Eliminate TV altogether if you can – I promise you won’t miss it – but I know some people need that bit of mindless entertainment at night, and it might be the only time you can get your kids to sit still with the rest of the family. Fair enough, but surely you can cut out at least one show. Whatever filler is on between your comedy and your crime procedural, for instance.
2. Ditch your car.
The average commute is something like 25 minutes. If you carpool or take public transportation, you gain an average of 50 minutes each day (maybe every other day or two out of every three days if you have a driving turn in your carpool). You lose some time for “overhead” – finding a place on the bus, changing trains, exchanging pleasantries with your carpool partners – but you should be able to squeeze 15 minutes of productive time each way out of your commute. Get a PDA or smartphone and you can be writing, doing research, or filling out spreadsheets on the go.
3. Wake up earlier.
Getting up at 6 instead of 6:30 (or whenever) can give you a good half-hour of quiet time before your day gets going – perfect for writing or working on other personal projects. The idea here is not to sleep less, though – you’ll pay a cost in lost productivity as your lost sleep adds up, and be back where you started. Instead, cut the last half-hour of TV or whatever else you do at night and shift that time to the morning, when everyone’s still asleep, there’s nothing tempting on TV, and you can start the day with a half-hour well-spent behind you.
4. Batch chores.
Instead of responding to household clutter as it arises, let a little clutter build up and take care of it all in one fall swoop every few days or on the weekend. This will be especially painful if you’re a particularly committed neat freak, but the daily cleaning never gets done, and in the end, you’re not going to regret not picking up the kids toys nearly as much as you’ll regret not having written a few more pages or not having spent more time on your studies.
5. Go to your kids’ practices.
Instead of dropping the kids off at soccer, karate, or gymnastics, driving home, and driving back an hour later, find a nearby place (the bleachers, a coffee shop, even your car) to sit and work. Get a small laptop or PDA, or carry a notepad with you. You’ll save the drive time and the slack time in between where, let’s face it, you were just going to clean house or watch TV.
6. Cook in advance.
Just like you can batch housecleaning to save time throughout the week, you can batch your cooking and save 20 minutes or so of meal preparation each night. Cook large quantities of food on Sundays and freeze them, or cook food whose leftovers can provide several nights meals. For example, I make a big pot of chili that will last two nights and leave enough leftover for chili dogs the 3rd night.
7. Reclaim your lunch break.
Bring your own lunches to work, find a quiet place, and eat and work during your lunch break. Make it something with little preparation – a sandwich, chips, celery or carrot sticks, or similar foods are great. You’ll save the time of walking or driving somewhere, ordering, and walking back – and you’ll eat more nutritiously and save money to boot.
8. Have a YOYO night.
Another way to save time on food preparation is not to prepare food. This won’t gain you time every day, but can gain you an evening for yourself. Instead of cooking and sitting down for family dinner, make one night a week for “You’re On Your Own” (YOYO). Kids and spouses make their own dinner (using leftovers or food chosen in advance – obviously you need older kids for this to work) and entertain themselves while mom or dad gets to work undisturbed. Don’t do this every night, though, or your kids will forget who you are and will be frightened if they ever accidentally meet you in the hallway!
9. Use slack time.
Set yourself up to make use of those little scraps of time that come along when you’re not expecting them – standing in lines, waiting for a meeting to start, while on hold with your power company, whenever. It might only be 5 minutes here, 8 minutes there, but it adds up.
10. Shop with a list during non-peak times.
Grocery shopping after work can easily suck up an hour-and-a-half as you fight through crowded aisles and wait in interminable lines to check out. Make up a good, solid list that’s organized according to the aisles in your grocery store, and go early in the morning on the weekend or late at night when the store is empty. You’ll walk in, walk up and down empty aisles, hitting each aisle only once, and waltz through the checkout. I can do the same shopping trip on Sunday morning at 9 am in 45 minutes that takes me over 90 minutes on a weekday evening. And having a good list with everything you need for the week – make sure you plan out your menues! – minimizes those “short” trips to the store throughout the week to pick up a gallon of milk, an extra loaf of bread, or whatever else you ran out of. We all know that a “short” trip is at least a half-hour!
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