What are your best timesavers?
January 26, 2008 12:36 PM   Subscribe

Recent college grad now living in the real world: what are your favorite techniques, tricks, or products to get the everyday things done?`

Now that I'm working a job that requires me to put in a lot of hours, I find that I don't have any time to do the everyday things relating to cooking, cleaning, hygiene, etc. - or at least much less time than I used to. What are your favorite time-saving techniques?

My question is similar to this one from 2005, but...well, it's from 3 years ago and it doesn't seem like a very full list. Also, the more obscure the better. For instance, I bought an electric razor, toothbrush, and an old exercise bike - now if I'm really pressed for time I can shave and brush my teeth while getting a little bit of exercise. Sounds a bit extreme, but on nights when I only have an hour at home and have been in front of a computer all day, it saves 15 minutes and is the difference between being sedentary all day and just being sedentary most of the day.

So...what are your best timesavers?
posted by btkuhn to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
When I was living by myself I used to do most of my cooking for the weekend on Sunday afternoon. I'd make a huge stir fry, pot of pasta, lasagna, or whatever, put it in Tupperware containers, and then eat it all week.

I also used to do a bit of cleaning every night. Just take 15 or 20 minutes to pick up the living room, clean the bathroom, etc. That prevented the mess from piling up.
posted by christinetheslp at 12:42 PM on January 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

If you're living alone, try to use just one set of utensils and one plate when eating. That way, you'll only have to wash a handful of dishes after every meal. Nothing piles up.
posted by betafilter at 12:48 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think this is one of the hardest things to learn when you're first out on your own. When I was in my early twenties, I used to be sort of resentful of things like laundry or grocery shopping: "this is my time off! I want to do fun things!" But the biggest thing I figured out is that if you do small "life-maintenance" type things on a regular basis, these things end up being a lot less time-consuming in the end.

In general, most life-maintenance things have two categories of tasks: the once-in-a-while big jobs, and the daily mundane little tasks keeping things going. For instance, I like to do one big grocery shopping a month, where I get the staples and frozen things that won't go bad (I usually rent a zipcar and go to Trader Joe for this). That way, I always have things I need in pinch. Then, a couple of times a week, I go to my local supermarket to get whatever I need that week: lettuce, cereal, milk, etc. The regular trip doesn't seem oppressive because I'm just picking up a few things I need, and the bigger trip is sort of fun, as long as I don't do it all the time.

Cooking takes a similar shape: once in a while I'll cook up something big, like a lasagna or a soup, and I'll freeze the leftovers. That way I have leftovers when I don't feel like cooking. But when I have a spare 20 minutes in the evening, I can easily cook up a chicken breast with a salad on the side, and a microwaved "baked" potato if I'm extra hungry.

I think the biggest thing that's hard to figure out when you're first on your own is that you don't have to the "big thing" every time. You don't have to make lasagna for dinner every night, you don't have to deep-clean your apartment every weekend, and you don't have to buy $100 worth of stuff every time you go to the supermarket. But if you carve out a bit of time each month for these things, then you can stay on top of things in just a few minutes every day.
posted by lunasol at 1:20 PM on January 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

If you're living alone, try to use just one set of utensils and one plate when eating. That way, you'll only have to wash a handful of dishes after every meal. Nothing piles up.
posted by betafilter

Along the same lines: don't even buy a lot of dishes. If you have a full service for 4, that should be plenty. The more dishes you start collecting, the more tempting it can be to put off doing dishes, since you can just grab another plate plate or bowl. If you need more place settings to entertain, get disposable stuff.
posted by The Deej at 2:12 PM on January 26, 2008

A couple odds and ends I remember:

Plan in advance. Take a few minutes to figure out all the stuff you have to do and build a plan of attack. Chaining errands together can save time as opposed to having to travel to each one individually. It seems stupidly obvious, but I've known lots of people who blew entire days coming home from one errand, smacking their forehead, and going back out for the next one, then repeating. The Dry Cleaners are a major culprit here. You forget to pick it up, then it bites you.

In addition, laundry has a way of creating little nuggets of time to do other things, such as dishes, de-funking your bathroom, or tidying up. Or, you can sneak in a TV show or something during the cycles.

With dishes, this is another one that seems totally obvious to some and completely alien to others. CLEAN YOUR DISH RIGHT AFTER YOU USE IT. Fresh food waste washes off almost instantly. You may not even have to put it in the dishwasher. Waiting for it to cake on and harden can get it to the point where even the dishwasher can't clean it, and you wind up blowing time and elbow grease getting it back to normal. Also, not having food-encrusted dishes lying around is considerably more classy and pleasant.

With food, remember: You have money now. You can buy five boxes of cereal, extra meat for the freezer, etc. Obviously don't buy ten cartons of milk at a time, but you can load up on non-perishables, meaning that the occasional jaunt for milk or something like that can be faster, less of a big deal, and easier to accomplish along with other errands. (incidentally, an increasing number of milk companies super-pasteurize, which means the milk will stay good out to the very generous printed date as long as you keep it closed. So you can get two as long as you only use one at a time.)

And also, you may find that you enjoy these errands. As long as they're not physically demanding, there's a certain satisfaction to them. And when you're doing crap around the house, take the time to put on that album you bought and never listen to.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 2:47 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Never waste time looking for things. Keys, wallet, pocket stuff all gets dumped in the same place every day. Bills and paperwork and whatnot get handled and filed immediately, so you know exactly where they are if you should ever hafta think about them again. Never buy a single book of stamps. What, like you'll never need a stamp again? Spend 10 whole minutes cleaning your apartment, every day. You will have a clean and pleasing place with very little effort, because if you do this for a week, you'll figure out the routine of what needs doing when. (I would combine this with my fun time and drink a beer and blast music, which makes scrubbing the floors slightly less awful.) Stay on top of the little stuff, and if you do it conscientiously, in a couple of weeks you'll find yourself with more spare time. Then you can sit on your couch and eat cheese puffs and feel righteous.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:47 PM on January 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

the two things I try to keep in mind, and always end up being true:

1) If it takes 2 minutes to do, just do it. You will spend more time than that worrying about it in the future. Keep doing the two minute or less errends as you see them until none are less.

2) Do it right the first time. Half assed solutions always end up biting you later on.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 3:06 PM on January 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

The lesson I sort-of taught myself after years of misplacing things:

Everything has a proper place.

Now, that part you might have already gotten to. But where, right? Where's the correct place for your cold medicine? Your tire cleaning agents? The knick-knacks... where do they go?

The answer is remarkably simple:

The correct place is the first place you'd go to look for it.

It's that simple. So, when putting anything away, ask yourself, "What would be the first place I would look for this?" Because that is it's correct place.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:08 PM on January 26, 2008 [9 favorites]

Laundry: stow your dirty clothes in a laundry basket (or surrogate) the size of a load. When full, do your laundry -- not when you run out of clean clothes, when multiple loads might be required. And utilize a small timer so you know when to transfer from washer and dryer, and then to retrieve.

Bills: when a bill arrives, pay it immediately. Write the check, stuff the envelope, and mail it the next morning. Don't put it off or the late fees will bite you.
posted by Rash at 4:09 PM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Aside from the suggestions already made, one thing that's always worked for me is to treat Saturday morning as if it were a regular workday. That is, I wake up early and go through my normal routine as if I were getting ready for work, but instead of heading to the office, I take care of housecleaning, errands, etc. Typically, I can have an entire week's worth of crap done by lunchtime, giving me the rest of the weekend to relax and do as I please.

Of course, this technique doesn't work too well if you stay out late Friday night.
posted by jal0021 at 5:17 PM on January 26, 2008

There was a similar thread to this a few weeks ago. I learned the japanese t-shirt folding technique from that, and it's made laundry much more fun.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:25 PM on January 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

A 2-4lb roast is not too much for one person. You can cook a 2lb beef one in about 1 hour, and then you have tasty roast beef for a week, and you can make sandwiches, stirfys, whatever. You don't have to so anything - bung it in the oven and bake - you can go do other things around the house at this time. It does taste better if you do the first 20 min at 475F/ 250C, then turn down the oven and cook rest of time at 375 F (15 min/lb). But still much less work than you would think. Same with roast chicken - if you don't stuff it, it's not that much work. Just stick and onion in the middle, maybe rub a little butter and/or herbs on top - stick in oven and let it do its own thing.

Also, greens like collard greens or kale or spinach are tasty, and take very little time to cook - 5 min in a frying pan on med/high with a bit of olive oil, maybe some garlic and soy sauce. And again, you can walk away and let them do their stuff.

Generally, for short time cooking - the frying pan is your friend, but it doesn't need to be unhealthy.
posted by jb at 9:07 PM on January 26, 2008

Do you have a job at which you can do some small personal tasks? I was able to do this when I had an office gig, and I would regularly bring my bills with me, pay them there, write grocery lists, occasionally write letters of protest (CC companies, car rental agencies, and the like) either during the day or on lunch, depending, and generally address some little things over the course of the day. If you can do some quick shopping on your lunch as well, be it food supplies or clothes or whatever else you need to do, that also puts a chunk of time to use.

Absolutely cook ahead for the week. It's cheaper, and if you get some transportable food containers you've got lunch/dinner for all week, no prep but reheating. Pick some foods that are good when reheated, obviously--good soups, curries, chili are great, but you can pull off chicken and other things as well.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 10:41 PM on January 26, 2008

Laundry again. I concur with the advice to do things on Saturday, especially laundry. Immediately after you wake up, take off the sheets and get them washing. Then make the bed up. When the laundry is dry, fold and put it away immediately - this is important. Don't put it off at all.

There's a way to deal with T-shirts that I prefer even to the Japanese t-shirt folding technique:

Pile the shirts up in a stack. Place a stack of hangars next to them. Then with each shirt, grab the left edge of the collar with your left hand while simultaneously grabbing a hangar with your right hand. Insert the right corner of the hangar into the right side of the collar and slip it the rest of the way in. Then fold the hangar down. Repeat. Cuts t-shirt putting-away-time down significantly.

Paying bills immediately is very helpful. If you drive to a post office, keep stamps and the checkbook with you. Get bills, go to the counter (or sit in your car). Write out the checks, stamp the envelopes, and put them in the mail on the same visit. This is good advice even if you have a mailbox near your house.

Keep a pad of paper on or in the pantry (or fridge), for the shopping list. Whenever something is running low, write it on there. (Need I say immediately?)

There's a certain threshold for the length of a task that may be postponed. It's often underestimated. Things that take 5 or even 10 minutes should not be candidates for postponement. Do it now.

Never ever leave a dirty dish in the sink. If you have a dishwasher, put dirty dishes in there and nowhere else. If not, you could stack them up a bit but make sure it's always in the same place, and they're prepared for washing.
posted by yath at 11:25 PM on January 26, 2008

I second all of the cook for the week suggestions.

I set my crock pot up and cook:

Split Pea Soup
Black Bean Soup

Also, have multiple sets of sheets, towels, etc, so you don't have to wash them immediately or frequently. Same thing with dishes, cups, etc. Don't run the wash till you can fill it.
posted by mhuckaba at 11:49 PM on January 26, 2008

This isn't exactly what you asked for but it's my official post-college advice: make a dentist appointment for yourself. Then make the next appointment when you're at the dentist's. Keep up with your dental cleanings etc, and floss. It's easy to put off, and if you do it can cost you $$$ when you end up needing a root canal at 25. Seriously.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:28 AM on January 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

Seconding LobsterMitten. I had a broken back lower molar get infected, progress to an abscess, and needed two CT scans and an overnight stay in the hospital after an incision and drainage, while they pumped IV antibiotics through my system in hopes of preventing worse infection. Total cost: Just under USD 10,000, uninsured, through my own stupidity and laziness. (This happened the day before Christmas, a few weeks ago; the molar had been broken since August.)
posted by cgc373 at 3:51 AM on January 27, 2008

A common theme I see in a lot of these answers is being organized and staying organized. I totally support the idea of everything in it's place, not so much of my OCD, but as a huge time saver. Here's my few thoughts to add to the great suggestions already posted.
-Don't waste time drying dishes. Wash them in hot water (with gloves on, trust me it helps a lot) and just let them sit in the drainer to air dry. You don't even need to put them away, just grab the clean ones you need from the drainer directly.
-If you're a coffee drinker, buy a coffee maker with a timer on it so you can prepare it the night before and have the timer go off 10 minutes before your usual wake up time. Yes it saves time, but it's also so nice to wake up to a fresh pot of coffee.
-Establish as many routines as possible. And try to group similar ones. Get into the habit of figuring out how much time it will take you and if it's a short task, just get it done. For example, I've gotten into the habit of my morning routine (in the colder weather) of going out to the car 10 minutes before I have to leave and turning it on. It takes me all of two minutes to go out and do it, but when I'm ready to go at 7:00, it's all warmed up, all the ice/frost has melted on the windshield and I'm good to go. Yay- no scraping! Plus it's better for your engine.

I hope these were the kinds of suggestions you were looking for.
posted by NoraCharles at 6:36 AM on January 27, 2008

Oh and if you have any doctor/dentist/other appointments where you usually have to spend some time in a waiting room, bring something to do. Whether it's some bills you need to go over or a book you've been wanting to finish, you can steal back any wasted time waiting by planning ahead.
posted by NoraCharles at 6:39 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

The tree-hugger in me doesn't want you to use disposable plates or silverware when we have access to cheap, durable versions that we can use over and over.

That said, if your bank account allows for it, setup recurring deposits for things like cell phone bills, water bills, and the like; the bills that come regularly and at near-fixed amounts.

Bike to places within 3-5 miles of you; it'll be faster than driving when you figure in traffic and parking.

Don't feel the need to be OCD about cleaning and putting away everything if that's not your style, but don't leave things strewn about either. I have a pile of stuff near my front door that I usually need when walking out the door. Messanger bag, coat, hat, gloves, ipod, etc.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:20 AM on January 27, 2008

Don't feel the need to be OCD about cleaning and putting away everything if that's not your style, but don't leave things strewn about either. I have a pile of stuff near my front door that I usually need when walking out the door. Messanger bag, coat, hat, gloves, ipod, etc.

Good advice. I like things neat, but rarely keep them as neat as I like, since I seem to always be in the middle of a magazine or a book, or dealing with some paperwork, or using the laptop on the ottoman.

So, I did 2 things:
1- I bought some decorative storage containers, with or without lids. You can quickly stack the "stuff I'm working with right now" into one and have it by the couch or chair, without it looking cluttered or out of place. I have one for my stuff, and one for my daughter's.

2- My rule of everyday neatness is to ask myself; "Would I be embarrassed if unexpected company dropped by?" That tends to keep things orderly, since I am way more uncomfortable having my clutter seen by others than I am living with it myself. And when I do keep things in that type of order, I feel better as well.
posted by The Deej at 10:21 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am also a young twenty-something who just started working, and I pretty much do everything on Sunday; groceries, cleaning, laundry etc. if you keep up with it it'll save you a lot of hassle in the long run. I have a cheap 4-set of dishes, when I run out, I wash them (not once, in my entire life, have I had a dishwasher). Also, clearing out your fridge once in a while is important. I still haven't quite picked up on that one...
posted by piper4 at 1:33 PM on January 27, 2008

You mention hygiene - get into the habit (if you don't have it already) to get ready quickly in the morning, and that means (for me) brush teeth/floss/shave/shower/dress in less than 8 minutes flat. Since you do this everyday (okay, some may do this every other day) the minutes add up.

The old Alan Lakein quote comes to mind: repeat to yourself "what is the best use of my time right now?" many times during the day. It will increase your overall productivity.

Good suggestions above regarding paying bills immediately, putting everything in its place, and recommendations on housekeeping.

For your car, always fill up the tank entirely after letting the gas gauge go as low as you feel comfortable. Less frequent fill-ups = less time spent at the gas station.

Think about spending less time on the job (seriously). There is a decreasing benefit to a certain number of hours/week (depending on the person, of course). You need to be self-aware enough to know when that one additional hour on a project after a 10-hour day may only equate to 10 minutes of work first thing in the morning; thus that extra 50 minutes is effectively wasted, and could have been spent doing something much more fun. I've seen it happen in environments where people push themselves past their prime zone of efficiency - and only you can evaluate when you are most effective (and for how long). I work hard - very hard - and feel that anything over 60 hours a week for me isn't worth it personally, and that there are times in the day where certain tasks are much more appropriate (due to how effective I'll be at that task) than at others.

Lastly I feel strongly that it isn't a matter of collecting techniques as having an overall attitude toward time and life management. I've been a student of time management for many years as I want to get the most out of life.
posted by scooterdog at 7:20 PM on January 27, 2008

- The filling the tank up when getting fuel is a good one. Not filling it all the way just means you'll be filling again sooner (wasting time). Also, lets face it the price isn't coming down is it?! Also I like to keep a little 4 litre tank in the back. I'm pretty sure the main tank has more than I think, but this stops that paniced feeling I get if I'm past the red.

- I don't know if you can, but I got a tv card for my pc (which is always on even if on stand-by (sorry Greenpeace)) which records tv. When you watch stuff back you can skip the adverts (15 mins per hour over here).

- Make your lunch (for work) the night before and whack it in the fridge. Ideally, keep some food back from dinner that night and use that. Also I made sandwiches in the morning but from frozen bread. Given 3-4 hours the bread thaws completely. I think they're okay in the fridge over night though to be honest.

- When I was commuting a long way to work I cut down the time between waking up and leaving the house by having breakfast at work. Because I had to leave a large amount of time in case of traffic, I'd be eating breakfast before work 'started' anyway.

- I use Google Reader rather than visit every website I read. If something looks good I 'star' it, then go through all the things I starred later and bookmark them if I really want to read them. Also Google's firefox bookmark syncer is great if you are using multiple machines... no more hunting round for that website...

- Without becoming a google fanboy, their mobile apps are pretty good. I check mail on the go, and use their notebook feature. When I think of something I need at the supermarket, I just note it down on the notebook, when I go I have a list of everything I need ready to go. Unfortunately I'm currently on O2 with barely any signal in Cowley Rd Tesco - doh!

- Do you live alone? My housemate and I cook one day on, one day off, meaning I only have to cook a meal every other day. Makes a nice difference, and saves on buying for one premiums.

Eeeek... I'm sure there are loads more. This thread could run and run.
posted by tomw at 9:07 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, eating breakfast at work is how I cut 5-10 minutes out of my morning get-ready routine. My day usually starts with going through all the new emails in my inbox, and it's easy to read while eating a mug of instant oatmeal or a granola bar.

Another suggestion in the spirit of "do a little bit each day," which will probably be more useful for ladies: I've found that I can shave 1/4 of my legs (i.e. right or left calf or thigh) each morning in the shower to keep up during the week, because I wear pants to work. Then it's much quicker to shave completely on the weekends if I want to wear a skirt or shorts, compared to if I had let things go all week. This routine would probably change if anyone besides me ever got withing touching distance of my legs.
posted by vytae at 12:17 PM on January 28, 2008

When filling up at the gas station, use your idle time to wash the windows with the freebie squeegies/magic blue water next to the pump, and pop the hood to check your fluid levels (oil, washer, etc). Most pumps have paper towel dispensers so you can keep your hands clean when under the hood. You can easily do all this in the time it takes to fill up. [Note: obviously the station has to have locking pump triggers so you can leave them unattended]

Audiobooks are a great way to catch up with your reading, and if you have a lengthy commute then listen in your car (CD/tape/iPod/etc).

Computers & Internet
Seconding using RSS readers to save time when visiting sites. In addition, I use Firefox + session manager extension to re-open my last used tabs. Then I just leave my "go to" sites (Gmail, forums, etc) open all the time and cycle through them quickly to check for updates. Saves a lot of time over visiting each page manually and individually.

Also seconding utilizing a DVR/PVR of some sort. I built my own Media Center PC to handle DVR work, but even a network-provided "Tivo"-esque box is a timesaver. I rolled automatic commercial skipping into my DVR so I don't even have to skip them. Saves 20 minutes per hour of TV. Using a DVR also lets you watch when/what you want, without the urge to sit through a crappy show just because it's on before/after your primetime choice.

Kill two time-sucking birds with one stone: Watch your TV shows/movies whilst exercising. Video iPods are great for watching while biking/elliptical-ing/etc if your equipment isn't near a TV. Laptops are an alternative as well. Exercise equipment + DVR is a killer combo. Another nice thing is that a standard half-hour show coincides with the recommended daily exercise time. It's really over before you know it.

In general, I try to think "why do one thing when I could do two?". Simple example - reading a couple chapters of a book over breakfast (or catching the news, etc). Why split this into two blocks of time?

If you have trouble motivating yourself to do something, like a chore, try adding music. I find myself much more apt to knock out some house cleaning or other chores by putting an album on the stereo or popping my earbuds in. Makes it fun, actually. Works great in the morning too; I can get ready twice as fast when I throw an energetic album on during my morning routine.

Another thing to try to keep in the back of your mind is to do everything faster - especially repetitive, mindless activities. Make it your goal to get ready in the morning in minutes flat. When picking up around the house, don't wander around lazily and inefficiently; be quick, have a plan, and hurry. Why waste time on such chores when you could knock them out quickly?
posted by sprocket87 at 12:30 PM on January 28, 2008

One more thing, related to always stashing your keys in the same place -- I call that location the Staging Area, and its best form is a table by the front door. Lacking a table, my staging area's a space on the floor next to the front door (alythough my keys, change and wallet go into a bowl on a shelf, nearby). Anything needed tomorrow is placed in the staging area when it's ready; then you just pick it all up on the way out.
posted by Rash at 2:07 PM on February 1, 2008

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