Do you read your e-mail before doing your priority projects? Do you allow people to burst into your office to talk to you? Do you try desperately to get things done but experience constant interruptions?

Removing any of these top 7 time wasters can clear your schedule so you can get to work and stay focused on priorities. When you practice your ability to focus and take action to get the job done, your time-management ability will soar.

1. The E-Mail Time Waster

Are you constantly checking e-mail? Do you go to your e-mail in-box before or instead of your high-priority projects? Does receiving and replying to e-mail occupy your thoughts all day long? Schedule e-mail free periods of the day. Perhaps set 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. as your “hour of power” when you mentally prepare for the day and prioritize – before you let checking e-mail eat up your morning.

2. The Constant-Interruptions Time Waster

Do people waltz into your office unannounced? Do they “hang out” and talk about things that aren’t related to work? To ensure focused concentration, block out time when nobody is allowed to interrupt you. Close the office door. Put up a sign that says, “Focus time. Come back in an hour” or, “With a client.” If you have an assistant, he or she can also guard your office door to limit interruptions.

3. The “I’m Distracted” Time Waster

Are you easily distracted by your surroundings? Does the noisy bustle of your office take you off track? You need to buffer yourself from things that catch your attention. If there’s a loud meeting going on next to your office, close your door. If you work in a cube and the computer clicking and beeping is getting to you, try playing relaxing music on a headset. Have enough background noise or “white noise” to keep your mind focused.

4. The Must-Pick-Up-the-Phone Time Waster

You’re working intensely on a year-end report due in two hours, when your phone rings. Out of habit, you grab it. You immediately want to hang up and explain that you’re not available, but it’s an important client. An hour later, you try to pick back up on the report, feeling your heart rate race. If you can’t control the urge to answer the phone, turn it off during highly focused work times.

5. The “I’d Rather Be Doing Something Else” Time Waster

Let’s face it. Work isn’t always fun. Your mind is creative, so you may find yourself getting distracted. But you have to perform, to get key things done, or your job or business will be in jeopardy. Do you daydream to avoid doing what’s in front of you? Does surfing the Internet suddenly seem like the most interesting thing to do at work? Wasting time by doing non-important and non-urgent tasks, such as jumping to a website to order digital photo prints, will set you back on projects and extend your work days. If you find yourself diving into things other than work, limit them to five minutes. Then get back to your top projects.

6. The Self-Interruption Time Waster

Your office door is shut. You’re focusing intently on writing your company’s e-newsletter, when, “Ding!” a text message arrives on your cell phone. You pick it up immediately and respond, at length, about what you’ll bring to your friend’s house for dinner Friday night. By the time you finish exchanging text messages, you’ve forgotten that great quote you came up with for the article. Block out all those things that lead you to interrupt yourself. Unless it’s used for business purposes, turn off your cell phone.

7. The Can’t-Say-No Time Waster

“Can you take on an extra, after-hours work assignment?”
“Sure, no problem.”
“I know your plate is full, but can you fill my spot on the marketing project?”
“OK. I’m sure I can move something around.”
Not saying “No” to assignments you have no business taking on in the first place leads to wasting your time. Sure, it’s great to lend a hand when you can, but not at the expense of your key projects. If a project suffers because you took on coordinating the office holiday party, your boss isn’t going to understand. It’s your job to prioritize. Expand your use of “No,” “No thanks,” and “I can’t this time, but I’d love to in the future when I have an opening.” Your performance will increase, and you’ll have more time to choose where to best spend your hours.

Reduce just 3 of these top 7 time wasters with the above tips and your time-management skills will blossom. Fill this new time with actions that will drive you toward your top priorities—and toward results!

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