Simple Ways to Save Hours of Your Time
Try these timesaving ideas to streamline your day, stay better organized, and win back lost time for yourself and your family.
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Jeanette Rowland of South Riding, Virginia, is a master at making every minute of her day count.
"I don't waste a lot of time. When I run errands I make a list, map out a route and, when it's possible, I try to go in the evening during the week," she says. "I pay my bills online and it cuts my time in half. I also do meal planning, which is another huge timesaver."
With two kids, it's made the difference between being stressed out and having quality time with her family. "We spend time doing the simple things like taking long walks, riding bikes, and playing board games. I also get to take a little time for myself," she says. To help you do the same, follow these tips, organized by the amount of time each strategy could save you every week.
Save at Least 1 Hour
Grocery shopping. Many grocery stores are open 24 hours a day, so take advantage of that. Avoid shopping during the peak hours of 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, and you'll cut your regular shopping time in half. That saves you about 45 minutes per trip.
Stockpile groceries in advance when deals are hot. And if you keep a supply of such products as paper goods, soaps, cereals, crackers, and canned soups, you'll save time by not running back to the store for that one necessary item you always forget to buy.
"Put your groceries through the checkout in categories and ask the courtesy clerk to bag them that way," says Teri Gault, who offers other resources to save shopping time at her Web site, www.thegrocerygame.com. "Once you get home, you can put it away quickly because it's already sorted."
Laundry. Saving all your laundry for large loads on the weekend takes away an entire day that you could be enjoying with your family.
"Do it daily, instead of wasting a Saturday," says Laura Stack, author of Leave the Office Earlier (Broadway, 2004). "You'll have just one load, which only takes 30 minutes between washing, drying, and folding."
Bills. If you prefer paying your bills by check rather than online, keep a portable bill-paying file handy. Pull it out when you're waiting for an appointment at the doctor, dentist, or beauty shop, and "maximize those minutes," says Molly Gold, whose company, GoMom, Inc., creates mom-friendly products.
"Keep a file stocked with stamps, envelopes, a calculator, your checkbook, and bills. I do 10 minutes of banking a day, five days a week," says Kristine Breese, author of Cereal for Dinner: Strategies, Shortcuts & Sanity for Moms Battling Illness (St. Martin's Griffin, 2004).
Getting out the door. If you routinely misplace your keys, hang a set on a peg near the door or attach them to a "clapper" key chain to minimize search time. Depending on how many times you use your keys, this can save you an hour per week.
"Have kids help make their lunches and pick out their school clothes before going to bed the night before," suggests Lolita Carrico, founder of the Web site modernmom.com.
Time-management expert Mark Lamendola recommends putting everything you grab in the morning in one place before you go to bed at night. "Lunch bags, briefcase, purse, and anything else you'll need. You can save 20 minutes by investing five the night before," he says.
Cooking. Most of the time you devote to making meals is actually spent juggling all the interruptions. Cut back your prep time by waiting until the kids have gone to bed. "Prepare pancake batter the night before," says Carrico. It only takes about five minutes to make, put in the fridge, and set out the syrup, skillet, and spatula you'll need. Small tricks like this can shave up to 20 minutes the next morning.
"To save wasted steps, look at how you have your kitchen arranged," says Lamendola. "Simply storing your cooking utensils close to the stove will save you significant time over the course of a year." To shave more minutes, prepare meals such as chili and stews ahead of time and freeze them, he adds.
Cleaning and organizing. Clean your house one room at a time. Create a portable cleaning caddy with cleansers, paper towels, and sponges, and start in one corner. Work your way around the room one wall at a time. You'll stay focused and avoid running back and forth to the kitchen. "This approach saves typically 50 percent of cleaning time," says Lamendola.
To get your kids to help keep the house neat, Stack suggests a system she calls Jail n' Bail. "If they don't put their stuff away, it goes in the jail box, and they have to pay five cents to bail it out. It shows them time is money -- and easily saves me 30 minutes a day," she says.
Errands. Map out your errands before you go. "You'll save time if you make a circular route of your stops, or try to group your purchases in one retail center," says Gold. You can also save time coordinating errands with your partner. "You'll shave off two hours a week if you tackle your list together," says Gold.
Cut down on driving time altogether by using Web services. You can get photos printed through services such as shutterfly.com. Many pharmacy photo centers also offer a Web-based option. Instead of standing in line at the video store, look into services such as netflix.com and have the latest DVDs delivered to your mailbox. This can save you another hour a week, says Christine D'Amico, author of The Pregnant Woman's Companion (Attitude Press, 2004).
Phone calls. If you tend to lose track of time on the phone, keep a small hourglass or egg timer nearby, and use it on those busy days when 40-minute chats are out of the question.
Vickie Hansen, creator of the Web site www.myorganizedlife.com, and a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers, recommends screening your calls with caller ID and your answering machine. "If you're on the go, take your call list and do it when you're waiting to pick up your kids from practice. You can save 30 minutes a day," she says.
Computer time. Computers are like phones: When you use them it's easy to lose track of time. "Check e-mail twice a day and return messages all at once. You'll save an hour a day," suggests Breese.
TV viewing. "Establish one or two TV-free nights every week," says Judith Wright, author of There Must Be More Than This: Finding More Life, Love, and Meaning by Overcoming Your Soft Addictions (Broadway, 2003). "Families can gain back eight hours a week this way since Americans, on average, watch four hours of TV a night."
If you have a service such as TiVO, program it to record your TV favorites without the commercials and watch it later. Many new home computers include digital entertainment options, with hardware that connects a TV cable to the computer and software that records your favorite shows directly to the hard drive. You could save as much as eight hours a week.
Add all of these timesavers up and you could win back as much as 24 hours a week -- more than seven weeks of recovered time, multiplied over a year. Even though you may save only a fraction of this time, you'll still find minutes and hours you can spend in more meaningful ways.
"You can use the time you save to build the kinds of memories that make life special," says Lamendola.
Originally published in Better Homes and Gardens magazine, February 2005.