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14 mins

7 Simple Hacks to Save Time, Do More, and Work Less

Since 1745 when Benjamin Franklin coined the phrase “time is money,” these three words have become an indelibly popular mantra
by Caitlin Schiller | Oct 25 2015

But time is more than money, too—how you feel about the time you have can impact your mental health, your happiness, your physical well-being, your relationships, and everything in between, so it’s no surprise that most of us want more of it. Money we can save by developing a financial strategy and plopping it in a savings account, but how do we store up minutes and days?


You get smart about what you’re doing with them.

From what you choose to do (and not do), to how long you work, even through to the way you read and how you manage your technological devices, there are a multitude of ways to squeeze more out of every minute. These seven tips from productivity and efficiency experts will teach you how to nix the non-essentials, get more done in your day, and even have more time to relax.

1. Stop running errands—ever

Errands really add up, and you can take back your time by automating and outsourcing.

Services like Amazon’s Subscribe & Save, for instance, delivers necessities like toilet paper, razors, shampoo, and laundry detergent to your door at intervals you choose. And although toilet paper is an obvious must-have, there are plenty of other important items that you can have delivered.

Imagine the possibilities: if you have a supply of 9-volt batteries show up at your house every six months, you kill two birds with one stone: no drifting around Target searching for what you need, and you’ll be sure your smoke detectors always work.

For errands you simply can’t automate—you know, a specific purchase for the evening meal, or a sprint to get your computer fixed or your car serviced—you can outsource. Fancy Hands or TaskRabbit are great examples of online outsourcing marketplaces for just such things.

Ari Meisel, the author of Less Doing, More Living, once used TaskRabbit to contract someone in Los Angeles to buy the his 2-year-old nephew a slide at an IKEA in Long Beach, take it to his nephew’s parents’ house and assemble it. A truly unforgettable gift—all for $47.

Read Ari Meisel’s Less Doing, More Living for more ways to work smarter.

You can eliminate more than just physical errands from your life, too. How? Become an essentialist and you can cull from your day just about anything that isn’t critical to achieving your goals.

2. Use the 90-percent Rule to throw out the non-essentials

The cornerstone of essentialism is the surprisingly challenging task of identifying the less important things in your life to cut out, and doing what’s left over to a higher standard.

You can begin putting essentialism into practice, make like Machiavelli: be ruthless and extreme—with your criteria for what is and is not important, that is.

One way to do this is by adopting the 90-percent rule. Start by considering the most important criterion for the decision you’re making. For example, if you’re cleaning the closet, that criteria might be, “Will I ever wear this again?” Then, give it a score between zero and 100. According to the 90-percent rule, anything that is less than 90 (even an 89) is a zero. After considering all the options, discard everything that scored less than 90. Even if it hurts. Even if Aunt Elsie knitted that garish cap.

Read more on defining what really matters in Greg McKeown’s Essentialism

Decisions about essential tasks and responsibilities become more complicated when other people are involved. For example, if you were to cancel a business lunch, you might disappoint your business partners and damage your relationship with them. One little trick that will help you make the best calls for you (and others) comes from Josh Davis’s book, Two Awesome Hours, and they’re called decision points.

3. Save time by making more conscious decisions

Over the course of each day, you engage in all manner of habitual tasks. Think about how many times in your life you’ve hopped out of bed, gotten dressed, scanned your emails, and attended weekly meetings without a second thought.

These tasks are so familiar that you can switch over to autopilot, rarely stopping to consider whether your routine actually makes sense. Look a little closer, however, and you may find that your daily routines are actually getting in the way of real productivity.

So what can you do? Recognize your decision points.

Decision points: moments in time when a given task is completed or interrupted. At a decision point, you have the opportunity to consciously choose what you do next.

Say a colleague comes to your desk and asks you to go to lunch with him. As a result, you’re interrupted in the middle of drafting a report. You then recognize that you’ve got a decision point on your hands. You could either decline his offer and continue your work, or take a break and get a bite to eat. By consciously considering your options here, you’ll be better able to make a decision that benefits you and your productivity the most. As you become more aware of these points in time between tasks and make fewer impulsive decisions, you’ll be able to become more effective with your time.

Want more time-saving tactics? You got it: read Two Awesome Hours by Josh Davis.

Unfortunately, time is not actually manageable. Unless we’re mad men with little blue time-traveling boxes, we cannot make time bend to our rules—even with a good bow tie. What we can do is try to organize and use our time as well as possible. It may seem elementary, but your best lo-fi approach is a master task list.

4. Hail to the Master (Task List)

You can win against time—but Carson Tate says that you’ll need to plan your activities daily, weekly, and monthly, to do it. What you’ll be creating is a master task list. Your MTL contains all the things, big and small, you need to do to accomplish on the road to your goals. When you have done this, organize these things into two categories: project actions and next actions.

  • Project actions are overarching tasks that require smaller action steps, and can take days or months to finish, such as reorganizing your kitchen or planning an off-site workshop.
  • A next action is a single step, something that moves you forward. These should be listed starting with an action verb, for example: Call Adam. Or perhaps: Revise speech.

The point of a master task list is to release you from the burden of keeping the innumerable amount of tasks you want to complete swimming in your head all at the same time. And noting everything you need to do—socially and professionally—gives you a chance to act and enables you to rethink and revise any future actions.

But how about right now, right this moment? Forget future actions for a second and let’s focus on what you’re getting out of now. Have you ever heard of the 80/20 principle? It states that 20 percent of our time and resources goes into 80 percent of the results. For example, 20 percent of a record label’s artists generate 80 percent of sales and the world’s top 20 percent of people generate 80 percent of its wealth. You can apply the 80/20 principle to your daily routine (even, to be quite frank, to scanning this article).

5. Work less, achieve more with the 80/20 Principle

In his book, Living The 80/20 Way, Richard Koch explains that most of us are in awe of time. It is an extremely valuable and scarce resource, and thus we live our lives feeling that we don’t have enough time to do what we want. It may come as a surprise, then, that time at is one of the areas that stands to benefit most from the 80/20 principle.

Once you commit to producing the best results with the least amount of effort, you need to figure out how to make the most of the time you have. So whether you’re a freelance designer or a postman, if you dedicate yourself to working harder for a shorter period of time, you’ll find your work improved and your free time expanded.

Here’s how you start: identify what Koch calls your happiness islands (times when you feel happiest) and achievement islands (times when you are the most creative or productive). And once you’ve identified these islands in your own life, you can maximize your output by focusing on them.

A pretty miraculous example of how powerful identifying and working for these islands can be is Richard Adams. Adams was a mid-level bureaucrat in the British civil service, and his job was boring and hours long. But he did experience periods of happiness outside of work, especially when he told stories to his daughters.

Adams focused on these points of happiness and wrote down the stories. They eventually became his best-selling book, Watership Down. From small happiness islands in a sea of boredom came success!

When you focus on what matters to you in an intensive, intelligent fashion and let go of your notions about the scarcity of time, you can achieve miracles. Who knows—maybe that novel of yours will finally even get written?

Speaking of written materials—are you reading reports, analyses, or emails all day long? If you have the sneaking suspicion that reading all of this stuff keeps you from doing your actual work, or from reading for pleasure, here’s an idea: learn how to read faster.

6. Save time on text with basic speed reading techniques

The simplest way to speed up your reading time is to have a clear purpose in mind and a sense of responsibility for what you read. This will help both with organization and concentration. Two questions will help you get on track:

  • Question 1: Choose what to read and what to skip over by asking yourself, “Why am I reading this?” For example, if you want to improve your knowledge in a particular area or get up to speed with current affairs, toss those professional journals from two years ago.
  • Question 2: Ask yourself, “Why do I need this information?” It can be for a test, a meeting or even to help your child to do better in school. But if your child already has good grades, do you really need to read over their work every day?

The next step in speed reading is to pre-view all nonfiction material before actually starting to read in order to get an idea of what it’s about, as well as which parts will be relevant to you. Pre-viewing alone will give you a big portion – 40 percent, in fact – of the material’s key information. The rest is just elaboration, explanation or fluff.

Here’s how you do it: Read the first few introductory paragraphs to get an idea of where the intro is heading. Next, read the subheadings, titles, and subtitles that are usually larger and bolded. Finally, read the first sentence of each paragraph in order to get a better idea of what each section is about. You’ll end up with background information that helps you understand the text faster as you read.

Learn more in 10 Days to Faster Reading—The Princeton Language Institute and Abby Marks Beale.

Are there software engineers in your life? Given that it’s 2015 and you’re using an app or a computer to read this, the answer is probably “yes.” If you’ve ever watched the tech-wizard in your life at work, you may have noticed that they’re incredibly fast with their programs, and that’s thanks to shortcuts.

As we touched upon when discussing the time sinks that errands can be, it’s frequently the small things in life that slow us down and keep us from working efficiently. So, let’s tap into some nerd wisdom that you can use to be productive in all your brushes with technology.

7. Create your own tech shortcuts.

What would you think if you saw someone start their car by getting out, opening the hood and fiddling with the cables until the engine kicks over, then closing the hood again and getting back into the car. You’d probably think: “What a goof! Why don’t they just use the ignition?!” Well, this is basically what computer pros think whenever they see you use the mouse to save a document.

Bit-literate folks avoid using the mouse as much as possible in favor of using the keyboard. Grabbing the mouse slows you down and adds conscious effort. Typing, however, is both quick and easy—meaning that keyboard shortcuts are, too.

Learning keyboard shortcuts and one-touch access allows you to easily access and manipulate bits as quickly as you can think. There are programs out there that can help you do it, too! QuicKeys, for example, allows you to bind an application to a certain key. F5, for instance, could be for your e-mail client; F6 for your text editor; F7 for your browser; and so on. Once you’re in a program, virtually every operation is associated with a keyboard shortcut.

Imagine, for instance, that you want to save an article’s text for a friend. Press Ctrl-A to select the text then Ctrl-C to copy it. Open your text editor with F6, and press Ctrl-N to make a new file. Press Ctrl-V to paste the text in the document and Ctrl-S to save the file. The whole thing takes less than five seconds.

Learned a new time-saving tactic or two and want to tell us how it went? Maybe you have your own technique for squeezing more out of the day? Get in touch and tell us about it!

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