As one of the nation's underemployed, naturally my new year's resolution is to get un-underemployed, perhaps even overemployed. But since this was also my resolution last year, I better go about it differently in 2010.

Luckily, I subscribe to an invaluable service called Help a Reporter Out, which connects journalists with sources. Normally I get 5-10 responses when I post a query, just enough to create an impression of a national zeitgeist. But when I asked other self-employed people for their best productivity tips, I was immediately deluged, eventually receiving a whopping 87 responses.
Something tells me the economic recovery may take awhile.

Still, I was psyched to get so much advice. After all, the fact that these businesspeople responded so fast indicates that they are go-getting professionals and I want to get some go myself. So, based on their frequency of mention, here are Dr. Marco's Five Best Ways to Increase Productivity, despite the fact I didn't think them up and my doctorate is honorary.

1) OBLITERATE the Internet -- I received this advice more than any other. (Ironic considering how quickly everyone responded. And that I'm offering the advice on a Web site.) But as The Daily Show's Jon Stewart said, "The Internet is just a world passing notes around in a classroom."

Oakland resident Lauren Gard, who freelanced in public relations for the last two years, simply turned off the wireless switch on her laptop. "Seems obvious," she says, "but taking away the ability to go online can help, mentally, even though I know I can easily switch it back on."

When Lauren turns the Internet off, she turns the alarm clock on, as do many others, often keeping track of the hours as if they were billable. As Helene Segura, a personal organizer in San Antonio, says "Every minute spent off task is preventing me from earning revenue."

2) DEDICATE a space -- For years, I've extolled the virtues of working in bed like hookers and Winston Churchill, but staying home all day in your pajamas also looks suspiciously like clinical depression. Now that I've rented office space, I find that packing up in the morning as if I were embarking on a polar expedition automatically focuses me. And I'm getting more work done, which will hopefully make up for the rent.

Those who do work at home suggest acting as if you don't. Steven Brown of Mighty Pen Marketing takes a 10-minute walk outside just to create a bit of that "arriving at the office" feeling, adding, "It also motivates me to change into street clothes on days when I don't have any client meetings."

And personal development specialist Nacie Carson recommends having the "talk" with your family, roommates, friends, and pets: "When you're in your office they need to treat you like you were really outside of the house at an employer's office. That means they can't drop your nephews off in the middle of the morning because 'you're home.'"

3) DELEGATE your tasks -- John Olson, CEO of Graystone Industries, one of the 10 largest pond, waterfall and fountain distributors in the U.S., tries to free himself up to do the work only he can do. "My wife reminds me that when I work in our business I make $200-$300 an hour," he says. "When I work around the house I save the $10-$15 an hour that I have to pay the local handyman."

A few others mentioned hiring virtual assistants, but until we have the holodeck, there's no way Balbir in Mumbai can pick up my drycleaning. So I'm hoping for an intern. Because learning to change the oil in my car is a valuable life skill.

4) MOTIVATE yourself -- "A quick look at the stack of bills on the desk can keep me focused on work," says Leslie Truex of workathomesuccess.com. Similarly, Sheryl Selin of theinspiredsolo.com recommends staying on task by placing a picture of your family where you can see it. Taking that one step further, I'd suggest posing them in rags on the curb with a cardboard sign reading "Hungry."

Certified coach Marsha Egan suggests placing a $ sign next to every activity on your To Do list that will impact your business's bottom line. "This is a quick way to make sure you are working on the tasks that will enhance your business," she says. Or write it on your children's foreheads because this is how much they're costing you.

5) MASTICATE the frog -- A number of people, including gazillionaire business coach Brian Tracy, recommend this approach based on the quote attributed to Mark Twain: ""If you know you have to swallow a frog, swallow it first thing in the morning. If there are two frogs, swallow the big one first."

I assume he means the most difficult task. But just in case, better get Balbir in Mumbai to eat it for you.

And that, my friends, is The Upside.

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