Schedule a specific time to check messages and return phone calls. It is easy to get off-track from a project when you are constantly answering phone calls. Instead, let the calls ring through to your voice mail and schedule a specific time to return calls. Usually, it is preferable to set an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon so clients have two opportunities to reach you. Be sure to let callers know what times of the day you are checking messages and returning calls, and leave an alternative number for true emergencies.
Turn off your e-mail or Blackberry. The constant pinging sound of new e-mail coming in is a major distraction. It is tempting to continually check your e-mail when you should be writing that proposal or preparing a client presentation. So commit to checking your e-mail once an hour, or only a few times during the day. This will help you avoid getting side-tracked and off task.
Prepare an escape plan. Whether you work from home or in a corporate office, there will be times when unexpected visitors drop by, overstay their welcome, and manipulate your time. It could be a co-worker, spouse, or an excessively chatty client, so have an evacuation plan ready. Once it becomes apparent that the conversation has become a time waster, politely let the visitor know you need to return to work. If they don't take the hint, stand up, excuse yourself, and walk out the door. You don't have to be rude. Let them know you have another engagement or need to go get something in another room - anything to get you out of the office and out of the conversation.
Save the paperwork for after office hours. Invoicing clients and handling your accounting functions is probably not your idea of a fun evening. However, the object is to make the most use of your workday and gain billable hours. The truth is, you are likely to be more efficient with your paperwork if you dedicate an hour or two of time before or after normal office hours. You will have fewer distractions and can quickly get it out of the way.