Get more done in less time by taking control of your time.

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It seems we’re all constantly trying to squeeze more activity into less time. We buy ourselves cute timers and trendy apps that promise to boost productivity. We multitask, or we insist that multitasking is a myth. We declutter, turn off our devices, wake up earlier, teach ourselves to say no, slay “energy vampires.” We especially bemoan the time sucks of meetings, email and social media.

Sometimes it even seems we spend more time thinking and talking about productivity than, um, actually being productive.

But as is so often the case, the simplest approach is the best:

The key to better productivity is maintaining a consistent routine.

Sure, it sounds unglamorous, but consistent routine can get us where we want to go faster, and more reliably, than all the dramatic goal-setting and deadline-blasting in the world.

Also known as habit, routine is especially effective with low-value, mindless tasks that can be done at the same time every day without even thinking about them. But the same discipline that routine requires is also useful for big projects that need thought and effort. Some people put their focus on doing the most important thing first each day (willpower is usually strongest in the morning). Others find that working during off hours, while distractions are absent or asleep, is most effective for them.

The point is to set up a schedule and then stick to it. Easy, right?

Well, not always. Often you’ll find that creating a schedule is the easy part but sticking to it is almost impossible. Life happens. The phone rings, your email starts pinging, a customer calls. Your schedule is toast.

So identify which tasks can be transformed into mindless habits. Figure out which parts of your day are most at your discretion — early morning, just before quitting time — and make those the times you dedicate to your most important work. Finally — and this is important — ask yourself if everything you think you need to do really needs doing, and needs to be done by you.

In a world that seems to encourage us to be responsive to everybody’s agenda but our own, it can take determination, courage and even a bit of selfishness to keep to a consistent routine. But it’s always worth it.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at