Overtime No More

15 ways to be more productive and avoid working long hours

For many, the five-day, 40-hour work week is a distant memory. More individuals are putting in 10 or more hours a day at the office than ever before. In fact, in a recent survey of 141 workers conducted by Steelcase Inc., more than half of those polled said they work over 40 hours a week. A third said they take work home at least one night a week.

But work need not dominate your life. One way to avoid long hours in the office is to prioritize your time and redefine your workplace parameters. This must start with controlling interruptions and badger-proofing your office.

It might mean a funny but tactful sign on your office door that says you’re extremely busy, or giving chatty callers a time limit. “There is nothing wrong with letting co-workers know you want to spend your time in the office working, but be cordial. You have to recognize the line of courtesy and not cross it,” says management consultant Michael V. Wilkins Sr., Ph.D., president of Wilkins & Associates in Frankfort, Illinois.

Below are 15 ways to make your workdays shorter and more productive:

  1. Limit phone calls. When under the gun, accept only important calls. Allow your assistant (if you have one) to field the others, but do return missed calls within 24 hours. .
  2. Call at choice times of the day. Initiate phone calls just before lunch, or near the close of the day when the other party is more likely to keep the conversation brief. .
  3. Don’t open junk mail. If possible, allow your assistant to screen your mail, separating the wheat from the chaff. Handle a piece of paper only once and act on it immediately. Don’t move it from one pile to another.
  4. Make an outline. Devise and follow an agenda. When a telephone conversation or meeting digresses, bring it back around–promising to discuss the other issues later.
  5. Remove extra chairs from your office. Visitors are not as eager to stay when they have to stand. Cover existing chairs with mail or files. Not only does it discourage the visitor from sitting down, it also signals that you’re busy.
  6. Reposition your desk. Move it so that your line of sight is not out your office door. This will limit thoughtless staring into the hallway or conversations with passersby .
  7. Meet uninvited visitors outside your office. By gathering in a meeting room or just outside your office, you limit needless banter.
  8. Work from a to-do list. Take 10 minutes each morning and list everything you need to accomplish. Check them off as they’re completed.
  9. Get organized. Maintain clearly marked files, and stop wasting precious time searching for misplaced documents.
  10. Stop smoking. Several smoking breaks throughout the day add up to wasted hours each week.
  11. Recognize your peak energy times. Do the tough tasks when your energy level is at its highest. Save routine work for low points of the day.
  12. Stop being a designated expert. Don’t position yourself as a know-it-all. You’ll be caught in the midst of several projects–none of which are your own. .
  13. Avoid
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