more will returning them set you apart? My friend, Meredith, recently called several magazine editors - she was shocked (and impressed) when the biggest fashion magazine name she called, called her back!
The phone call which took less than five minutes for her to get the desired answers not only made her day, but turned her into a fan. Insta-fans. Never a bad idea.
This requires about 20 minutes if you do it well. Sometimes more, I admit. Don't feel like you have to talk as long as each person wants...BUT set aside time every day to return calls. This again, is not limited to work only. How many of us have had to phone stalk friends as well? Or relatives? I joke often with my sisters about how I have to call them five times to get one return. Which is pretty much true. They're worth it, lucky for them. Most people, however, are not. Meet people halfway...this will help you get ahead in life both personally and professionally.
Be Early. My Dad always taught me to be the first person at work. Beat your boss. I also recently heard someone explain that it takes as much effort to be late as to be early - but only one of those will set you apart from your coworkers and lets be honest, 90% of your friends. Admittedly, I'm great at doing this for work....not so great at this on the personal life side. I'm working on it though. 10 more minutes used on this. You'll be surprised how much less stressed you will feel when you're not dodging pedestrians to get to work 'on time'. I've now used 40 minutes of your time...
Pack a lunch. This way you won't eat crap that will make you tired for the rest of the day and you won't waste your time going out. This time I've recently discovered is much better spent reading. I'm going through an extra book or so a month just by reading on my lunch breaks. I do love to find more time. 10 minutes to gain 30? That's my kind of math.
Planner power. I learned from my Momma that if you keep a detailed planner and reference it every morning, you won't forget the important things. This saves me missing appointments, forgetting to pick up that one thing at the store, or calling a friend to say 'Happy birthday'. My mom manages a schedule like no one I've ever met - and this is one area I don't mind turning into her. I even keep mine color coordinated (a bit excessive, I admit) by personal, important, work, and church functions. 10 minutes.
One hour to getting ahead...done and done.