Freedom! Horrible freedom!
March 22, 2007 7:01 AM   Subscribe

How do I automate the mundane aspects my life?

So far, I've got a few things that keep the mundane parts of my life ticking over nicely, without my having to think about them too much, if at all. Some examples:

1. Like many people, I have a checking account (for paying rent, bills, etc), a savings account, and a spending account. Regular automated debits from the checking account enter my savings and spendings accounts. When I use an ATM, I use my spending account card, and I can see exactly how much cash I have for the month. I usually keep my cash allowance for the week in my wallet. Most of my bills and rent are direct debit, and I track shared payments with Consequently, I have very little thinking to do in terms of personal finance (as long as I keep things simple).

2. Any and every appointment or reminder goes into my phone's calendar. My phone then reminds me of meetings, birthdays, etc.

3. I cycle whenever I can. This means I don't have to think about scheduling specific time for basic keep-fit exercise.

4. I'm doing a college course. Currently I carry around a set of flash cards wherever I go, so I get to do some useful revision in the "dead time" spent sitting on the bus. (Before the college course, it was a book of sudoku puzzles).

What other similar things do people do? I'm not looking for a "framework" like GTD or tickler files; I'm looking for specific examples of processes that run themselves, or habits that people introduce that allow them to make the most of their day.

I'm sure this question will have been asked here before, but I only managed to find details of implementing tickler files, GTD, and so on.
posted by ajp to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
posted by DU at 7:09 AM on March 22, 2007

When you get home, dump everything in your pockets into a plate/bowl. Empty the bowl when you leave in the morning. If you need to take something tomorrow, put it in the bowl.
posted by Orb2069 at 7:19 AM on March 22, 2007 [5 favorites]

I had good luck with this thread.
posted by stormygrey at 7:38 AM on March 22, 2007

My new thing is to have a waste-basket and shredder by the table by our door, where mail is usually dumped. This way instead of setting junk mail on the table to build up, we can shred the crap that needs to be shredded immediately, and dump the catalogs and other junk into the wastebasket.

If you sent e-cards for people's birthdays, set them all up at the start of the month, to be sent on the appropriate day. You can also do this with mail-order gifts.

If you have a cat - self cleaning litterboxes.
posted by tastybrains at 7:39 AM on March 22, 2007

People who have the cash simplify their lives by concentrating on their paying jobs and then paying other people to take care of tedious things they would otherwise have to do for themselves: walk dogs, mow lawns, clean rooms, wash dishes, cook meals, watch children, etc.

But if you're a bus-riding, bike-riding, course-taking person, maybe that's not you.

One of the "habits that people introduce that allow them to make the most of their day" is to buy long-term rather than short-term. It reduces the number of times you have to buy and it usually saves you money.
  • Buy a monthly or quarterly or annual bus pass.
  • Buy big boxes of stuff you use all the time. (If you don't own a car, try to arrange joint shopping trips with someone who does.)
  • Buy a subscription rather than monthly at the newsstand.
  • Don't buy at all if you don't really need it.
  • Throw away (or give away or sell) what you already bought that you don't need.

posted by pracowity at 7:42 AM on March 22, 2007

A lot of the processes I have automated have arisen because I am not a morning person. I don't think well upon awaking and usually 'wake up' sometime around 10 AM, sitting at my desk. Therefore, in the early AM I stay on pre-set rails. Here are some things that help me.

1. I adore my automatic coffeemaker. I fill it the night before and set it to start brewing 10 minutes before my alarm goes off. The first sound I hear in the morning is the gurgle of the maker starting up, which kind of helps me prepare for the alarm, but is gentler. It smells good, too, and then coffee is hot and ready as soon as I am up. The coffeemaker also has automatic shutoff, so I don't worry about whether I've left it on or not when I leave the house.

2. I put my thermal mug on the counter with the lid off, ready to go.

3. I do Orb2069's 'bowl' thing, only I have a basket in which I put wallet, keys, phone, and notes to myself.

4. I pack my bag the evening before. If I'm going to the gym the next day I pack my gym bag in the evening too.

5. At night I usually pre-choose the outfit I'm going to wear the next day. That sometimes involves checking the weather.

6. My dad, who is far more efficient than I, actually pours his cereal into a bowl, adds the sugar he uses, puts a spoon nearby, and covers it all in preparation for morning.

Most of these things aren't truly automated, but they do reduce stress.

The other automation I'd like to have is the timer thermostat. I'd be happy to be able to have the heat drop overnight while I'm sleeping, warm up for shower time in the morning, then drop again while I'm at work. I'm forever adjusting manually, but sometimes I forget.
posted by Miko at 7:44 AM on March 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

Seconding the timer thermostat. I keep the house positively fridgid during the day (winter - 55) and warm it up for the short time I'm up, but home, in the AM and while we're home at night. I did this manually, last year. I cut my gas bill in half this year, just from the timer thermostat, despite it being a colder winter this year and my complete forgetting to put up window plastic.
posted by notsnot at 8:19 AM on March 22, 2007

Everything Miko said and then some. My suggestions fall into the "habits that people introduce that allow them to make the most of their day" category; more like "maximizing efficiency for full-on morning zombie mode". For me, these things work because they show up right in my usual path...

Not forgetting mundane items:
I have a big piece of pegboard mounted by the front door with hooks I put my keys, wallet, watch, pen, sunglasses, ipod, mail (and anything else I need when I'm out and about) so I stow it upon arrival and can grab it before I go. It's nice to have it all where I can see it at once (thus not relying on remembering to put it in a bag in advance or double-checking the bag on the way out the door). But I'd hate to see what happens if someone broke into our place while we're asleep, with all the stealables neatly prepared for them. We also keep our bus schedules and transit maps there, and have included a little magnetic bulletin board for notes. Sounds ugly, I know, but we always get compliments on it. Plus, it's reconfigurable.

Keeping track of winter gear:
The other time saver we have in our cramped coat closet is one of those hangs-from-the-closet-rod shoe holder things, in which we stuff hats, scarves, and gloves... that way they're easy to access and not trapped in coat pockets.

& it was very surprising to me, but once I started forwarding my work/important email addresses to my phone, I've spent WAY less time on the computer (at least in work mode) in the evenings. It lets me know if I'm getting messages, and I can eaily tell if they're urgent just by skimming. I rarely respond to messages on the phone, but it's nice to have the little ambient indicator that mail's been received and I am free to act if it's an emergency. If I go to the trouble of turning on the computer and checking the mail, I usually go ahead and respond to non-critical messages just because they're there. The phone thing keeps me from even turning on the computer some nights.
posted by activitystory at 9:17 AM on March 22, 2007

A little off topic, but remember to backup your phone's calendar to the web or somewhere that's not on the phone. If all of your appointments are in your phone, you're screwed if you lose it.
posted by nomad at 9:26 AM on March 22, 2007

So many ways to simplify! I love this thread. Here's a couple of things I do...

Go paperless. You don't really need paper. For anything that requires paper, you can always find an alternative way to do it.

Funnel things...all your bills daisy chain or get paid with a "master" card, all your garbage collects in one place, etc. Basically, try to eliminate disparate piles of stuff. If everything leads to one place, be it food, bills, contacts, websites, et al, you don't have to track it and rally together things to make sense of it all.

For the computer, set as my homepage has saved my life. You can create categories of links (finance, news, fun sites, blogs, work links, etc.) collected in one place. Never type a URL again, for a site you visit more than once. And Those two sites are golden. Trust me. Another thing about the computer...I create a 10-email inbox rule. I can't have more than 10 emails in my inbox and if I want to delete something, I must take care of it and then file or delete it. I know I will absolutely forget whatever it is once it's deleted/filed, so I MUST deal with it. All other tasks and reminders get funnelled to my email (often by my emailing myself a to-do list or reminder to call somebody, etc.). Picking the medium I use most (email) and directing everything to that end subdues the chaos in my head and life.

Passwords: I have a system for remembering/creating passwords where I take a strange number/letter combination that is the basis for all passwords (you'll never figure it out, don't bother tryin' folks!) and then attach a word that obscurely represents the category for site. Example: I can go to any shopping related site and I know what my password is, cause it's the shopping one. If there's a breach in security, I only have to alter all the shopping passwords. When I visit a new site, I create the appropriate password for that category (finance, news, social, etc.)

Other little things: Brush your teeth in the shower (saves time and you can feel free to make a mess without worrying about ruining your shirt), bowl/table by front door (already suggested), online grocery shopping and delivery (everything from Safeway to organic meat and veggie companies do this, and delivery is often free!). Utilize things that are just sitting around in closets...camping pads make great rug protectors or sport gear protectors. Blankets, sheets, and pillows are great for packing, wrapping, and protecting other closeted items. You cut down on a lot of space this way, and get rid of a lot of boxes.

I'll stop now, other's are sure to have lots of great suggestions (as I see they already do!) Good luck and happy automating!

-this, and all other threads viewed through
posted by iamkimiam at 12:42 PM on March 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

this is an obscure one, if you're trying to learn a foreign language...Disclaimer: no, I am not crazy, this is slightly neurotic, but it worked!!

When I was trying to learn French in school I was super busy all the time. I bought pink and blue post-its and littered my house with them. There were post-its everywhere with verbs and nouns written on them. I didn't have to study — all I had to do was remember if there was a blue or pink post-it on the tele, and what it said. Saved me tons of time and great for visual learners.

Roommates wouldn't like this of course, and you will be finding post-its in strange places for years to come (dans le congélateur, dans l'armoire d'épice, sur le ventilateur de
plafond, etcetera)
posted by iamkimiam at 12:54 PM on March 22, 2007 [3 favorites]

wow, there are so many suggestions in the threads linked above, i'm impressed.

also, if you do your own housework, make lists of tasks to do daily and/or weekly. start small, and do them, then build up until everything you think should be getting done is getting done. this eliminates the nagging feeling that you should be cleaning at other times, and also the inconvenient mess.

live in a neighborhood where there are many places you go or would like to go.

make portable kits for activities you do frequently, like an art box, office supply box, tool box, etc. make a small generalized kit by thinking about the things you most frequently wish you had or would like to have in various situations you tend to encounter, and carry it with you as much as possible.

cooking ahead is a great idea, but even if you don't do that, plan your meal cooking ahead, maybe right before you go shopping. that way you won't suddenly get stuck with nothing to eat or wonder what you can possibly make out of the weird items you have left.

csa (community supported agriculture) farms are in a lot of places and have weekly clubs you can sign up for to get a box of whatever produce is in season. some of them deliver, and all of them pretty much automate the selection process, so that could also be a convenience and add some interesting variety if you cook.
posted by lgyre at 2:56 PM on March 22, 2007

Finder: I think it's endearing. When he does that, he exhibits the same qualities of forethought, calm, and security that make him such a good dad.

What might be escaping you if you think organized people are 'trying too hard' is that, in fact, the more you structure and organize the little details, the freer your mind and creative spirit can become. You're no longer distracted by scrambling, self-nagging, trying to catch up with yourself to figure out what you've done already or what you need to do next. It's pretty liberating not to have to improvise every second and respond to routine situations as if they were brand new. For some of us, anyway.
posted by Miko at 8:43 PM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments. Any more for any more?

Bowl by the door: yep I do that, and it's great. But I like the sound of a pegboard even more.

Bread-maker: On the shopping list :-)

Coffee-maker: I put a mukka on the stove while I'm in the shower. Perfect coffee to take to work/college in my thermos.

Roomba: A bit of an expense, but definitely worth looking at if it actually works. What's the cleaning power like? Is it going to be as good as my Dyson? Anyone in the UK got one? What's the power consumption like?

Timer-thermostat: Got one, using it. That reminds me though, I've got some timer-plugs too. These turn off things like the TV after midnight, when I'm asleep, so they're not draining electricity while nobody's using them. One more thing I can forget about.

Pre-packing bags and pre-arranging clothing: makes sense, but somehow I doubt I'll ever be that organised.

Changing neighbourhood: Underway.

Also I asked about batch-cooking food before; worth mentioning here.
posted by ajp at 6:13 AM on March 23, 2007

One of my favorite ways to squeeze more good time out of a day is to be counter cyclical. This can only work if you have a flexible job or life (like a college student or independent contractor). Do your commuting at odd(er) times, so you don't fight traffic. Do your grocery shopping at 2 PM (or 8:00 PM), *not* 5:30 PM . Do your banking at weird hours (first thing saturday morning?), as well as laundry (if you use a laundry mat), haircuts, and other errands.

Doing so probably saves something like 2 or 3 hours per week. More if you have a serious commute.
posted by zpousman at 8:57 AM on March 23, 2007

Response by poster: zpousman: Nice. I've recently started phoning friends on my walk to and from the train in the mornings and evenings. When I'm on the train, if I'm not revising from flashcards, I check my email on my phone. So my 45 minute commute is now packed full of stuff that I'd otherwise forget, or wouldn't get time to do during the rest of the day.

God damn, efficiency leaking from every pore. YES.
posted by ajp at 10:43 AM on March 23, 2007

All ideas from posts above that I also practice to streamline daily life:

1. A small desktop paper shredder to destroy unwanted but confidential paperwork (even junk mail with my name and address)

2. On the counter by the front door, a cardboard (soon to be upgraded to plastic...) mat with outlines of my wallet, phone, key & transit card. I put all the "tools" back when I come in the front door. Saves frenzied panicked minutes from my life in the morning looking for all the items separated over the course of the previous evening.

3. I use post-it notes to prioritise things I need to do on the job (and around the house). I arrange these on a tiny whiteboard by my desk (both at work and at home). When the task is done, I unstick the note and actually keep it in a growing pile, which adds to the sense of accomplishment for a sometimes scatter brain like me.

4. Reading on the commute: sometimes for pleasure, sometimes for work.
posted by red canoe at 8:03 AM on June 2, 2007

« Older Wife may have MS   |   Pupils that are always dilated -- what does this... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.