If you’ve ever looked at the time while you’re working and gasped “Three o’ clock?! Where has the day gone??” then you’re in good company. Some days just seem to disappear from underneath you without anything substantial getting done.

Well here’s the truth: there are all kinds of little odd jobs and distractions that add up to a chunky part of the working day, and that’s where you’re probably losing your time. It’s like how that bowl on your sideboard gets filled up with pennies and when you finally get around to counting it you find you’ve got enough for a large latte. It all adds up. So here are four ways you can get more out of your day.

1. Settle, don’t flit

If you’re constantly switching back and forth between different tasks you’re going to end up spending more time on the in-between stage than you will actually doing anything. No matter how good you think you are at multi-tasking there’s always a short adjustment period where your brain has to refocus. So it’s far more efficient to settle down to one job, then move on to another once it’s done. If you feel like it’s difficult to concentrate on one thing for a long time, then set goals to reach whenever you start something and don’t flit until you’ve reached them – decide you’ll reply to ten emails, for example, before you move on to something new for a while.

2. Give your “small” jobs a trial period

There are always those jobs that you think are going to be quick things and end up taking far longer than you expected. When you start what you consider to be a minor task, give yourself a time limit – say, ten minutes – and if you realise it’s going to take longer than that you can put it on the to do list and schedule a time to finish it. Then you can go back to doing the meatier tasks so that by the end of the day you haven’t got all your little things done but your important jobs still looming.

3. Give yourself a break

If you find yourself getting restless and distracted it can often be better to give in to it rather than struggle on for hours not really doing anything but not letting yourself relax either. If, at the first signs of procrastination, you instead say “OK, a fifteen-minute break it is,” then you’re giving yourself permission to make a cup of tea and rest your brain for a short while, which will refresh you and get you back to it more quickly than lots of faffing around that will just leave you feeling guilty.

4. Don’t make unnecessary work for yourself

Listen, we’re all guilty of trying to do too much sometimes, but the fact of the matter is that there are only so many hours in the day and piling too many things on your plate at any one time is a guaranteed way to (a) exhaust yourself and (b) disappoint yourself. Some people advocate limiting your to do list to a maximum of six items a day, which forces you to prioritise and makes it far easier to reliably tick everything off.

Likewise, don’t create work by taking on duties that you don’t need to do, such as sending reminders to people you have meetings with the next day, or trying to coordinate your appointment book with your personal calendar. And, if you give your customers the option of booking with you online then you don’t even need to worry so much about answering calls. The tools are there, so take advantage of them!

Published on 7 April 2016