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One-week career detox to get you back on track

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

Get back on track at work in one week with this five-day plan

Are you feeling unproductive at work? Like everything's just piled up so high you can't dig out? Stop and breathe. This five-day plan will get you back on track to just getting things done.

You'll start off slowly by adding only one new task per day. Then each day you'll do the previous day's task plus your new one.

Monday — Schedule some me-time

You read that right. Get up early on Monday and do all those piddly things you normally waste time with when you get to the office. Check Facebook, google Stephen Amell, call your grandma to check on her bunion, read SheKnows (hint, hint), whatever. Just get it all out of the way before you even get ready for work.

Tuesday — Set up your action list

It doesn't matter whether the list is pen and paper or electronic or how you format it, so long as it makes sense to you. I recommend using a notepad you can carry with you or an app you can sync to multiple devices.

What does matter, however, is how you see your tasks. Tony Wong, leading productivity and management consultant to multibillion dollar corporations, says you have to work in the right order. Start with tasks, which lead to milestones, which lead to achieving the ultimate goal.

Get back on track at work in one week with this five-day plan

Wednesday — Eliminate distractions and buckle down

The minute you get to work, pull out your trusty action list. What needs to get done today? That's what you'll be focusing on.

Don't check your email. Yes, I'm serious. Don't even open it. Don't go to the water cooler to chat, don't take phone calls (leave an outgoing message that you're working on a project and will get back to them later, and they should text you for emergencies only).

Find the hardest task on your list that can be done right now, the one you least want to do, and do it from start to finish. Unless the building is on fire, you do nothing else until it's done. Then and only then can you check your email. But after that, it's right back to your task list, doing the most important things first.

To ensure your time is respected, do something to make sure coworkers know you're not available unless it's an emergency. Lock your office door, put up a sign, wear noise-canceling headphones. If you're interrupted for something that isn't urgent, politely explain the situation and put them on your action list.

Thursday — Learn to take breaks

Americans have this notion that in order to get things done, we need to hump it from 9 to 5. Not so. John P. Trougakos, University of Toronto Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management, told The New York Times that your brain's ability to concentrate is similar to a muscle. After sustained use, it can become fatigued and needs rest to recover.

Only work for 60 to 90 minutes at a time, then take a 10-minute break. Walk around the office, have a snack, surf the web. Just do something not related to work.

Friday — Learn to schedule your time

The biggest time-suck during my workday is email. Most people can relate. Schedule some time each day (two or three times) to deal with email, and only check email during that time. Deal with the most important things first, and get rid of stuff you don't need. If your inbox is already out of control, add decluttering your inbox to your task list.

Also set aside a specific block during the day to do the following:

  • Take unexpected meetings with coworkers
  • Return all the phone calls you declined while eliminating distractions
  • Take meetings with potential vendors
  • Anything else that wasn't already on your task list

It's also important that you have a set time each day to handle the little stuff that comes up unexpectedly. When people learn that's your golden hour, they'll learn to approach you then. Even better, it gives you a specific end time so no one can blabber endlessly, and everyone knows they should have a specific agenda when they come to you. Because at the end time, you have to get back to work. You may need two of these blocks if you get a lot of requests, but don't add blocks just to accommodate a couple of people who don't like your first one.

Obviously, you have to be flexible sometimes, and it's OK to cut loose every once in a while, but get yourself back on track as soon as possible.

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