NOW, more than ever, it is important to be productive at work. With the unprecedented number of layoffs, those still employed are left to do the jobs of their former co-workers. They are often doing the work of two people. This means they are working longer hours when they would rather be at home with their families.

Give me more time

If you had one more hour a day, how would you spend it?

More than half of those polled in a survey said that they were only more productive at work, they would spend more time with their families. Instead, the work piles up, time speeds by, and you play tug-of-war between your task lists and your desire for personal time.

Here are some time-tested methods to apply to your everyday routine. You will optimise your time at work, so you can enjoy life outside the office.

1. Silence your visual noise

Work on silencing your visual noise - the clutter in your workspace. More than a quarter of those surveyed say they can't concentrate with a messy desk. Eliminate unneeded items - paper piles, empty cups, even unnecessary cables. For example, I use a wireless optical mouse, which not only eliminates wires but also the mouse pad.

2. Tame the e-mail ogre

E-mail can either be your friend or foe, depending on how you use it. While it can be efficient, it can also be a big distraction. Do you check your inbox each time you are alerted to new mail? Is Instant Messenger stopping the delivery of your work?

Rather than read your e-mail whenever it comes in, set aside specific times a day to read and respond to it. Create signature files for common responses to questions. Use filters to automatically organise your incoming mail. Instead of firing off a long e-mail message, call or meet with the person.

3. Take a productivity pause

Even a five-minute walk around the building will help clear your mind and give you new perspective. You will return to your workspace ready to tackle your work with new energy.

4. Continuously improve

Monitor your activities throughout the day and ask yourself: "Is there a way I can improve how I do this? Can I accomplish this in fewer steps?" There are lots of ways to shortcut your tasks if you invest a few minutes to learn. Macros and programmable keys on your keyboard and mouse can help you save time and accomplish more.

5. Redeploy the troops (your past work)

Don't start from scratch if you have already created work you can re-use, even if it's just a part. If you need to write a memo, start with the e-mail message you wrote to your boss on this topic. You have already invested time to compose and craft your message and spell check. Tweak that work to fit it with your new text and save time.

6. Tickle your tasks

"Tickle" refers to objectively deciding that something isn't important enough to spend your time on today. When you subjectively put something off, that's procrastination!

How do you track those tickled tasks so they don't get lost? You can do it electronically, by rescheduling the task for a later date. If there are documents related to the task, use a tickler file (also known as an everyday sorter), which has folders for 1 to 31 and Jan to Dec.

Just drop documents related to the meeting, phone call, training or task in the 1 to 31 folder corresponding to the date of the event. That cleans it off your desk, so you don't need to focus on it until the day it comes up. But make sure you check your tickler daily, so you don't miss something important.

7. Practise saying "no"

Most people are invited to participate in work or non-work endeavours and don't know how to say "no".

If you are asked by a co-worker to attend a holiday party-planning meeting and are not interested, say: "Thank you for the invitation. I'm going to pass on the planning committee this year." By saying "no", you'll focus your energies on projects that are more stimulating to you.

By applying a few of these ideas, you will see a tremendous impact on your productivity. I know this because for five years, we tracked groups that completed my productivity training. Eight weeks after the session, we followed up.

Before the session, participants reported an average of 2.5 hours a day being wasted per person. Two months after the session, they turned an average of 1.5 of those hours into highly productive time, focusing on high-payoff activities. Based on their salary figures, we calculated this equalled nearly $10,000 of increased productivity per person per year. A seminar of 25 attendees was worth $250,000 in higher productivity. Based on all direct costs for the training, companies saw a 2,000 per cent return on investment.