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Get More Done in Less Time

If you can't remember where you spotted those to-die-for frocks on sale, spend the majority of your day wading through your e-mail in-box or just can't find time to do everything you want to, help is on the way.

In search of shortcuts that really work, we tapped the know-how of Gina Trapani, author of Upgrade Your Life: The Lifehacker Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, Better to bring you tips on how to outsmart three common time stealers. But first, go grab a cape—your girlfriends may soon be calling you Superwoman.

TIME STEALER: Playing the Memory Game
Your brain is likely jam-packed with passwords, e-mail addresses and a host of other tidbits you need to function every day. Try to cram in a sliver of extra info and you'll only waste time trying to recall it later—or remembering where you jotted it down (calendar, notebook...napkin?)

THE FIX: Put your camera phone to work. Use it as a handheld scanner ready to instantly capture whatever detail you don't want to forget (and that could save you money!). Then, flip open your phone at any time to find the store hours of your favorite boutique, the wine you tried—and loved—at dinner, the sale price for the snazzy digital TV you saw in a store window or the brilliant white-board idea from the staff meeting.

TIME STEALER: To-Do Lists that Never Dwindle
Jotting down a wish list of all the tasks you'd like to accomplish can free your mind—and save them from dropping off your radar. But remember, the objective is to cross things off your list—and feel good about it. Miss that step and all that scribbling just gobbles up your precious time.

THE FIX: Limit the number of list items to 10—or however many you can safely commit to polishing off in a day (depending on the difficulty). That means full-blown projects that look overwhelming (think: clean hall closet) don't make the cut, says Trapani. Break unwieldy jobs like that into small, five-minute steps (for instance: sort shoes, toss broken hangers, pack up clothes that don't fit). Then add each step separately to your list and tackle one at a time.

What's more, give yourself the tools you need to get each job done—so you won't waste time tracking down details. Donating those poorly-fitting clothes? Write down the schedule-a-pick-up phone number. Returning a sweater on your lunch break? Staple the gift slip to your trusty list. Snagging a cousin's wedding gift? Scribble in the registry website. "Your list should be so complete that an assistant could complete every item without asking one question," says Trapani.

TIME STEALER: E-mail Gone Wild
Left untamed, an unruly in-box can place a large dent in your productivity—and eat into your leisure time. You'll only squander time hunting down details that are buried in an overflowing e-mail account.

THE FIX: Take charge of your in-box in two simple steps: 1) create an easy organizing system; and 2) process messages instantly and briefly. Start by setting up Trapani's three folders—Archive, Follow Up, Hold—to help you sort, track and review messages.

In your Archive folder, place messages you'll want to refer to later—those that contain completed threads and projects, or answered questions.

Reserve your Follow Up folder for tasks that require you to take action (let the sender know instantly you're working on it, and be sure to add the item to your to-do list).

Put delivery confirmation numbers and messages that you're waiting for others to follow up on in your Hold folder. Review this folder often and as projects wrap up, delete them or move them to the Archive folder. Then, get in the habit of deciding what to do with each e-mail (delete or file) on-arrival, says Trapani. Your ultimate goal: End every day with an empty in-box. If you're at full capacity, though, take baby steps. Rome wasn't built in a day—and your in-box didn't flood that fast either!

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