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Five Simple Ways to Boost Productivity

Follow these common-sense tips to get more stuff done -- faster.

Odessa Hopkins
Odessa Hopkins
Courtesy of Peggy Morris Photography

Odessa Hopkins knew she wasn't spending her time as wisely as she could. The owner of a small Greenbelt, Md., marketing and advertising consulting firm called Another Approach Enterprises, was always juggling projects and keeping busy. But she "would work on a lot of things all day long, but at the end of the day I didn't really finish anything," says Hopkins, 52. While client deadlines were met, she says projects were sometimes taking longer than they should because she was juggling so much.

In 2009, she sought the help of a productivity coach and began learning ways to better manage her time. "Whenever people think about deadlines, they think about only the deadline that someone else gives them -- not their own deadline," says Hopkins, who also owns CEO Business Café, a local meeting venue for entrepreneurs. "Now, I give myself deadlines all the time."

Time-management coaches say entrepreneurs often waste a lot of time in their day, but there are strategies for being more productive. Consider these five tips to get more done in a day.

1. Break projects into smaller pieces with deadlines. You can start by prioritizing activities for every day, writing a to-do list each night and scheduling each task, suggests St. Louis, Mo.-based productivity coach Cathy Sexton. For example, Hopkins realized she needed to place a higher priority to projects based on their revenue-generating capability. Once she had a list of what to tackle first, she scheduled a specific time on her electronic calendar to handle each item.
"If you don't block out your time, everything else is going to get in the way," Sexton says. Also, consider keeping a timer next to your desk to make sure you keep to your deadlines.

2. Delegate tasks that don't generate revenue. Bookkeeping, payroll and copywriting are three tasks entrepreneurs often try to handle themselves to save money. But they often aren't qualified or equipped to handle these tasks and end up losing valuable time that could be spent on revenue-generating activities, as Hopkins learned. "They end up doing what I call lower-value tasks that others could be doing for them," says Audrey Thomas, a Minneapolis-based productivity coach. Business owners should realize, Thomas says, that outsourcing these activities allows them to devote more time to making money.

Related: Richard Branson on the Art of Delegation

3. Stop obsessively checking email. This was another huge time-waster for Hopkins, as it is for many entrepreneurs, especially when messages are constantly flooding your inbox and distracting you from other important work. "I'd say I spend more time talking to my clients about managing email than anything else," Thomas says. She recommends setting your email program to retrieve messages only manually -- when you press a button to check it -- or no more frequently than every 90 minutes. Moreover, she says, emails that are easy to respond to should be answered immediately, so you're not wasting time reading over the same messages again.

4. Take advantage of technology shortcuts. You likely already use Microsoft Outlook, Excel and other common software programs with built-in time-saving features. Yet many business owners end up wasting time because they never learn how to properly use these programs -- and the shortcuts. For instance, Microsoft Outlook lets people move items from their inbox directly onto their calendars, but many people still manually create calendar items, says Peggy Duncan, a time-management expert in Atlanta. Simply taking a class or reading a book about how to use common software programs can save a lot of time over the long run, Duncan says. "Any situation you bring up, there is technology out there to make that work basically go away," she adds. "But people won't spend the time learning how to use it."

Related Slideshow: 10 iPad Productivity Apps

5. Train your employees adequately. A big time drain for business owners is employees who constantly ask questions, interrupting their day. If this is happening to you, the problem may be that they're not adequately trained to do their job, warns Duncan. So make sure you have the resources and training procedures in place to best prepare and support employees in their work. Another big time waster, she adds, are customers who call with questions that could otherwise be answered on your company's website. One solution is to create a "Frequently Asked Questions" section that prominently displays the helpful information on your website. "It should be a no-brainer for your customers to do business with you," she says.

Kelly K. Spors is a freelance writer in St. Louis Park, Minn.

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