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Five Ways to Steal Back an Hour a Day

What would you do with another hour in the day—get a good night’s sleep for once, organize your workspace, update your resume? Bottom line, if you had more time, your personal life isn’t the only thing that would benefit. Eventually, with more rest and time to focus on the stuff that really matters, your career would probably get a boost, as well.

The bad news, of course, is that you’re stuck with the same 24 hours that everyone else has. While T-shirts and mugs like to point out that it’s the number of hours that Beyoncé has, you probably don’t have her staff. The good news is that you can get more out of those hours, if you stop wasting time on things that don’t benefit you. Whittle down your to-do list enough, and you can get back an hour or two of actual time.

Here’s how to get started:

1. Perform a time audit.

How much time do you spend each day looking at social media, or answering emails, or answering colleague questions? Answer: more than you think, most likely.

To find out how much time Facebook and coworker interruptions are really taking out of your day, keep a time diary. Start small, with just one day, and you’ll see that you’re probably spending a lot more time on things that don’t count than you can afford.

Once you’ve figured out where your time is going, the goal is to be ruthless but practical about how you allocate your hours going forward. Keep social media use down to a bare minimum, checking in only at set times. Perform tasks in batches, so you’re answering phone calls in one block of time, and processing reports in another. Commit to checking email just a few times a day, so you’re not always jumping when your inbox alert goes off — repeatedly interrupting your concentration and then struggling to get back to work.

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2. Book a meeting… with yourself.

If you’re like most office workers, you get your actual work done in between meetings. In real terms, what this means is that when you’re at your job, doing your job is last priority.

This is obviously totally backwards, and hurts your employer as much as it hurts you. To change things up, book work time in your meeting calendar, and keep those commitments as if they were lunch with the boss. If your workplace has conference rooms available, consider booking one from time to time and working from there. You’ll get a change of scenery, as well as a reminder that your real work counts.

3. Work in sprints.

Pick a task, look at the clock, and work until X amount of time has passed. You don’t need to commit to hour-long stretches; in fact, shorter sprints can be just as productive. When the sprint is done, take a quick break, and then embark on a fresh sprint.

4. Hire help when it’s cheaper than DIY.

OK, you can’t afford a pop star’s staff, but don’t assume you can’t afford any help at all. If you would earn more per hour working than you’d shell out to have someone clean your house, for example, it might be worth it to indulge — provided you use that time wisely.

Money is almost always tight for today’s worker… but so is time. If paying someone to mow the lawn, do your taxes, or organize your schedule saves enough time to allow you to earn more or do what’s most important to you, it might be cheaper to hire someone than to do it yourself.

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5. Let technology lend a hand.

We live in a golden age of productivity apps, and many of the best ones are free or low-cost. Share your Google calendar with your family, and stop wasting time on frantic last-minute phone calls to figure out where folks are supposed to be and when. Scrap your linear to-do list for an app that helps motivate you to tackle tasks, as well as track them. Ask your most productive friends which apps they can’t live without, and watch your life get more organized with a few clicks.

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