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8 Tips to Help You Make the Most of Your Time

You know the routine: you scramble from meeting to meeting, pausing for lunch, or eating at your desk when suddenly you realize that it’s 5PM…and you’ve barely made a dent in your ever-growing to-do list. Come Friday, you’re still staring down some of the same tasks you’ve contemplated for weeks, wondering where the time went and dreading Monday morning. Sound familiar?

For many of us, being busy is an art form, carefully honed over years of running around in a mild panic to get things done. But what if instead of working harder, we started working smarter? Thanks to science, a few key apps and good old fashioned determination, we’re now able to achieve maximum efficiency with just a few small tweaks to our daily routine.

We scoured the web and came up with 8 of the top tips that can help you to maximize your productivity.

1. Track your time

Before you can start implementing change, you need to understand where your time is currently going. One way to find out is pen and paper, meticulously keeping a log of every time you browse Facebook or open the same Excel spreadsheet. But if you’re anything like us, you’ll likely get to the end of your day and realize you completely forgot to log your hours.

That’s where the power of technology comes in. Apps like RescueTime run in the background of your computer and mobile devices to track how you’re spending time.

After looking at the report it generates, you can see a snapshot of how much time you spend in meetings or answering email, as well as how much time you spend aimlessly clicking around the web.

You may be surprised to discover where you’re wasting precious time, but more importantly, you’ll have a good baseline for understanding how to best use the rest of the tips on this list.

2. Plan the night before

At the end of each day, you should take a few minutes before leaving the office to make a list for the following morning. By pulling together your to-dos before you take off, you’re putting yourself in a position to proactively handle the next day instead of reacting to whatever comes up when you walk in the door.

Take this scenario, for example: you arrive at work in the morning to three emails, a note from HR and a request from an outside vendor. All of these things need to be attended to eventually, and if you don’t have a list of priorities to focus on, you’ll get swept up in whatever’s in front of you instead of what’s most important.

Planning the night before allows you to stay on task and remain proactive, not reactive. To start, create a list of 3-5 tasks that are non-negotiable for the following day.

3. Rank your to-do list by category

If you’re like most people, your list of tasks is overwhelming. To counteract burn-out, take a minute to break your list up into four different priority sections:

– Not important and not urgent (Listening to your old voicemails)
– Not important but urgent (Ordering flowers for your mom’s birthday)
– Important but not urgent (Brushing up on your language learning for your trip to Mexico in a few months)
– Important and urgent (Creating an agenda for a meeting you’re leading tomorrow)

Then, you can start to bucket your list into these categories and tackle the important and urgent column first. Which brings us to the next item on our list…

4. Complete the most important things first

Before you look at your email, before you check your voicemails, before you talk to Tom about last night’s big game, you should knock off the most important things on your list. Because you spent time identifying these things the night before, it’s easy to know which tasks are waiting for you. If you’re having a hard time choosing which tasks to put first, ask yourself this question: “What tasks will make me feel accomplished if I complete them by the time I leave the office?”

There are a plethora of reasons for completing these items right off the bat, but the most compelling is that researchers have found willpower is strongest in the morning and our self-control gets depleted as the day wears on. By taking care of the most important things first, you won’t have to worry about trying to do them later when you may not have the energy or motivation.

Plus, by getting the most challenging things out of the way, you’ll feel accomplished early on and the rest of your day will feel like a cake walk.

5. Block out your time

Even the most well meaning among us have a hard time staying focused. To help with that problem, try blocking out your time into scheduling blocks. For recurring tasks, like cold calling or responding to emails, set up time in your calendar and abide by the time. And then, FOCUS. Shut out distractions, close your office door, put in your headphones and do whatever you need to do to minimize multi-tasking and prioritize one thing.

Think you can multi-task like a pro? Consider this: research shows that each time you’re distracted from a task at hand, it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back into the groove. That applies to everything from checking an email to switching between two different tasks, proving that multi-tasking is actually hurting your productivity, not helping it.

If you’re having a hard time staying focused, consider downloading an app like Cold Turkey (Windows) or SelfControl (Mac) that shuts you out of websites like Facebook and Twitter for a set period of time.

6. Batch similar tasks together 

Instead of bouncing between writing an email, returning a customer’s phone call and holding a meeting with your team, try to organize your schedule so that you’re able to group similar tasks together. Research says that by streamlining your attention and only focusing on similar activities for a set period of time, your brain can more efficiently whip through what needs to be done.

Start by setting a timer for 30 minutes and then focus only on a certain type of activity during that time. At the end of 30 minutes, take a 5 minute break to walk around before shifting your focus to another batch of tasks.

7. Give yourself a break

Because we’re not robots, it’s important to leave time in your schedule to reboot and relax. Just like you block out time in your calendar for specific tasks, you should also block out time to take a walk, chat with a co-worker or meditate. Giving your brain room to breathe in a jam-packed day allows you the opportunity to dive into the next activity with more gusto than trying to shift from one gear to another quickly.

8. Get enough sleep

It’s tempting to burn the midnight oil in an attempt to catch up on your list, but studies show that getting adequate amounts of sleep is actually one of the most effective ways to maximize your productivity. In fact, according to a Harvard study, an estimated $63.2 billion a year is lost in productivity because Americans are sleep deprived.

So while getting started early can help you do more during the day, so can hitting the sheets for some much needed shut eye.

Have productivity tips of your own to share? Tweet them to us @MajesticSteel.

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