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Save the Day: How to Find an Extra Hour at the Office

Save the Day: How to Find an Extra Hour at the Office

By Caroline M.L. Potter

Everybody's trying to find ways to save these days, whether it be on food expenses, gas or payrolls. Layoffs or hiring freezes may prompt your employer to ask you to do the work of two -- or even three -- or to increase your output.

If you're already feeling like there aren't enough hours in the day to get your work done, you may wonder how you'll get more done. Don't despair. Donna Rae Smith, founder of Bright Side, a behavior-change firm near Cleveland, has tips to help you save at least an hour a day so you can carry your load without collapsing.

"These are five simple steps that anyone can begin using today to make themselves more productive and accomplish more -- with less stress," she says.

1. Make a V.I.T. (Very Important Task) List

It's easy to get mired in the mundane at work, so don't. "Don't become distracted by the insignificant or get caught in the swirl of busyness doing things that don't add value," Smith says. Keep your eye on your professional future to prioritize what's on your plate so you are more likely to move up.

"Obviously, the urgent and important go to the top of the list," she says. "Next, look at the important, but not urgent. These are tasks that, while important, can be done bit by bit, little by little." Responsibilities that don't fall into either category should be given a much lower priority. If you're worried about something sliding, review your list with your supervisor to make sure your expectations are the same.

2. Give Meetings a Makeover

Everyone talks about how much they hate meetings, and no one does anything about it -- except the smart folks at Procter & Gamble, a Bright Side client. "We removed the table from our conference room," says Bonnie Curtis, manager of Global Oral Care at P&G. "It's become a symbol of us creating an atmosphere of authenticity and productivity; our people feel that they are working in a safe and inclusive environment, which has resulted in them being open to new ideas."

In addition to this strategy, Smith says, "Brief, regular meetings to update progress, make decisions and commit to next steps are more efficient and effective than grand, comprehensive gatherings."

3. Email Is as Easy as 1-2-3

In the ultimate digital age, it may sound impossible, but if you want to save time you must break the cycle of email addiction. "Although it can be a wonderful productivity tool, email can become a burdensome nightmare," Smith says. She and her staff advise workers to restrict themselves to checking email just three times each workday -- once in the morning, once midday and a final time near day's end. Use your new-found time "doing what you need to be doing," she adds.

4. Get Chunked

Stop thinking of your time at work as a homogenous workday, and instead heed Smith's suggestion to work in "chunks" of time. Create them by cutting yourself off from other tasks and coworkers not related to the task at hand so you can completely focus. "[Chunks are] a great way to complete the urgent and important tasks [that are at the top of your list]," she says.

5. Swing Your Shift a Bit

Streamline your lunchtime by beating the crowds. "Go off-peak," she says. "Instead of eating lunch between noon and 1 p.m., go to lunch at 11 a.m. or 1:30 p.m." Not only will you enjoy better service and shorter lines, but during the relative peace while everyone else is at lunch, you'll also be able to focus and get more done.

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