I need more hours in the day, and I assume you do as well. Between our personal and professional lives, there’s always too much to do and not enough time to do it.

But despite these challenges, I’m constantly looking for ways to do two things:

1. Eliminate distractions
2. Make better use of “down time”

If you’re trying to do the same, here are eight things I’d recommend trying. Collectively, I think they effectively give me back about three hours every day.

Don’t drive
We waste a lot of time in the car, driving. Except for returning a few phone calls, this isn’t very productive time typically. If you can take the bus, other public transportation, or even carpool with coworkers, you can use part of that time to get caught up on other work. Catch up on email offline, brainstorm something without other distractions, and work through other things on your to-do list. Worst case, catch up on some of your reading. Any of that is better than stop-and-go traffic.

Always have something to read with you
Everywhere you go, carry something you want to read. It can be printed materials (newspapers, magazines, printed-out articles), or it can be saved content on your SmartPhone. For example, on my iPhone I have access to my RSS feeds via Google Reader, a mobile version of ReadItLater that syncs Web articles I want to read, and also an iPhone version of Kindle software to catch up on a book I’m reading. There are so many times during the day when I’m waiting, or in a line, that can be used for a few minutes to catch up on some of this.

Avoid and cancel meetings
Do you really need to attend every meeting on your schedule? Have you yourself scheduled meetings that can be more effectively handled with a 5-10 minute conversation in the hallway? I’d be willing to bet that 25% of your meetings this week aren’t worth your time. Figure out which ones they are, and get your time back.

Keep your email offline, all the time
If you use Outlook in particular, right-click on the icon in the lower right-hand corner of your screen and select “Work Offline”. This will essentially “freeze” the email in your inbox currently, and queue up anything in your Outbox to sync when you want to. This helps you focus on what’s at hand, without getting distracted in real-time by new incoming messages. Click the send/receive button when you want to, but otherwise stay more focused and more productive without the constant distractions.

Forward your phone to voicemail when you need/want to focus
Most phones and phone systems give you the ability to point inbound calls directly to voicemail. If you need to focus on something, shouldn’t you turn off this distraction as well? You don’t have to do this all day. But if the project in front of you will take 30 minutes to get done, don’t let things like new emails and phone calls distract you. That 30-minute project could take 60-90 minutes easy if you check email, take a call, and have to get re-engaged and focused again.

Get up earlier
Would it really be that hard to get up 30 minutes earlier? This may not be your most productive, awake time. But an extra 30 minutes (when the rest of the house is still sleeping) could be used for reading, exercise, whatever you want. This alone gives you an extra 3.5 hours a week, and that’s a lot of time.

Do your most important 1-2 tasks/projects FIRST every day (before email and voicemail)
At the beginning of each day, you already know what 1-2 things are most important to accomplish. But most of us, before tackling those projects, check email and voicemail and quickly get distracted by the day’s interruptions and fire-drills. Nine times out of ten, those distractions can wait until your most important tasks are finished. Get them done first, and I guarantee you’ll feel (and be!) far more productive every day.

You probably aren’t delegating to others actively enough. You’re probably doing too much yourself, including things might be more efficient to be done by others (and sometimes with better results). You could be using a service like TimeSvr to get small tasks done by someone else. You could use eLance to outsource a variety of administrative projects. You could use ActiveWords to shortcut frequently-used activities on your computer. Long story short, you’re working too hard and doing too much. Do less yourself, but get the same and more done.