Tips for Home
1. Keep things clutter-free. I’m a big fan of clutter-free homes and workspaces, not only for their nicer aesthetics but because 1) it helps you to focus on what you’re doing instead of being distracted by visual clutter; 2) it’s more serene and relaxing; and 3) it saves time. How does it save time? It makes things easier to find, easier to clean, easier to navigate, and reduces wasted time reshuffling, sorting, looking through, and clearing away piles of clutter. Read more.
2. Keep things in their place. Similarly, having a “home” for everything saves time. You can have an uncluttered home but not know where anything belongs … instead, have a place for everything, and put things back in that place when you’re not using them. Make this a key habit in your life — when you’re done with something, put it back where it belongs. It takes a few seconds to do that, and saves time cleaning up later, looking for things (how many times have you lost something and searched long and hard for it?), and generally keeps things neater and uncluttered.
3. Teach kids to clean up after themselves. If you’re a parent, you know that keeping an uncluttered household isn’t easy when you have little rugrats running around making a mess every minute of the livelong day. Start your kids, from an early age, with the habit of cleaning up after themselves when they’re done playing. So let’s say they take out a bucket of building blocks and make a huge mess — that’s OK, but when they’re done, help them to pick everything up, put them in the bucket, and put the bucket back in its “home”. My younger kids like to sing a “Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere” song as they clean. Make it a game! With six kids, this has saved us countless hours of cleaning up after our kids.
4. Prep the night before. Whether you’re single or have a household full of kids, mornings might be a rush for you. Instead, create an evening routine where you get everything ready the night before, so you can start your day off right. This might not technically save time, but it gives you more time in the morning to focus on getting important things done rather than rushing through your routine.
5. Don’t watch too much TV. I personally have wasted entire days watching TV, so I know what a big time-hole television can be. Instead, limit your TV viewing time — maybe an hour a day? — And use the time you otherwise would have been watching TV on more important things — spending time with your loved ones, exercising, writing that novel you’ve been dreaming about.
6. Plan your weekly menu. If you plan out what you’re going to have for dinner (and even lunch) each day of the week, you can save a lot of time. First, you can go grocery shopping and get everything you need all at once — in fact, if you repeat the weekly menu the next week, you can do two weeks of shopping in one trip. Second, you can prepare food ahead of time (see next item), and pack your lunch easily for work. Third, you don’t have to worry about what’s for dinner each evening — it’s right there on the menu you posted on the fridge.
7. Cook big batches. I like to make large batches of food, which is especially helpful when you have a big family. I’ll cook up a big batch of chili, veggie soup, spaghetti, or other dish, and eat the leftovers for lunch or dinner (sometimes it can be several lunches and dinners).
8. Do all your errands at once. This is the same as the “batching” tip from the work section above (as is the previous tip, and the next tip). Write your errands on an errands list throughout the week, and do them all on one day. Plan your route so you do the least amount of driving possible, and get it all done quickly. Compared to running multiple errand trips, this method saves a lot of time.
9. Do your banking online, all at once. I like to do this once every week or even two weeks … I have all my bills ready to pay (actually, most of them are set up to be paid automatically by my bank’s bill-pay system), I reconcile my online bank statement, pay the bills, check my automatic savings transfers and so on.
10. Clean in one big rush. While I like to keep things clean by cleaning as I go, there’s also the sweeping and mopping and cleaning the bathrooms and things like that … and it’s a big time-saver to do it all in one big rush. My whole family will take different parts of the house, and we’ll do the cleaning all at once as fast as we can. We’re done in 30-45 minutes, and we can relax the rest of the day. Ahhh!
11. Get your workouts done in no time. If you don’t have a lot of time but want to stay (or get) in shape, try bodyweight exercises in circuits, but make the workout more intense by trying to do as many circuits as you can in a short amount of time. For example, do circuits of pullups, pushups, and bodyweight squats (5, 10, and 15 respectively) … and do as many as possible in 10 minutes (or 20 if you’re fit). Create your own circuits with different exercises, or look for similar challenges online to mix things up. Don’t do these intense exercises if you’re just starting out — just try to do a few circuits but not quickly if you’re still a beginner.
12. Keep a great big calendar. My family stays organized with a big calendar on our fridge (which I also manually sync with Gcal because I like Gcal). Everything goes on our calendar: parties, meetings, school events, soccer games, music lessons, birthdays, volunteering dates, and so on. This ensures that we don’t overschedule, that we’re all in sync with each other, and that we don’t miss appointments or events. And one big calendar saves time because we don’t have to keep checking with each other or looking at various schedules.
13. Get a babysitter or swap babysitting. If you are a parent and don’t have time to do things, hire a babysitter so you can find the time, or swap babysitting with another parent. My sister and I do this, for example — we’ll watch her kids some days and she’ll watch ours on others. It’s great because we have more time to do things, and our kids get to play together.
14. Consider hiring someone. Sometimes it makes more sense to hire someone to do something, especially if your time is worth more money than you’re paying that person. For example, if I have a large yard that would take me five hours to maintain (it’s pretty big), it makes more sense for me to pay someone as I can earn more during those 5 hours by working. Other things you might pay someone for: other home maintenance projects, washing your car, doing errands or laundry, doing your taxes … just about anything where doing it yourself isn’t cost-effective.
Tips for Work
Most of us spend the most time at work, so let’s start there. If you have a to-do list that’s a mile long — or worse yet, no to-do list at all — here’s what you can do:
1. Do less. This is my favorite productivity tip, as long-time readers know — simplify your schedule by doing fewer things but focusing on the important things. This will greatly increase the impact of the time you do work, decreasing the time you need to work. What about the tasks you don’t do? See the tips below for more on dealing with them.
2. Delegate. If a task needs to be done but is not one of your most important tasks, and someone else can do it, delegate it. Sometimes you can get rid of half your to-do list by finding others who can do the task as well or even better than you can.
3. Limit your workday (or adjust your hours). If you work more than 8 hours a day, by setting a limit of 8 hours you’ll force yourself to focus on getting the must-do tasks done within that limit. If you work 8 hours a day, try limiting yourself to 6 hours. You’ll find that you’ll prioritize, work more efficiently, and waste less time, so that you can get the work done within that time frame. I try to give myself a 4- or 5-hour window on most days. What if you can’t reduce your hours (maybe you’re required to work a certain number of hours)? See if you can shift your work hours either earlier or later than the rest of the crowd. That’ll reduce commute time if you don’t commute during the busy traffic hours, and if you work when almost no one else is in the office you can get tons more done.
4. Get the important stuff done early. Pick the top 2-3 things you need or want to accomplish today, and get those done first. While on other days you might push these important things back (and possibly not get them done at all), if you do them first the rest of your day will be gravy. In fact, if you have the freedom, you can sometimes even call it a day after you get the important stuff done — the rest can wait until tomorrow.
5. Ask your boss to re-prioritize for you. If you don’t have control over your schedule or to-do list, talk to your boss. Tell him you are trying to be more effective with your time, and you only have time for X numbers of things today (say, 3-4 things) … so ask him to pick those things for you. Tell him if you try to do everything today you’ll be less effective and may not get as many things done or do as good a job. This prioritizing is essentially what you’d do yourself (see the first tip) if you had the freedom.
6. Batch tasks. Instead of interspersing your work day with small tasks all mixed together, try to group similar tasks and do them at once. For example, instead of responding to emails throughout the day, batch them and do all your emails once (or twice) a day. Do all your paperwork at once. Make all phone calls in one batch. Do all errands at once. This grouping of tasks saves a lot of time and allows you to focus better on the important tasks.
7. Focus on one project and get it done. Instead of juggling a large number of projects, set aside a block of time to do one project until completion. For me, this often means setting aside half a day or a day (I try to break my projects down into manageable chunks) to work on a project, and I try to complete it if at all possible. Often this means getting all the resources and information you need beforehand, so you don’t have to look for it or wait on it when you’re ready to actually work on the project. This also means clearing my schedule, so I’ll get other tasks done beforehand and I won’t schedule anything else for that block of time. Then work on that project exclusively and try very hard to get it done. This, I’ve found, is often the most effective way to work on projects.
8. Avoid meetings. Not all meetings are a waste of time, but many are. If you spend a lot of time in meetings, but would rather be doing your actual work instead of listening to other people talk about things they could have sent you in an email, see if you can get out of some of those meetings. You’ll get a lot more done. Read more.
9. Avoid long conversations at work. We’ve all had long conversations with co-workers that were very unproductive — often not related to work or anything important. Sometimes they’re long phone conversations. And while I like conversing with other human beings as much as the next guy — it’s important to maintain good relationships and friendships — at the same time you could be spending that time doing other things. I personally would rather get all my work done and go home and spend time with my family. So I try to stay focused on work rather than having lots of long conversations, although I’ll make an exception now and then.
10. Learn to say no. This is crucial if you want to have a simplified schedule. We all receive numerous requests each day, and all of them are demands on our time. If we say “yes” to those requests, we are giving up our time and committing to doing something for someone else. But if those requests aren’t in line with our priorities, then we are usually biting off more than we want to chew. So learn to say “no” instead. Often this is uncomfortable, because we fear it means disappointing others. But learn to tell people that you just don’t have the time to commit to this right now, and often they’ll understand.