Like many professionals, I could spend—and have spent—entire days just going to meetings or responding to emails. To help you maximize your time in an incredibly busy world, here are my top four tips to increase productivity at work.

1) Deal with difficult tasks first thing

It’s human nature to procrastinate, especially when there’s something you don’t want to do—whether it’s a tough conversation with a client or an employee, or an aspect of your job that you just don’t like. But I’ve found that dealing with these tasks right away means that I can move on, mentally and emotionally, instead of carrying their weight around with me all day. It takes some discipline, but it works.

2) Control your email; don’t let your email control you

In my role, I have to keep up to date with trends and current events, so I subscribe to lots of newsletters and mailing lists. I get tons of emails each day—many of which are only tangentially related to my work. Take the time to unsubscribe to any communications that aren’t delivering value, rather than just deleting or ignoring them. Set aside pockets of time every day to review email, rather than dealing with each request the moment it hits your inbox. And train your staff to find other ways to communicate—be it texting or voice mail or just dropping by—so they don’t feel they have to put everything in an email, all of the time.

3) Manage meetings effectively

Ensure that there’s a valid reason for having the meeting in the first place. Then create an agenda and circulate it in advance, along with any background materials, so that you don’t waste time getting everyone up to speed. And make sure the meeting chair moves through the agenda efficiently. In my experience, nothing gets done in a two-hour meeting that couldn’t have been done in an hour or less, unless it’s long- term strategic planning. Speaking of which.

4) Carve out time for big-picture thinking

It’s hard to create a vision or develop a business strategy when you’re faced with a multitude of more immediate and pressing concerns, so block off time in your calendar for long-term planning. And make sure that you truly dedicate your time and mental energy to it: don’t answer the phone; don’t answer email. If you can, get out of the office. You’ll be surprised at how a change in scenery can foster greater innovation and creativity.

Do you have any productivity tips? Share them with us!

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