Work Smarter, Better, Faster

Maxed out on time? Steal these productivity tips from busy pros and plow through that daunting to-do list.

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DON'T LINGER OVER DEADLINES: "When I'm faced with a tough decision, I give myself 48 hours to resolve the problem—long enough to prevent me from making impulse decisions and also enough time to weigh my options. It's easy to waste time on all the pros and cons, but when you have only 48 hours to decide, you focus on the big picture." - Lynn Truong, 34, editor, wisebread.com, a personal-finance website, Los Angeles

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SPELL OUT YOUR TASKS: "When I write my to-do list, I give myself clear orders, not reminders. So instead of 'Call the store,' I'll write, 'Call Dave at Treat Cupcake Bar to get update on store design and build-out.' I never wonder what the task means when I look at my list later, and the actionable order prompts me to actually do it." - Ani Collum, 34, partner and retail consultant, Retail Concepts, Boston

KEEP DISTRACTIONS TO A MINIMUM: "The person who keeps a candy dish in her office has people popping in all day for sweets. So I never keep treats in my office. I also bought cute but uncomfortable furniture so visitors won't linger." - Lindsey Waldrep, 39, VP of marketing, Crossville, Inc., Crossville, Tennessee

BE PICKY ABOUT MEETINGS: "When I get a meeting request, I ask myself, What's the point of the meeting? What will we get out of it? Does this need to be done now? Those questions help me determine whether the meeting can wait or whether it needs to happen at all." - Erin Hopmann, 30, founder, dabble.co, a purveyor of online workshops, Chicago

TEXT INSTEAD OF E-MAIL: "My clients have my cell number and know to text me instead of call or e-mail. I respond faster via text, even while sitting in meetings." - Lauren Fitsch, 30, CEO of The Coaching Collective, a management consulting firm, Washington, D.C.

PUT OUT FIRES QUICKLY: "If someone grabs me as I'm heading out the door, I say that they have the time it takes to ride the elevator from our office to the lobby—12 floors—to tell me what the problem is. When people know they have a time limit, they speak fast." - Amy Felmeister Clark, 34, VP, The Thomas Collective, a PR firm, New York City

BE BLUNT WITH COLLEAGUES: "It can be awkward, but don't be afraid to tell a coworker that you just don't have time to chat. To that end, I try to IM colleagues instead of popping by their offices. I get answers much faster without the pressure to socialize." - Jessica Anselmi, 25, senior account executive, Cone Communications, Boston

DON'T LET CALLS EAT UP YOUR DAY: "When I'm on a conference call that requires me to look at something on-screen, I keep a laptop right beside my desktop. That way, I can do other work if the conversation turns to a subject unrelated to me." - Adrienne Williamson, 25, vehicle validation engineer, General Motors, Rochester Hills, Michigan "

ENSURE YOUR NETWORKING PAYS OFF: "On the back of my business cards, an inscription reads, 'P.S.—we met at,' with a blank line for me to fill in the location. Later, people don't have to scratch their heads wondering where we met--and I make more contacts because people actually remember me." - Erica Domesek, 30, founder, P.S.—I Made This, a DIY media company, New York City

DIVIDE YOUR CLOSET: "To get dressed faster, I split my walk-in closet into 'day' and 'night' sections. So in the morning, I turn right, to my row of shift dresses and daytime pumps. If I'm going to a cocktail party, I turn left, where I keep my evening dresses and heels." - Terry Galvez, 52, president, Paradigm Event Management, Washington, D.C.

LEVERAGE YOUR WORKOUT: "I carry a handheld recorder to capture ideas that pop into my mind when I'm running. The endorphin rush makes me more creative, and I don't have to carve out time to brainstorm later." - Erin Kelly Bartelma, 32, sport psychology counselor, BE Balanced Studio, San Diego

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