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Time management: 6 ways to improve your productivity

Meridith Levinson | Jan. 20, 2012
If you resolved earlier this month to work smarter, stop procrastinating and be more productive, your best intentions may have quickly been subverted by your regularly scheduled work routine.

3. Eliminate distractions. Eliminating distractions may not be a new time management tip, but Womack's advice for avoiding specific distractions—such as a niggling coworker or a nagging manager—is novel and effective.

If your manager is prone to interrupting you with questions, Womack suggests preempting her. For example, instead of waiting for your manager to show up at your desk or ping you, approach her first at a few minutes before the hour, say, a 10:52 or 10:55 AM, ideally before a meeting or call. He says to tell her, "I have a bunch of things I'm working on, and a meeting at 11, and I'm trying to get any interruptions out of the way. Do you have anything you need to tell me or ask me before my meeting and before my work gets underway?"

Another tip from Womack: If you have a quick question for someone but don't want to get caught up in a protracted conversation around it, call your contact (or stop by his desk) a few minutes before the hour, knowing that he might have a meeting on the hour and won't have time for chit-chat, either.

4. Identify verbs that need attention. Womack recommends organizing your to-do list around verbs, such as call, draft, review, prepare and schedule. Those are tasks you can generally complete in one sitting and that help move a larger project forward, he says.

If you have big-picture verbs on your to-do list, such as plan, discuss, create or implement, replace them with action steps that break down the big picture project, adds Womack. Doing so will help you get started and reduce any feelings of being overwhelmed.

5. Be prepared for bonus time. The next time you find out your flight's been delayed or your doctor is running late, don't get annoyed. Recognize that you've just been given the gift of "bonus time." If you bring some work with you wherever you go, as Womack suggests, you'll have the chance to tackle it, whether that's responding to email, making a call, reviewing a proposal or drafting a plan.

6. Use email shortcuts. Womack notes that both the BlackBerry and iPhone allow users to create quick keys or keyboard shortcuts when using the smartphones for email. He created several keyboard short cuts that call up boiler plate text that he frequently reuses. For example, if someone emails Womack asking him for information on how to use Microsoft Outlook more effectively, all he has to do is type his shortcut, "OL," which automatically populates his email with a response to the question. (This video demonstrates how to create these keyboard shortcuts on an iPhone 4S.)


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