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7 ways to make each hour count more

(MoneyWatch) You can easily work eight hours a day. You probably work nine or 10 hours a day on a regular basis. Sometimes you even work 12 hours or more. But no matter who you are, you cannot work 25 hours per day without changing the laws of space and time. There is simply a hard limit to how many hours you can throw at a problem in any given day or week.

Given that we all face the same limit, why is it that some people accomplish so much more than others?

I thought about this question a lot, recently, while writing a book on how successful people spend their workdays. In any given field, you can find someone who's a total outlier on productivity. For instance, I interviewed LeUyen Pham, an artist who illustrates up to nine children's books a year, which is the equivalent of producing hundreds of paintings -- something few artists do. I also profiled a small wealth management firm that's been growing 35 percent per year during years when the economy has slumped.

What I discovered is that these highly productive people tend to have certain disciplines that enable them to make each hour count more. It's not enough to be efficient -- though of course they are. Squeezing more minutes out of an hour by scheduling shorter phone calls is the equivalent of cutting coupons to lower a grocery bill. It's helpful.

But real wealth -- in time or money -- requires more. It requires investing for growth. Successful people know that each work hour needs to be invested, rather than spent, to turn the 2,000 to 3,000 work hours you have each year into a life's work you can be proud of.

So what's the secret? In interviews with highly productive folks, I found this magic came down to seven daily practices:

1. Mind your hours. Know exactly how long things take and how long you work, so you can optimize your hours based on reality, not fantasy.

2. Plan. Get in the habit of thinking through things before you do them, so time is allocated wisely.

3. Make success possible. Limit your to-do list, but hold yourself accountable for everything you commit to doing.

4. Know what is work. Evaluate the opportunity costs of all claims on your time. Say no to anything that isn't moving you forward. Say yes to things that make you more productive -- like taking breaks -- even if it doesn't immediately look like work.

5. Practice. Spend time every day working to get better at the skills associated with your job.

6. Pay in. Add to your career capital account daily.

7. Pursue pleasure. Being happy at work makes you more productive and creative. So how can you spend more hours working on projects that excite and intrigue you, and fewer hours on projects that don't?

In the middle of a dreary Tuesday, work hours can seem infinite. But they aren't, and life isn't either. Making each hour count more is the secret not only to getting more done, but also to getting more done that matters.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user GettysGirl4260
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