Squeeze more hours out of your workday

Tons of coffee won't make you faster - but these behavioral insights might.

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By Tyler Cowen, Money Magazine contributing writer

(Money Magazine) -- Last month I talked about how to get your employees to work harder. (According to a survey by Salary.com, the average American wastes two hours a day on the job.) But how can you trick yourself into managing your workday more effectively? These four insights can help.

Control feels good. To make their jobs bearable, people tend to talk themselves into believing they have more control over their time than they actually do. That sets them up for procrastination. They put off their biggest, most stressful tasks for later in the day, then get burned by fires that inevitably flare up. It's easy to short-circuit this pattern: Always tackle your most important task first thing in the morning.

Penalties are more effective than rewards. So set up a penalty for lateness, and enlist your spouse or partner to enforce it. For example, tell your beloved that if you fail to deliver a report to your boss on time, you'll do all the dinner dishes for the next month.

Pride is a useful spur. Studies show that people who hold a weight-loss contest with someone else typically drop more pounds than people who diet on their own. Tap into the same competitive impulse by making a friendly bet with a co-worker that you'll beat the company's monthly sales quota before he does - and watch your urge to spend time surfing the web diminish.

Cleaning your inbox makes you think you're getting things done. Ha! Excessive BlackBerrying is one of the worst time-sucks around. Each day let five marginally important e-mails go unanswered. That will prove to you that you can say no.

Tyler Cowen is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To top of page

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