Days at the office can be incredibly long — made only longer by the fact that there are still chores, errands, and other life issues to be dealt with. We thought we’d start an open thread by listing some of the things that we do to save time on life tasks, and then see what your thoughts are. (Pictured: Hungry Mouse Timer, available at Amazon.com for $8.)
– Plan ahead. Lately, we’ve been trying to save time cooking by only doing one order from Fresh Direct for the entire month. We figure out what recipes we want to make/try, what ingredients we need, and order everything at once. Then, we print the recipes (we tend to copy recipes into our Palm Pilot), staple them together, and keep that printout in the kitchen for the month. (It helps to highlight any “fresh” ingredients that should be used sooner rather than later.) When the FD delivery comes, we put almost everything into the freezer until we’re ready to use it. (We’ve been enjoying crockpot recipes from Kalyn’s Kitchen, lately.)
– Have a snack mentality through the day — yogurt, cheese, nuts, fruit, so forth. Our point isn’t that you should eat low-calorie foods (to each their own), but that you can save time by finding foods that are relatively healthy for you and easy to grab and go without a lot of prep work. Focus on calcium content, fiber, and protein — make your snacks work for you. Other times, we’ll bring “components” to the office — for example, a blue cheese that was not a hit a party (too strong) gets added to the plain spinach and tomato salad we pick up with the deli. We save money, get the satisfaction of using a food we bought, and don’t have to slave over “lunch” in the morning.
– We’ll be honest, we haven’t found a great solution here, and have never been comfortable with the idea of hiring someone to come clean for us. That said…
– Understand that mess is different from dirty. Dirty is bad. Mess isn’t great, but is more a matter of how much you can tolerate before you feel like the walls are closing in.
– It helps to have a high tolerance for mess. It helps hugely if your spouse or roommate shares your general tolerance level.
– Multi-task to save time cleaning — for example, a lot of mornings we make eggs over hard (it’s easy, doesn’t require many dishes, and is generally healthy (we only use one egg yolk). While we wait for the eggs to cook, we’ll spray the counter with a no-scrub cleaner like Fantastic and let it sit while we do whatever dishes we can without burning our eggs; after we plate them we’ll swipe the counter with a sponge.
– Cheat as often as possible. We only clean the shower about once a month because our daily shower spray (such as Tilex Fresh Shower Daily Shower Cleaner) keeps it looking pretty good. We use a towel bath mat to put on top of our bathroom rug — which gets washed as regularly as the towels — so the rug only needs to be washed once every blue moon. When we’ve lived in apartments with toilets that always seemed to look funky, we would use those drop-in bleach disks. (When we do clean the shower, we use a scrub brush — not a sponge — and tend to do it right after we’ve gotten out of the shower, when everything is already wet.)
– Invite company. Nothing gets your apartment clean like the threat of company. We’ve actually been having friends for dinner on Friday nights — it gives us a set time window to clean once we get home (about an hour and a half), and the apartment looks great. (If nothing else, before company comes, be sure to clean the bathroom counters, toilets, and mirrors, and Swiffer the floors.)
– Maintenance. We tend to visit Mint.com at least every day or two, to categorize expenditures, make sure we have enough money in our checking account, and other tasks. It adds about a minute or two to our day and we know exactly where we stand with finances. We even tend to multitask this by opening Mint at the same time as we check our Gmail — it takes a minute or two for the program to get the latest information, so we let it work in the background. Prior to this, we used Microsoft Money, and would download all of our information and try to categorize it about twice a month — the accounts always got screwed up in some way (our bank said we had X, Money said we had Y) and it would seemingly take hours to check it, so we definitely save more time using Mint.com.
– Bills. We used to pay bills twice a month, sitting with our checkbook and case of stamps — now we pay almost every bill online. Some bills we’ve set up to be automatic — the cable bill, the mortgage, because we know the amount should be (more or less) the same every month. Other bills, we schedule payment before the 15th of the month — that way we know it’s safe to move money from checking to savings after the 15th.
– Have lots of clean underwear. We tend to have about three weeks worth of clean underwear, so laundry doesn’t have to be a top priority every weekend.
– Extend the wearable life of clothes whenever possible — for example, we tend to hang our pants by the cuffs from pants hangers. Because the waistband is at the bottom, it pulls the pants down, straightening them. (In fact, we almost never iron pants.) Similarly, hanging up skirts, suits and dresses very soon after wearing (perhaps in a place where they have a bit of room to air out, such as on a closet door) helps keep them looking neat. We also like to wear our sweaters twice before we wash them, in Woolite (and then air dry them). (In fact, washing or drycleaning your clothes as little as possible is a great way to extend the wear. We’ve been meaning to do a longer piece on this, but we’ve heard that keeping a tiny spray bottle of vodka to spritz on jacket underarms and other stains is a great solution.)
– Air-dry any white or light-colored tops. If you have white blouses or tops with yellowed sweat stains, you might want to skip the dryer — the yellowing comes from that step of the laundry process.
– When doing your laundry, time the loads to work with your schedule. For example, if you have a washer/dryer in your home, you can save a simple load of things like towels/sheets for the very last load you do before bedtime, because nothing needs to be removed from the dryer immediately. On the other hand, if you share a public washer/dryer and are trying to hit the gym between loads, you might make sure that if you stay too long at the gym, whoever needs the washer/dryer after you is only dealing with towels, and not your underwear and delicates.
– View any “dryclean” instruction with suspicion. We haaate making time in our schedule to drop off or pick things up from the drycleaner — furthermore, it’s bad for the environment and for clothes. A lot of things can be washed in Woolite, though, including most natural fibers like cashmere and wool. We tend to pay for drycleaning for sweaters for the first year we own them; after that we give Woolite a try.
– Make exercise part of your routine. We’ve all read this — park a little farther away; take the stairs; get off one subway stop sooner. Furthermore, carve out a time in your schedule for it, and protect that time. For us, it has to be before work — and even on days that we don’t feel like it, we get up and put on our workout clothes. There will always be some days where the exercises are easy, and some that are hard; the trick is to just do it no matter what.
– Do efficient exercises to save time. If time is really an issue, make sure that your workout is efficient. Running, spinning — these are intensive workouts, and 30 minutes spent doing those will be better than 60 minutes of many other exercises. Obviously, there are many reasons to choose a less-intensive workout — enjoyment, injury, and so forth — but if you don’t work out because of time constraints, try to develop a taste for the efficient workouts. (We recommend the Couch to 5K program if you’ve never run before.)
– Add weight training. You get stronger, your bones get stronger, your workouts become easier, and your metabolism speeds up, and you can eat more. What’s not to love? Focus on big muscle groups to be the most efficient with your time — your quads, your glutes, your back, your chest. We tend to split upper and lower body exercises into different days so we don’t spend more than 30 minutes on weight training on any given day.
– We’re fans of exercise DVDs to intersperse with running — they’re always there and a variety keeps us from getting bored.
– This one isn’t quite a chore, but can be difficult to fit into your schedule anyway. We’ve found that the older we get, the more we have to really make a choice as to which friends we want to keep in our lives — and then do our best to keep them in our lives. That translates into quick calls with friends — we plan dates and catch up for 15 minutes between work and dinner — as well as to planned dinner dates weeks in advance. If we see an article that makes us think of a friend, we send it to them. It doesn’t take a lot of effort, but it does require a choice.