In the long checkout line at Target yesterday morning, I watched as a toddler sitting in the cart in front of me started getting impatient. I could see him squirming, and it was only a matter of time, I thought, until he would arch backwards in frustration and cry and yell with impatience. His mom thought the same thing, apparently; she calmly dug into her very large purse and pulled out a plastic cup of goldfish crackers and a sippy cup. Her toddler’s demeaner changed immediately. He concentrated on getting his hand in and out of the cup, clearly focused on dropping minimal goldfish.
“You’re prepared!” I said to her, impressed.
“Yeah,” she shrugged. “I have to be when I do my errand-sprints so he lasts until we get home!”
I was curious. “Errand-sprints?”
“Well, I group the errands that I have here near Target so we can be home to play a bit before lunch.”
“Ah, I remember those days,” I replied. “If they didn’t get a bit of time to run around after errands, lunch would be a nightmare!”
She laughed. “Yes! I’ve learned to time it just right! I used to just go home after one errand or two, and then go back out later to finish, but he — and I — would get so tired of being in the car!”
I just love her term, ‘errand-sprints’! That got me thinking about efficiency, and how we can save time and energy easily this year.
So, following up on last week’s post about why your 2022 goal should be 1% improvement, this week I’d like to offer you 5 tips to get started on the right foot, being more efficient with less effort, in 2022.
5 Really Simple Things That Will Save Time
These are 5 simple things you can do right now to save time (and so spend that time with your loved ones), reduce your busy work, and really get moving on the stuff that’s going to make a big difference in what you can achieve this year.
These range from small, practical changes to make in your home, to big picture ways to think about your day and week to get the “real” stuff done.
Let’s get started.
1. Do 30 seconds of tidying up wherever you happen to be
When I’m getting ready in the bathroom in the morning, I put away anything that’s on the counter into our drawers and cabinets. It takes 30 seconds and clears the countertop for the rest of the day. Then at bedtime, I again do a quick clearing of the counter, and put clothes and towels into the hamper.
Think of other rooms in which you can do a 30-second to one-minute tidy while you’re in there. In the kitchen, for example, while you’re waiting for your bagel to toast, you can do a quick counter wipedown, or unload one rack of the dishwasher.
In the family room or kids’ playroom, gather the kids’ books and place them back on the bookshelf while the kids are picking out a board game or a puzzle.
In your office, put your files away as you shut down your computer, and you’ll have a clear desktop for the next morning.
It’s a simple idea that can have the huge benefit of preventing stuff from accumulating, creating clutter, and then feeling like it’s a huge job to put everything away later. Having clear counters, tabletops and floors also makes it so much easier and faster to clean every room and surface when it’s time to.
2. Think of doing things a little more efficiently
In your home, think about how you can shave time off of household chores. For example, when you’re loading the dishwasher, load in a way that makes it faster and easier for you to unload. This might mean using the slots of the utensils baskets to hold all the knives in one area, forks in another and so on, so that you’re not sorting them out when you’re unloading. In our house, the dishwasher is usually unloaded first thing in the morning while I’m making my coffee, and I like to be done just as my coffee’s done! So having the utensils all categorized in there in the first place means that I just grab them from the basket and place them in the drawer, without having to sort anything out.
At the office, reduce the amount of time you spend in your email inbox by having a clear system. You can read exactly how I manage my inbox here. The trick is to not let your email drag you down a rabbit hole that you hadn’t planned on, or you won’t get the things done that you wanted to.
How many times have you been so busy that you barely had time to eat lunch, going from online store to online store or meeting to meeting, or answering emails and putting our fires that never seem to end, only to feel like you’re not moving ahead? At the end of the week, you’re still behind in a major project, or someone is still angry at you.
A quote attributed to Mark Twain that’s become famous in the productivity world reads,
The ‘frogs’ are your most important tasks, of course. These are the tasks that are usually hard, big, and require a lot of thinking or courage to complete. It’s no wonder that a lot of people choose to get a cup of coffee or do 50 other things on their to-do list before tackling these big frogs. And yet, these are the tasks that will move you forward, that will make a real difference in what you accomplish this week.
So pluck up your courage and tackle the biggest, hardest, most important things when your energy is at its highest. Have the tough conversation, deep clean the refrigerator, start the big report, and get it done. Then move on to the next one! And keep the momentum going.
4. Take 20 minutes to plan
On Friday afternoon, I review what I have on my schedule for the next week, and I plan what has to be done each day. This includes the kids’ appointments, practices, and my own meetings, all of which have specific times attached to them. Then I think about the Big 3 things I want to accomplish next week, and lay out time to complete those. I then work backwards to see what Big 3 things I have to do each day to help me get my Weekly Big 3 done. My Big 3’s are often a mix of business and personal things that I want to do in order to keep moving forward.
It’s important to review what you were actually able to accomplish in the previous week so that you get a sense for whether your goals need to be broken down into smaller chunks, or if you need to allow more time to do a certain task. It’s also a great time to reflect on how much you were distracted when trying to complete your Big 3’s, and how to avoid that next week.
It sounds like a lot, but it really only takes a few minutes, 20 at most, for me to review and plan. Finishing 3 Big Things each week means I complete 12 Big Things in a month! Think about it! The feeling of accomplishment builds and makes me happy to keep going.
5. Batch Your Work (aka Errand-Sprints)
Did that make you think of “batch cooking”? Exactly! Batch cooking means you cook more than one batch of a recipe, and in my house, we either eat the extra batches later in the week, or they’re put in the freezer for use later. In either case, I know that I won’t have to cook at least one meal later on.
Batching can be applied in so many other tasks at home and work. If you know you have to make a return at a store, you can “batch” the trip to also stop at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, and stop by your mom’s house to return the suitcase you borrowed. Assuming you took a minute to map things out so you’re not back-tracking, batching these tasks saved you time from multiple trips later, and also saved you gas.
In the case of the young mom at Target, she batched her errands during her errand-sprint, which saved her time (having to drive in this direction again later), and also saved her energy (if you’re familiar with loading a toddler into the car, you know what I mean!).
You can also batch your phone calls, working through your emails, writing, reading reports, and meetings. Just make sure you’ve set aside a block of time for each of these, and feel free to follow some type of time management technique to prevent burnout (Pomodoro works for me), and you’ll find that the energy you spend in batches creates efficiency. Your work will be less disrupted by having to make phone calls while you’re in the middle of writing or thinking, and you won’t be checking your email 50 times a day, or every time you hear the ‘ding!’ of your phone letting you know another message has come in.
These are just 5 little tips to put into practice that take little effort, but that make a big difference in getting things done. You can get your busy work and chores done more quickly and with less energy, and spend the time you saved on the things that are really important.