I’m a productivity geek. I sometimes fantasize about having a superpower that would allow me to press pause on the universe so I could catch up on tasks. I enjoy reading books and combing through academic studies that explore the best ways to maximize time.
I’m also a sucker for good, time-saving mantras. Not letting “perfect” be the enemy of “good” is an expression that keeps me from stalling on intimidating projects. I also subscribe to the one-minute rule (don’t delay anything that can be done in a minute or less) to help keep small tasks from snowballing into big, scary ones that are tougher to tackle.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve found some efficiency hacks that have helped me create extra hours in my week. Because if there’s something we can all agree on, it’s that there’s not enough hours in a day, right?
Here are some time-saving tricks I swear by:
1. I Sneak In Workouts
I volunteer-coach two youth basketball teams. On game days, it’s easy to log some cardio because I have to run up and down the court with my kindergarten and second-grade teams. In addition to Saturday games, the second-graders have a weekly practice, so I use that time to sneak in a workout.
I run the warm-up laps with them, do defensive shuffles alongside them and, when they’re doing shooting drills, I engage my core and set my quads on fire with some wall-sits. When they break for water, I do a few lunges or skip rope. I basically just try to keep moving throughout the practice, and get my heart rate up, so that the practice doubles as my workout.
I checked in with Meghan Kennihan, a certified personal trainer and running coach in Chicago, to learn about exercises parents can do at the playground with their kids, or even on the sidelines at soccer games. Here are a few moves Kennihan suggests, and that can be done with the help of a park bench.
Bench Push-Ups: Stand arm-length away from the bench, with feet shoulder-width apart. Place your hands on the seat or backrest part of the bench, depending on your ability level. Keeping your body straight and your weight on your toes, bend your elbows until your chest nearly touches.
Lateral Leg Lifts: Stand alongside the bench and place one hand on the back rest. Keep your toes facing forward and raise your leg out to the side, slow and controlled.
Bench Lunges: Stand facing away from the slide or bench and rest your left foot on the bottom of it; place your hands on your hips. Bend your right knee until your right thigh is almost parallel to the ground, but don’t let your knee move farther forward than above your toes. Return to starting position by pressing through your right heel.
2. I Order My Groceries Online
Ordering my groceries online for curbside pick-up has been a complete game changer for me. I live in Colorado, and our grocery store chain King Soopers (owned by Kroger) has a service called “ClickList,” which costs me $4.95 and saves me the hour I once spent hunting and gathering my groceries each week, and then the time I’d wait in line.
I log in and order my groceries online every week, and then select the time I’ll pick them up. It’s recommended to do this 24 hours in advance. A perk: I buy a lot of the same groceries each week, and it’s easy to re-select my refrigerator and pantry staples.
My friends have asked if I’m getting the best possible produce, even though I’m not selecting it myself, and I can confidently say “yes!” Many grocery stores are offering delivery and curb-side pick-up services these days and will let you try out the service for free. Third-party services like Instacart also do grocery delivery.
3. I Turn My Phone to “Do Not Disturb” During Work Hours
I’m a big believer in the productivity-boosting “Pomodoro Technique.” For the uninitiated, the idea behind the method is that you work in intense bursts without distraction, and then take short breaks, to help keep focused throughout the day. At the start of each day, I break my to-do list up into projects.
I give tasks about 30 minutes of my undivided attention before taking a quick break. That means no checking Facebook notifications, texting or clicking over to my e-mail inbox tab. To help, my iPhone has a “Do Not Disturb” mode so that it doesn’t light up, buzz or chirp when I get an incoming message, e-mail or social media notification. It also sends callers straight to voicemail. (You can set this up so that certain contacts can still get in touch with you, though.)
Here’s why I love this strategy: Research from the University of California-Irvine shows that multi-tasking can sabotage our productivity. The study found that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task after we’ve been interrupted. When I’m writing or researching an article, and a group text message is buzzing and demanding my attention, it becomes super difficult for me to remember where I’m at in my work, and I struggle to get back into my productivity groove.
4. I Rent Clothes
Actually, my clothing subscription box might also fall into a money-saving strategy. I subscribe to Le Tote, a clothing rental company that costs me $60 a month. Through the subscription, I can pick out three clothing items and two accessories with each box, which gets dropped off at my doorstep. (I can trade out items as frequently as I want.)
When I’m done wearing the clothes, I send them back and they take care of the laundry tasks. Translated, I no longer make trips to the dry cleaner.
The service also solves the “I don’t have anything to wear” dilemma that seems to be universal. I know what events I have coming up (wedding, work dinner, happy hour with friends) and I can choose outfits that sync up with my schedule. Plus, it always feels like I have something new to wear.
I’m also not wasting money on buying trendy clothes that are in one season and out the next, because I can give trends a test run instead. At the beginning of the subscription, I entered my measurements into Le Tote and, since sizing across brands can differ, the site tells me when something might be a bit short or too snug.
5. During Busy Weeks, I Rely On Meal Delivery
As a writer who specializes in travel, I’m on the road frequently. It doesn’t make sense for me to load up on groceries if I’m home just a few nights of the week. But cooking, for me, is a routine I enjoy when at home. I like to listen to a podcast and make a healthy meal. Chopping veggies and following a recipe feels nice after a day using the creative side of my brain, and the ritual helps me transition into the evening.
During my travel weeks, I’ve ordered HelloFresh, which gives you menus to choose from and then delivers the pre-portioned ingredients you need to make simple, home-cooked meals. It saves me meal-planning time, and I don’t have to measure out ingredients or worry about what to do with an extra chicken breast because I’m leaving town. When you select your meals for the week, HelloFresh shows how long prep time (and cook time) is for each meal. I had dinner with my mom the other night and we made this Thai lemongrass chicken dish with jasmine rice and snow peas. I finished cooking it in the time it would have taken for a delivery order to show up.
6. I Say No
Over the years, I’ve learned that one of the most important ways we can practice self-love is to say no so we don’t end up over-booked. This looks different for everyone. For me, at least once or twice a month, I get an e-mail from someone asking if they can buy me coffee and pick my brain about freelancing. In the beginning of my freelance career, I felt obligated to entertain these requests. Blame it on my people-pleasing Midwestern roots. Now, I’ll oblige if it’s a former colleague or a friend. But I now turn these requests down if I don’t know the person well, or it’s a “friend of a friend.”
Simply put, it’s a consulting service, and I value my time enough to realize I should be compensated for it. To reach a happy middle ground, though, I created a freelancing tip sheet I send when I decline requests. As someone who is self-employed, when I take these coffee breaks, it means I have to make up the hours on my own time, typically in the evenings or on the weekends—time I reserve for family, friends and taking care of myself.
7. I Get At Least 7 Hours of Sleep Each Night
In my past life, I was a federal background investigator working 60 to 70 hours a week to keep up with case deadlines. Most nights, I only got 4 to 5 hours of sleep, and I felt like a muted version of myself. Since quitting that job and happily retreating back to journalism, I’ve become a bit of a sleep evangelist. (Here are 16 scary things that can happen to your body when you don’t get enough sleep!) I’ve noticed that when I sleep 7 to 9 hours a night, my concentration is sharper and I don’t get as overwhelmed when trying to problem solve, which helps boost my productivity and save time.
Sleep science backs up my anecdotal claims about the mind-boosting benefits of sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation can also contribute to a whole host of health problems like diabetes, obesity and heart disease, so getting enough rest not only can help you create more time during your day, but can also tack on years to your life.
What are some of the ways you create more hours in the week?