Feature Article: Take Shortcuts to Get Common Tasks Done More Quickly
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need more hours in the day—but you’d have more time if you got things done more quickly. Like you, I’m faced with too many things to do and not enough time to do them. So I’ve tried a lot of ways to streamline and simplify my life. Some of these shortcuts haven’t worked, like trying to put on mascara on the way to church on Sunday morning while my husband (it seems) hits every pothole in the road. But many work well. 

Here are some of my favorite tried-and-true shortcuts to help you shave time off tasks without skimping on quality results:

Buy java pods. It’s no secret that I love coffee. But I hate preparing the coffee. Grinding it. Measuring it. Pouring water. Cleaning the pot. What a pain! And buying coffee at Starbucks every day gets expensive, money I’d rather be spending on other services. I recently discovered, quite by accident, the Melitta One:One. I was surfing the Internet for a Christmas present for my husband and ended up buying this for myself instead. This nifty little appliance uses “pods” that I pop in. Pre-measured, pre-ground, clean. The water reserve holds enough for my entire morning coffee dose. Then I just toss the entire pod and it’s ready for the next day.

Keep an ongoing shopping list. I get a supply of shopping list pads with a magnet on the top and bottom, so it doesn’t move around. Every time I think of something I need and it’s not already on my master chart, it goes on the list. My family members also know: “If it’s not on the list, it doesn’t exist.” Nice little rhyming phrase even a ten-year old can remember. Whoever uses the last of anything is responsible for checking the list and writing it down. 

Time stamp your photos. If your camera has a built-in time stamp feature, use it! Then you won’t forget the date of the occasion when you go to organize them. If you don’t have this feature, make sure your photo envelope or computer file has the date written somewhere on it. On the top of the envelope, I jot down the subjects, occasion, or activities, which is much easier than trying to remember the details later. If I have a minute in the store, I take it one step further and open the envelope and immediately toss any unflattering, unclear, or boring pictures.

Cut down on cleaning. You’re in the shower anyway, right? You’d have to get in the shower and run the water to clean it anyway, right? So keep cleaner within easy reach and spray the shower and glass while you’re getting out of it! This saves you time when it’s time to clean the bathroom. Wipe the bathroom sink after each use. If you’re inclined to make the bed, pull up the quilt before you get out of it. Use throw rugs with rubber backs in heavy traffic areas. Change filters on the heating/cooling system frequently to cut down on the amount of house dust.

Don’t read the daily newspaper. I use www.slate.com to get a daily news update in my email each day. I also like to do a quick scan of www.CNN.com, I read the Wall Street Journal’s “What’s News” section, and glance at www.AssignmentEditor.com, which allows you to access any newspaper in the country. For news, I watch the 30-minute roundup on Fox News. This takes less time in your day than reading the daily paper and keeps you in tune with world events.

Take shortcuts in the kitchen. If you’re cooking a nice dinner, it doesn’t take much extra work to make extra. Double (or triple) the ingredients and cook a large batch. Freeze some for a future dinner or freeze one portion in individual freezer bags if you’re single or only cooking for two. While you’re preparing your family’s plates, put a portion into a plastic container with a lid so you can take it to work tomorrow. Then, when it’s time for lunch, you simply pop it in the microwave and enjoy a hot, nourishing lunch, requiring no additional time on your part. And it saves time driving to fast food restaurants, not to mention extra pounds! (You can save the extra pounds for eating cookies.) The next time you bake, put a cookie sheet covered with dough balls in the freezer. The next day, transfer them to a freezer bag. When the kids come home from school or your wife is craving them, you can pop a few into the oven and have fresh, hot cookies any time! Or you could buy chicken and beef in bulk, marinate it, grill, slice, and freeze it in individual portions. When you get home from work, you can quickly whip up stir-fry, enchiladas, or pasta with vegetables. It might even be wise to invest in a deep freezer so you can buy more when you shop and keep more meals in stock.

Share chauffeur duties. When my daughter played in soccer tournaments, we spent hours driving to practices, games, tournaments, and camps. Families all arrived at once, in our separate minivans and SUVs, a single girl would climb out, we’d watch the game, and then all drive home, caravan style. Wait a minute…what’s wrong with this picture? I asked one family to split driving duties. We would pick up and drive to practice, and they would pick up from practice and drive home. That shortcut helped tremendously. We alternated for the games. If it wasn’t one parent’s turn to drive, but she wanted to see the game anyway, she could relax in the back while the other parent played chauffeur. Our system saved time and gas money—and was a lot more fun.

Don’t feel guilty about taking shortcuts! Yes, go ahead and buy pre-washed and pre-cut vegetables. Do you think you’ll be more likely to eat a salad when you can toss clean, cut lettuce, carrots, slivered almonds, cheese crumbles, and dried cranberries in a bowl and throw in oil and vinegar? Give yourself permission to spend a couple of extra dollars, save a lot of time, and eat healthier.

Make it a productive day! ™

(C) Copyright 2005 Laura Stack, MBA, CSP. All rights reserved. 

This article may be reprinted provided the following credit line is present: "Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is "The Productivity Pro"® and the author of Leave the Office Earlier. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or [email protected]."