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One of the biggest challenges for many people running businesses is a lack of time.

There is so much to do but only so many hours in the day - and those hours seem to fly by. Where does the time go? How can what appears to be a day oozing with the potential to get lots done be over so quickly, with few items ticked off the to-do list?

A big part of the problem is a lack of productivity and priority setting. While many of us may have daily or weekly plans or to-do lists, the process of executing them does not get as much attention as it deserves or needs.

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One of the biggest culprits is a lack of discipline, which cuts off productivity and priority setting at the knees. Even though there are goals in place to get projects and tasks done, and deadlines to meet, far too often we allow things that are not as important to get in the way.

It could be a lunch with a friend or colleague that seems like a good idea but eats up two hours. It could be a coffee meeting that seems like a quick proposition but takes at least an hour. Or it could be a sales meeting with someone whose prospects of becoming a potential client are pretty low but you decide do it anyway - despite the fact it will consume two hours of your time.

One of the most effective ways to counter these distractions - and, in the process, boost your productivity and your ability to establish priorities - is to learn how to say "no." It means being diplomatic, but it's an easy and powerful way to save and manage your time.

When you say "no" it gives you more time to focus on the most important tasks. Not having distractions that kill productivity allows you to do a better job of prioritizing what needs to be done and to be as efficient with your time as possible.

Saying "no" is not easy, of course. The idea of investing an hour of your time does not seem that "expensive." Many of us have a sense of obligation to attend a sales meeting even though the prospects for business may not be good, or to meet someone for coffee, which kills an hour that could have been better spent.

It comes down to being disciplined and recognizing that time is precious. It makes no sense to waste hours on tasks that take away from more important priorities such as work, personal time and family. But at the end of the day, it also means ending the day with a sense of accomplishment and a to-do list that gets attacked rather than nibbled.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting , a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers 'stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups - Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye - so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences.

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About the Author
Content/Communications Strategist

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a strategic communications and content consultancy that works with start-ups and fast-growing companies looking to drive their marketing, communications and content activities. More

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