With the right tools and services at your disposal, you can stop staying late and start leaving the office on time-maybe even early.
Master Your To-Do List. A good to-do list is the cornerstone of office efficiency. Producteev is a free Web-based task manager you can access from anywhere: Web, e-mail, instant messaging, or your iPhone. It can sync your tasks with Google Calendar, allow you to review them, receive reminders, and add a widget to your iGoogle homepage, too. However, there is no Outlook integration, and you won't find apps for Android or BlackBerry.
Remember The Milk, another task-management heavyweight, offers companion apps for all smartphone platforms-though you need a Pro account ($25 a year) to use them. Toodledo Pro, offers similar capabilities for $15 a year.
Keep Interruptions to a Minimum. Keep interruptions from colleagues to a minimum with Outlook's auto-responder. Use it to let people know that you're heads-down in a project and won't respond to e-mail or phone calls today.
You can also buy a pair of headphones. You don't necessarily have to listen to music, but the simple act of wearing headphones creates the perception that visitors are violating "private time," and so they come back later.
Rescue Yourself From Endless Meetings. Schedule a fake phone call. Enlist a trusted friend to call you at a specific time, or tap a fake-call app on your smartphone. Fake-A-Call for iPhone emulates real calls from real contacts (or a fictional doctor, lawyer, etc.) at designated times. It will even play a script for you to repeat so the call sounds authentic. Nothing gets you out of an endless meeting like, "Sorry, but I have to take this."
Get Home From Work Faster. Fire up Beat the Traffic on your BlackBerry or iPhone to map out traffic trouble spots in your area. The app also has a traffic-camera option that shows real-time images from along your route, as well as a Forecast button that projects what conditions will be like in 20 minutes, 40 minutes, an hour, etc. Both features are great for when you don't know what's causing a backup—an accident, a cop on the side of the road—and you want to see if it makes sense to get off at the next exit or to stick it out.
Finish Up at Home. Take your laptop anywhere—home, the ballpark, a beach in Bermuda—and "dial in" using remote-access software. You can get everything you need without spending a penny. Find out more in "Free Remote-Access Tools for Windows and Mac."