Finding time

From the first page of Google Image search results and

(This is a companion to Finding money.)

I continually look for ways to create a life with more breathing room without extra work or expense. Many people could spend money on housekeeping or takeout or just plain sleep less to free up time. My goal is to create more time by doing less and doing what I am already doing, but differently -- not in addition to what I am already doing. 

I am cataloging them here in the hopes that you have a few insights from them, and I’ll keep this up to date if I have new ideas. You’ll notice that several ideas have more benefits than just time savings.

When you're looking at your life, focus on things you do frequently (even if brief) or that take a long time that you do not value or enjoy. But if you really like cleaning, spend as much time as you like on it. Whatever blows your hair back.

I divided this into three general principles I consider.

1. Can you find ways to do this differently?

Really it's best to start with seeing if you can stop doing something entirely, but I led with this principle because I like the creativity involved.

Be an early bird

I arrive at the grocery store within a few minutes of store open on Saturday mornings. As a result, there is no traffic, mostly green lights, close parking spots, and the store is well-stocked but not crowded. Compare that to going after work.

We eat on the early side, as well, so we’re not accustomed to waiting to be seated or the bustle of a busy restaurant mealtime. We also usually eat out on weeknights, which is less busy. (See next section.)

Cook when you naturally have time for it

I make my two most complicated meals on the least busy days of my week, Saturday and Sunday. When we eat out, it’s usually a weeknight, when I have no time to cook, anyway. I align the task with when I have time to do it. I am surprised how many people view weekends as the time to go out.

Invest in a decent chef's knife, a large cutting board, and a bench scraper, and take care of them. This makes working in the kitchen easier, faster, and safer. I have this knife and have gifted it to a few others, with a large OXO cutting board.

Other advice for cooking up a storm:

Parents: “Sleep when the baby sleeps” …and do other things with your kids, too

This saying is something we did not appreciate when we had our first baby but have come to adopt more widely.

Our first insight was when my wife and I used to feed our infant lunch, put her to bed, then enjoy the peace and quiet of our own lunch. We realized that if we just ate when the baby ate, we could enjoy that time, still eat together, and reclaim the time we used to spend eating after she went down for a nap.

Later, we started brushing our teeth with our daughter when she was brushing her teeth. We were standing there, anyway, and it saved us the trouble of doing it later.

Now that our daughter can read a bit on her own, our most recent application of this concept is family reading time. My wife and I both read, but only during that precious personal time after our daughter goes to bed. As a result, we didn’t model the reading behavior we would like for our daughter. And we could use a break most days, especially on the weekend. Family reading time, when all of us get our books and sit quietly on the couch, is a synergy that addresses all those challenges.

Parents of young children: drink your coffee/tea from a tumbler

With young children, it's easy to get interrupted by feedings, changing diapers, etc. We used to microwave a mug of coffee maybe five times over its lifespan, every time it got cold.  Switch to an insulated tumbler and never have to reheat it again. Tumblers are easier to clean than insulated travel mugs and don't keep coffee so insanely hot that you can't drink it for hours. And they easily transition to car cup holders, unlike regular mugs. This is the one I have.

Remove pointless variety and decision making with routines

Making little decisions like what to have for lunch or what to wear doesn’t take long but choosing the same things consistently has other synergies. For example, I eat the same thing for lunch every day: a big, spinach salad. As a result, I don’t have to worry about whether I’ll get enough veggies each day, it’s quick to prepare, and it makes shopping each week more predictable.

When you’re cooking and doing chores, carry things with you (in general)

(I don’t recommend reading this section if you have obsessive compulsive tendencies, because it’s hard to turn off once your awareness begins.) When I’m doing physical work, I picture a spaghetti chart (a Lean concept) in my mind and think about whether there is a way to do what I need with less movement.

Imagine getting more salt to season your dinner: walk from the table to get the salt, bring it to the table, season the food, walk the salt back to the pantry, then walk back to the table. Alternatively: bring your food to the pantry, season it, and walk back to the table. Apply the same thinking by bringing the dog food bowl to the dog food instead of the scoop of food to the dog bowl. Or apply related thinking by unloading plates and bowls from the dishwasher into stacks on the counter above the dishwasher, and then you can quickly put the stacks away. These are small but can reduce time spent on frequent, thankless chores.

2. Can you stop doing this?

Stop reading and watching news

Most news topics are outside your circle of influence (a concept I first learned about in the 7 Habits) and focused on negative, dangerous, and often extremely rare events. Is the information necessary or helpful? Is it making you unhappy or stressed out? Is it something you can act on? If something important happens, I promise you’ll still find out. If you think you need the news, at least reduce your intake to one or very few curated sources, then ignore everything else (or block them if you want save willpower).

Stop processing unnecessary email

Unsubscribe, opt out, and/or block emails. Also check profile settings for online accounts to see what personal data you can disable the sharing of, to reduce the flow. This also reduces the amount of time you spend shopping, which is itself unpleasant, time-consuming, and can waste money if done mindlessly, like shopping for something you don't need because you got an email that it was on sale.

Stop processing unnecessary postal mail

When you receive a catalog, go to the trouble to unsubscribe using the company's web site or customer service email. When something is delivered that is addressed to a previous resident (even mail that is obviously junk), go to the trouble of putting it back in the mail with a note that the person does not live at the address anymore. The benefits accumulate over time, and many days we receive and process no mail whatsoever. It also reduces waste from junk mail. Think of catalogs as having opted into advertisements that increase your environmental footprint. (We used to use Catalog Choice, which is faster, but not as reliable in successfully opting out.)

Turn off distracting mobile and desktop notifications

Distractions make everything take longer. If it's not something urgent and important, turn the notification off. It saves your battery and saves you from continual distraction. Again, if something truly important happens, you’ll find out. (Perhaps a frequently distracted person will tell you.) On my phone, I only have text notifications enabled, and many group chats are muted.

Stop eating breakfast

Skipping breakfast gives you more time in the morning and saves decision making on weekdays. (I do enjoy a good breakfast on the weekend, however, with no work/school to hurry to.)

Stop manually paying bills, investing, or moving money around

Except for dealing with one-off large bills or windfalls, things should move in a predictable, automatable way. You can also model these to systematize desirable behavior, like mindlessly saving for retirement. This is also in line with passive investing, which is best for the typical person.

3. Can you do this less often?

Grocery shop just once a week and don’t forget anything

We grocery shop exactly once a week, following a simple formula: see what proteins and produce are on sale, plan meals around them, break the meals down into ingredients we need to make them, then add in the other staple items we need.

During the week, eat the most perishable food first. Ex., we’ll have berries early in the week and break down a watermelon or have apples later in the week.

We add things to the shopping list immediately when we notice we’re running out or the thought occurs to us, so there are no surprises. My lovely wife and I use collaborative notes on Simplenote to keep things like our grocery list in sync, and it’s no trouble to add things to our list, if we have our phones.

Cook most of your food in just a few cooking sessions per week

Always make enough for leftovers, and actually eat them. We generally eat every meal but one in our house each week and accomplish this cooking just three times. For dinner, we cook three times, have leftovers the next three nights, then go out to dinner or get takeout when we’re out of food. We have salads for lunch every day and something small (or nothing) for breakfast.

Another way to reduce cooking is looking for ways to batch preparation. Two examples we use are making big batches of cold brew (like making five days’ coffee at once, and it tastes better) and making a container of many servings of overnight oats instead of making it each night. We have a Toddy cold brew maker that doesn't seem to be made anymore, but I know the OXO one is also highly recommended.

Reduce the frequency of online orders and deliveries

It’s depressing to see boxes piling up inside your front door that you can’t be bothered to open.

We order all our things from Amazon once a week, on the weekend, unless it’s truly urgent. Like groceries, this is enabled using the same system of writing things down as soon as it occurs to us in Simplenote, then processing the list once a week. Fewer orders also mean less time breaking down and recycling boxes and fewer deliveries, which is better for the environment.

In the same spirit, I also look for opportunities to increase the quantity and decrease the frequency of subscriptions that support it, e.g., two units shipped every two months instead of one unit every month. This often saves money on shipping costs, too.

Be conscious and deliberate about buying anything at all

I associate buying things with creating work, in general – dealing with packaging, finding a place for it, stressing about whether it’s worth returning if it’s not quite what you wanted, printing out labels, looking for the right box, etc., which are unpleasant. This is a good argument for buying quality if you can afford it and only shopping when you really need something. Opting out of emails and catalogs helps with this.

Additionally, buying stuff often begets buying more stuff, shopping for which takes time (and money, for which you trade your time). “The Diderot Effect states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption which leads you to acquire more new things.”

Open social media less often

Unless social media is your job, you can learn what you need to know on it in 15min a week. You can probably stop using most services entirely and just narrow down to just one.

Send fewer emails

Email begets email. Send a chat message or text. If it’s not urgent, jot it down and wait until the next time you talk.

Stop working when you’re tired

Sometimes you just must recognize that nobody is awake, waiting for you to finish that thing you’re doing, and you’re moving at a snail’s pace because you’re tired, anyway. Pack it in and do it when you’re feeling fresher (tomorrow).

Contact Form


Email *

Message *