Many of us don’t exactly work a 40-hour week. If you love what you do, that might be fine, but it can leave little room for family, down time and the other non-work priorities we all have. Making the best use of our time – both at work and away from work – is becoming more important than ever.

There are plenty of books available to help you prioritize and focus, but Robert Pagliarini’s latest book does a nice job of tackling this problem from a professional and personal perspective. In fact, The Other 8 Hours spends more time helping readers get better control of what happens after 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday night.

I asked Robert to address a few questions about work/life balance, staying in control, and regaining perspective in the midst of another day of firedrills.

Why do some people have such a hard time focusing on the right work and projects every day? Why does our time get so far out of control?

It comes down to two things: focus and distractions. I’m not much into sports, or sport’s analogies, but here it goes. We have to know where our end zone is (i.e., focus) and we have to navigate through all of the people trying to tackle us (i.e., distractions).

So, first be clear on focus. You can have a lot of goals, interests, and projects, but you can only do one thing at a time. It’s up to you to sort through the 101 things you could do, and focus on the one thing that is most important. Start with your three year goals – that’s your direction and your end zone. Now take a step back and focus on moving the ball closer – those are your daily actions. I like to have a list of all of my next possible actions. If I have a five minutes before a meeting, I’ll scan down my list and tackle something that I can bang out quickly. If I’m flying cross-country or have a block of uninterrupted time at the office, I’ll jump look at those actions that are deeper and will take more time.

Most successful professionals wish they had more time with their family, but have a hard time making the work/family trade-off. How do you recommend these professionals balance more effectively?

Greed. You have to be greedy with your time. This means you have to protect your calendar at the office and in your personal life. Don’t accept meetings, commitments, or responsibilities without first asking yourself if it makes sense in the bigger picture. Everything you say “yes” to is something else you say “no” to. If you value family time, make it a priority and start saying no more often.

In the middle of a busy day – surrounded by fire drills and interruptions – how can one get focused, centered and quickly more productive on what matters most?

What’s the next action that will move me closer? This is the question you should be constantly asking yourself throughout the day. That single question cuts through all of the bull and gets you to focus on that one thing you can do right now. If you have to put out fires for half the morning, re-group and focus on the next action.

How can effective management of weekend time help us be more effective & efficient during the weekdays?

I think generally be conscious of time and disciplined in how we use it – whether that’s during the week or on the weekend – is a positive step toward getting the most from our day and our lives.