Time is one thing you can never get more of. But sometimes, you can find better ways to use what time you have, be it over the course of a day, a year or a lifetime. So, let’s not waste any time getting to it: Here are 11 tips to make greater use of your time and increase your productivity.
1. Make lists
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Having a list of what you need to accomplish can help you focus and make it less likely for something to slip your mind. When you finish something, you don’t have to spend time trying to remember what else you had to do, just consult your list. Rate items not only by priority, but also by how long they should take you. Maybe you only have 10 minutes, and that’s not enough to check off the most important item, but plenty of time to tackle No. 3. You’re still making some progress.
2. Exercise and take breaks
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It may seem counterintuitive to stop working so you can get more done, but it helps. Exercising helps keep up your energy level so you have more vigor when it comes time to hunker down on the job. And shorter breaks can let your mind rest and help lower your stress level. Probably, you don’t want to stop smack in the middle of a thought or task, but if you break down projects into smaller pieces — think of it like chapters in a book — it creates spaces where pauses make sense.
3. Eliminate distractions
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It can be challenging that the computer, which you likely use to do at least some of your work, is the same place where you can check Facebook and email, handle bills, check the scores from last night’s game, and a million other little things. Meanwhile, your phone is constantly demanding your attention with its stream of beeps and dings.
Set aside a time to address distractions — some people only check email once per day, or their phone once per hour — so that you can get past that nagging sensation and get back to work. Consider turning off your phone’s ringer if you really need to go without being disturbed.
4. Avoid pointless meetings
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Yes, meetings can be good for networking that will advance your career. But getting your actual work done is also pretty important when it comes to advancing your career. Sure, some meetings are important and even useful, but time away from your desk is time you’re not finishing that project. So, before you accept a meeting invitation, consider how critical it is to completing the work at hand or reaching some longer-term goal versus the cost of your time.
5. Weed out the demands on your time
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The classic “Four D” rule, once the way to manage piles of paper, works just as well for your email inbox. It goes like this: Do it, Delegate it, Defer it or Drop it. Once mastered, you will have a more manageable inbox, real or virtual. This method also helps cut down on clutter, which can be a distraction all its own. “Defer” can be tricky and may not let you feel like you’re making progress, but it’s useful to remember that you can’t always act on something immediately, despite the immediacy of email. Don’t worry too much if you need to defer. There’s a difference between deferring, which has to do with ordering priorities, and procrastinating.
6. Tell other people
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If you have a big goal or project, share it and how you plan to achieve it with other people — whether friends or trusted colleagues. If you do, you’re more likely to actually do it (effectively building in some peer pressure) and you may also get useful feedback, or even offers of help.
7. Learn the command keys
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It’s way faster to save a file by hitting “Ctrl+S” than by using your mouse and finding “Save” on the drop-down menu. Learn more of these keyboard shortcuts. You save a few seconds each time, and they will add up. It’s helpful to think of these command keys as a metaphor. What other shortcuts would pay off over a relatively short period if you took time to learn them, such as how to use an Excel spreadsheet or the mass delete function in your email program?
8. Check in with yourself
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Ask yourself if what you are engaged in the most valuable thing you could be doing right now. If you need the extra nudge, set your phone alarm (or similar device) to ring every 15 minutes or other set interval, so you don’t stray too far from the task at hand. If the thought crops up, or the alarm goes off, while you’re playing Candy Crush instead of meeting a deadline, it can help you get back on track.
9. Stop trying to multitask
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You really can’t. Ever try talking on the phone while you’re making dinner? Either the conversation or the meal will suffer. The same principle goes for work. Better to finish one task completely and do it well, than to have multiple things half done and done poorly.
10. Track your time
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If you want to lose weight, you track your calories, and if you want to lose wasted time, you track that. Take note of how much time you spend sending emails, checking Facebook, watching TV, sleeping, eating – basically everything. Most phones have free time-tracking apps you can download. The data may be surprising and help you devise some new strategies.
11. Set goals
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Set and write down goals, both personal and professional. You are more likely to accomplish them if you have them. And give yourself a deadline for each — open-ended tasks often don’t get done. And, if in doubt, go back to No. 1 and make a list.
What are your secrets to productivity? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.