Be more efficient: 3 tips for leaving the office by 5

How would you like to leave work by 5 p.m., today and every day after? Depending on your workplace, that may not quite be possible. But we can all be more efficient with our daily tasks, says Julie Morgenstern, author of Never Check Email in the Morning. And that can help our careers as well as our overall happiness. "With the extraordinary stress of today's workplace, creating a vibrant personal life is one of the best investments you can make in your work," says Morgenstern.

So while this list will help you finish as much as possible on your to-do list, push yourself to leave when you can -- regardless if every last small task is tackled.

Below are Morgenstern's three best productivity tips. Follow them, and you'll spend less time at the office -- and leave by 5, or as close to it as possible:

Commit to leaving 30 minutes earlier than usual

Working moms experience this phenomenon: If you have something important to get home to (like a baby) you'll be more focused. "Committing to leaving earlier gives you a deadline and forces you to eliminate the little time wasters (silly interruptions, procrastination, and perfectionism) that eat up your day," says Morgenstern. Regardless of your parental status, don't let your day stretch needlessly on from 7 to 7 or 9 to 9: "Think of an activity -- dancing, reading, playing the guitar -- that you haven't done for a long time and that brings you instant happiness. Put it in your datebook as a nonnegotiable appointment with yourself, and watch the quality of your life transform," says Morgenstern.

Make an effort to stop multitasking

Recent research shows that multitasking may make us less efficient instead of more so. "By learning to focus fully on one project at a time, you can regain the extra hour or two," says Morgenstern. Think about your own multitasking scenarios. For instance, if your typical morning means catching up on emails, while completing a 2-hour project and casually catching up with your work colleague, it can take 3 hours. Instead, if you take 20 uninterrupted minutes to check emails, then do your 2-hour project, you'll have 40 minutes left over. Leave work 40 minutes earlier than usual and meet your work friend for a happy hour and a more relaxed conversation.

Keep your to-do list organized

"People who haphazardly write lists on stray notepads, Post-Its, and backs of envelopes waste time wondering what to do next and worrying that they're forgetting something. Choose only one tool (planner, notebook, smartphone) to track everything you need to do, and prioritize from the top down," Morgenstern suggests. That way, you'll spend 100 percent of your time completing your to-do list, not finding it. Bonus tip: Conquer the largest and most important tasks first, to make sure they get done (then, if you're running short on time, you can do things that don't need doing until tomorrow....tomorrow).

More on Moneywatch:
-- 3 ways to be instantly more efficient at work
-- 4 easy ways to be more productive at work by harnessing noise
-- Why most meetings are a waste of time, and what to do about it

  • Amy Levin-Epstein On Twitter»

    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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