The Laws of Saving Time

Content Updated October 3, 2007

Have a place for everything, and keep everything in it’s place for quick retrieval.

Looking for misplaced items is a huge waste of time. Avoid going through this by organizing your home, office, backpack, locker, … to ensure that everything has a place. Put everything into centers or stations (e.g. media center, household workstation, craft center, etc.), and put those centers where they will most likely be used (a craft center in your bedroom is useless if you do all of your crafts in the family room and tend to leave your projects and supplies in a box next to your couch, and a automotive center in your hall closet is foolish when you keep your car in the garage). Always return things to where they belong, and they’ll always be there when you need them; plus it makes cleaning much easier and faster.

Your New Motto: I don’t have to do everything; I just have to do something.

This is the only way to get rid of procrastination (trust me, I’ve tried all the reward systems and motivation techniques; I am a top of the line procrastinator; I’ll put off anything until later). Make yourself a promise to just do something. If it’s cleaning the kitchen, promise yourself to put away just a few drinking glasses rather than empty the whole dishwasher or scrub the whole place down. If it’s organizing the garage, promise yourself that you’ll open one box and sort through a few things, not the whole box and not the whole garage. If you tell yourself that you need to do everything in your project or chore, you may easily get overwhelmed and procrastinate. If you promise yourself to just do something, even if it’s something very small and seemingly insignificant you accomplish several things. 1) You got something done! You accomplished a goal. Good job. 2) You’ll have less to do later, so you’ll feel less overwhelmed. 3) You’ll be surprised how just getting something done makes it easier to get “something else” done (and who knows, you may surprise yourself and end up finishing the whole project).

Do as much as you can ahead of time.

If you’re going on a trip, start packing a week early. If you’re going to work or school in the morning, make your lunch, clothing decisions, and anything else you need to do the night before. In the morning, the only thing you should have to do is groom yourself, get dressed, eat, grab your stuff, and go out the door (of course, if you have pets or kids, you will have more to do in the morning, but still try to do as much as possible the night before). When it comes to cooking, try to cook some or all items in advance (for example, while you’re cooking dinner tonight, make something extra that you can refrigerate and eat tomorrow for dinner). If you have time to start any project days or even hours or minutes early, start early. The more you do up front, the less you’ll have to do later, and just think about all the stress you’ll avoid. If you’re a procrastinator, give yourself extra time because you’ll be getting it done by just doing “something” not everything (see above tip).

Automate as much as possible.

Have your paychecks automatically deposited and regular payments (like mortgage, rent, or car payments) automatically taken out of your account. Set up your prescriptions to be refilled automatically.

Multitask whenever it is possible and safe.

Multitasking is simply doing more than one thing at a time, like watching your favorite television show while exercising or checking your email, paying the bills while waiting for dinner in the oven to finish cooking, or listening to books on tape while cleaning. It must be noted that studies have shown that people who multitask do get more done in a shorter amount of time, but the quality of their work isn’t as good as if they had focused on just one activity (so your form while exercising during that television show may not be perfect, and the dinner that cooks while you pay your bills has a chance of getting burned). Thus, I emphasize safety in multitasking. Putting on your makeup, grooming, having a quick phone conversation, or reading the newspaper while you’re driving is not safe. It is not safe to try to multitask when doing any activity that requires your full attention or involve anything in which you or somebody else could be injured. By multitasking (when it is safe), you can cross off even more items on your “to do” list and have more free time at the end of your day, but make sure you only multitask with tasks that don’t require top quality work (so don’t multitask while working on that big report or your resume).

Clean as you go.

If you’re cooking dinner, put things in the dishwasher as soon as you are done with them, wipe up your messes, and put the leftovers in containers and refrigerate immediately after you dish the food out. If you’re taking a shower, keep a sponge or scrub brush in there and scrub down the mildew while you let your conditioner set or while you are rinsing off, wipe up any water you splashed out or spills (including spills on or around the toilet, you know what I mean if you have boys in your house), and hang and straighten towels before you even leave the room. If you’re waking up in the morning, make your bed as soon as you get up (using just a comforter and a fitted sheet rather than several blankets and sheets under a bedspread make it much faster, just straighten it all out) and sort your clothes into separate hampers or laundry baskets as soon as you take them off. When you clean as you go, you’ll never have to face a huge cleaning project. Plus, when you clean as you go, it only takes a few seconds extra here and there rather than 15 minutes or an hour to do a huge project.

Don’t be afraid to say “no” when somebody asks you to do something you just don’t have time for (or don’t want to do).

Many of us immediately feel guilt if we say “no” to somebody who asks us to do them a favor or to go out or work on a project with them. Sometimes we wonder if they’ll dislike us, think negative things about us, or talk behind our backs because of our lack of cooperation. In reality, such things rarely happen, and if they do, the offended individual is the one with the problem (most likely a self-esteem or entitlement problem). There is nothing wrong with saying “no.” You can give reasons for turning down their request if you wish (or if you feel the situation requires it), but you really don’t need to give excuses most of the time (and definitely don’t make up lies as excuses); just say “I’m sorry, I won’t be able to work on that … go out that night ….” If they ask for an explanation, be honest but tactful. In some cases (especially professional situations) you may want to word your honesty, so you don’t seem like a reluctant worker (try saying “I was hoping I could devote my time to this other project instead” or something similar rather than “I don’t want to work on that”).

Delegate tasks

Your family is a team, and in a team everyone helps out. Make sure that if you delegate tasks to kids that the tasks are age appropriate. A two-year-old can’t wash the dishes, but he might be able to put away toys in his room (if you have the room set up so that it’s easy for him to do so). Likewise, a business is a team, so make sure that you and your co-workers or employees are doing a fair share.

If you get somewhere early or finish a project before expected, do productive things to fill your time.

One of the problems with scheduling extra time for appointments and projects is that you end up sitting in a waiting room for awhile if you’re too early. To avoid wasting time, fill those waiting minutes with something productive. Go through your mail, read a book or magazine that you have been planning to read, do homework or research for work, plan out tomorrow or next week, or do some other activity you can easily bring with you to your appointment (briefcases, backpacks, larger purses, and book bags are great for carrying around those “waiting room activities.” If you are working on a project at home and finish earlier than expected, try getting some of your chores done. By filling up your unused scheduled time with other “to do” items, you end up having a longer period of time at the end of your day to relax.

Whenever you go on an errand, try to do other errands along the way.

So you have a doctor’s appointment. On the way back you can stop by the pharmacy and drop off your prescription (or have the doctor call in the prescription), go to the grocery store, pick up your prescription, go to the bank, and drop the books off at the library. This saves gas (which saves money and is better for the environment) and reduces the amount of time you need to complete these errands because you don’t have to factor in drive time to and from your house for each one. Of course, to make this process even faster, choose grocery stores, bank branches, pharmacies, and so forth as close together as possible or at least along your route home. More and more businesses are starting drive-thrus (such as for prescriptions, banking, and even to pick up some milk and eggs), and this can save you a ton of time. Keep a bag by your door of items that you need to take out for errands, then just grab the bag on your way out the door, and you’ll have everything you need for all the errands (I like hang my bag on a coat hook, so the kids can’t get into it, and it’s not laying around like clutter).

Limit interruptions.

This doesn’t mean that you rip the head off of anyone who dares to interrupt you or that you shun your family while you’re working on a project. Let people know that if you’re in your office or room with your door closed (or with some other signaling device, like a “closed” or “do not disturb” sign, if you don’t have a door) you don’t want to be interrupted unless the issue just can’t wait. If the issue isn’t urgent (or if they don’t know that you don’t want to be interrupted) tell people who interrupt you that you are extremely busy at the moment, and give them a time when you will be available to talk with them; schedule it, so you don’t forget. Use your answering machine and voice mail to handle your phone calls (that’s why they were invented); you don’t need to run to the phone every time it rings. Answering machines are a bit better than voicemail because you can listen to the call as it comes in to determine whether you actually do need to pick up the phone or not, while voicemail requires you to call your voicemail box to listen to the message (and if it’s an emergency, like a family member calling from a pay phone because his/her car broke down, you won’t be able to call them back to help them). Don’t feel like you have to immediately respond to faxes or emails, either. If you’re easily distracted by things going on around you, try to face your desk so you can’t look out a window or at other people, and be sure to turn off televisions; the only music you should play is instrumental background music that you can’t sing to.

If you have kids, learn to break down projects into very small steps that only take 5 minutes or so.

Kids have a way of needing your attention immediately whenever you start a project. I’m one of those people who like to work on a project from start to finish until it’s done, but that’s just not possible with kids, so I’ve learned to break things up into steps that only take about 5 minutes to complete, such as empty the dishwasher, clean the toilet, or file a few papers, rather than try to tackle cleaning the whole kitchen or bathroom at once or sorting through the giant box of papers that await filing all at once. I may assign a whole day to doing one group of chores, such as cleaning the kitchen, and perform small 5 minute cleaning tasks in the kitchen throughout the day until everything is marked off of my kitchen cleaning checklist. It’s the only way you’ll ever get anything done until the kids become teenagers and lock themselves in their room for hours.