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Saving 10 Hours a Month
One of my most precious commodities is time; here is how I make the most of it
I am often asked how I’m able to have a demanding job, write a couple times a week, raise three kids, and still have a life. The truth is, I am not Hermione Granger. I don’t have a secret time turner. I waste time, have hobbies, and watch whatever Marvel or Star Wars series the kids are currently into with them. But there are a few best practices I try to live by to maximize my free time, and I’d like to share them with you today. Make these a habit, and you’ll be surprised how much time you can free up in your day-to-day life—as much as 10 hours per month!
1. Say “no” twice as much as you do now
Everything you say yes to costs time. The “future you” doesn't have more time than the current you—yet we’re much more willing to burden our future selves with a half-hearted yes than to face the discomfort of saying no in the present.
I love this Seinfeld clip (below). It's about how the evening version of you likes to stay up, but the morning version of you has to pay the price. This extends to every commitment we make in the present, which costs us time in the future. By not saying no more often, we are being unkind to our future selves. (This is something I admittedly struggle with, and I hope to work on it more in the coming year.)
2. A fast “no” is better than a slow “yes”
Back when I was at PayPal, we surveyed people on their satisfaction when they applied for buyer protection, whether or not they actually received the refund. Interestingly, people’s satisfaction was much higher when they didn't get their money back than when they did, but had to wait a long time. The moral of the story: people value time over money—and they value a faster “no” over a slower “yes”.
You know there are things you're putting off saying no to. The problem is, the longer you wait to say no, the more obligated you feel to say yes. Whenever you hold on to something, you are letting it take up space in your mind unnecessarily.
What if you gave a fast no instead of a slow yes? By firmly putting your foot down and saying no, you are ending that occupation of your space and time.
3. Declare bankruptcy
I often wonder why every single doctor's office always seems to be booked six weeks out. If they are steadily seeing patients, and the wait time is always six weeks, that means they have a steady—not growing—demand. (The six-week lead time is actually very stressful for both patients and for doctors. It decreases compliance and increases no-shows by 30 percent.) I sometimes wish every doctor's office would just declare bankruptcy on appointments until they’re able to get ahead.
When you can’t keep up with everything that’s demanding your time, a hard reset may be just what you need. I once had a friend who declared “email bankruptcy” when they got back from a sabbatical. They set an out-of-office message saying that they would not check any emails that had come in while they were gone and asking people to re-send anything critical. That way they weren't spending their first weeks back wading through a month of old emails.
Sometimes you just have so much on your plate that there’s no getting ahead of it. When this happens, you can save time and effort by wiping the slate clean and starting over. This will give you a chance to get back on top of things while eliminating unnecessary tasks in the process.
4. Do the small things in between
I first heard this tip many years ago, and it has been a huge time saver. A friend suggested I take a few minutes between meetings to cross off a bunch of little things from my to-do list. Small one- or two-minute tasks can add up to hours of extra work if you account for context-switching and having to track them all back down. If you see an email or message with something that needs addressing and can immediately take care of it, you will be much better off later in the day.
If you think of something when you have a minute, take care of it. Don’t delay. You are taxing your mind by forcing yourself to remember a number of extra things that are not relevant. As a result, you are less focused on the task at hand. Avoid this by tackling small to-dos as they come up.
5. Set up a process
“Process” doesn't have to be a dirty word. When you set up a process, all you are doing is creating a routinized way of doing something.
How much time have you spent looking for your glasses, or your keys, or your phone? For me, the answer is, “way too much.” I’ve finally started tackling this problem by setting processes for where I put things and how I get things done. For example, I keep my allergy medicine in my bathroom drawer where I'm sure to see it, because that is also where I keep my floss. Whenever I reach for the floss, I’m reminded to take my meds without a lot of friction. Similarly, whenever I take myself and the kids to the dentist, I immediately schedule our next appointments for six months later, so I don’t have to remember to do it later.
By setting up a consistent home for something, and a process for remembering to do it, you're saving yourself energy, time, and stress down the line.
6. Batch it up
I want my kids to eat home-cooked meals, because that is something I grew up with. In order to manage cooking with a busy schedule, I do it in massive batches. Making six dozen naan from scratch is only 30 percent more effort than making one dozen. Tripling the recipe for pizza dough means having enough to make three meals on three different nights.
Batch processing saves time, but it also saves tons of mental energy. This may seem like a contradiction, but a bunch of things actually benefit from batch processing, because you're able to invest a longer period of time and get twice or three times as much done. Shredding, cooking, laundry, and cleaning all work better as batch jobs than as serial ones—and there are many more!
7. Do it now
Expense reports, paying bills, and clearing out junk mail are all so much easier if you just do them immediately. I know, because I tested this out. I used to take a lot of time to do my expense reports at the end of a month or quarter. I found myself scrounging for receipts, or trying to figure out what a certain expense was. Recently, I moved to a real-time model. Now, the minute I get a receipt, I take a picture of it. I also try to have all my receipts emailed to me instead of printed on paper. Documenting the expenses as they happen has made my life a lot easier.
The same goes for junk mail. I grab it on my way home, immediately stand over the recycling bin, and scrap everything that's not necessary. I then grab the bills and pay them on the spot. For the ones that are not due yet, I set up bill pay for a future date. Then I shred the bill.
By tackling tasks as they come up, rather than putting them off, you are saving yourself the mental work of addressing them later.
8. Automate it
What are some things you can automate? I set up bill pay for most of my bills long ago, so whenever a bill comes due, I just check the emails before the money goes out. This ensures that I never have to pay late fees, and I'm never stressed about missing a payment.
Almost anything can be automated these days, and this is a game-changer for people who are short on time. I automatically set limits on the kids’ iPads and Pixel phones so they can learn to manage their time. I set up deliveries for things I need, including shampoo, body wash, and popcorn, so we never run out. This has streamlined my life immensely and taken away the mental load of having to repeat processes every month, week, or day.
9. Break it down
Certain tasks, especially big ones, can seem completely daunting. However, if you break something down, it becomes so much easier.
Don’t love decluttering? Do it one room at a time. Behind on some home repairs? Pick one thing to focus on each weekend and just get that thing done. I find that tasks often seem monumental until you have a system to understand them, focus on them, and tackle them. By breaking things down into actionable steps, you are making them less daunting and easier to chip away at until they’re done.
10. Invest in the things that matter
There comes a point in your life when your time is more valuable than your money. That's when you know it's time to invest in help.
This can look different for different people. Sometimes it’s as simple as investing in an organization system, and for others, it’s getting ongoing help—someone who can help manage some of the challenges of juggling a full-time job. One of the things that helped me most over the years was, when the kids were small, having someone to drive them between their school and after-school programs. It was really hard for us to get out during the day, and having a driver shuttle them made all the difference to us. Even though it seemed small, it allowed us to focus on our work and allowed the kids to safely make it to their Chinese school.
Whether you hire an organizer to bring order to your chaos, or a housekeeper who can help you when the chores become overwhelming, outsourcing the small things so they are no longer in the back of your mind will be freeing.
As you prepare for the end of one year and look ahead to the next, give yourself the greatest gift: the gift of time. I challenge you to save these 120 hours each year to invest in what really matters to you.
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