How to cram more work into fewer hours

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(MoneyWatch) Are you taking Summer Fridays this season? Sometimes companies will require employees who enjoy this perk to come early or stay later Monday through Thursday to make up the lost time. Other organizations simply require employees to finish their work in fewer hours. If the latter applies to you, here's how to fit 5 days into 4.5 -- without staying late or coming in early. And if you don't have Summer Fridays? You'll just be that much more efficient, all year long.

Guard your time
PerezHilton.com and ESPN.com, chatty co-workers, and games of Words With Friends cost you multiple hours per week, without you realizing it. "If you want to get as much productivity from 4.5 work days as you typically achieve in 5 days, you're looking at approximately one 'lost hour' in each work day that needs to be 'found,'" notes Kathleen Nadeau co-author of ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life. Make a conscious effort to stop these distractions by maintaining and referencing a "to do" list." Set your priorities and don't let non-urgent emails or requests from others divert you from your plan for the day," says Nadeau.

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Customize your "to do" list
There are a few different types of "to do" lists, says efficiency expert Andrew Jensen, founder & CEO of Sozo Firm, Inc., a business consulting firm. You can write tasks down as they come to you, and check them off as you go. You can organize them by importance, with things that need to be done ASAP at the top. Or you can arrange your daily list by your productivity schedule (see "Know if you're a morning person", below). Try out different methods but don't be too ambitious, which can backfire on you, says Jensen: "Don't put an entire week's worth of work on a single day's to-do list, or you'll be setting yourself up for failure." Instead, experiment with these daily lists to see which keeps you on track best.

Don't try to be a morning person...
...if you're not one. When are you most productive? When do you feel like taking a break for a walk around the block and an iced coffee? "The time of day that you're most productive will depend largely on your sleep schedule, your diet, and your individual body rhythms," says Jensen. Not only should you do important tasks when you're most fresh, but do busy ones (like organizing your schedule or checking email) when you're feeling less energetic. By maximizing your time, you'll fit more work into fewer hours.

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    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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