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15 Things Anyone Can Do to be More Efficient

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been known as someone who can get a lot done. “Efficient, hard-working, and team player. Quirky.” always showed up on my yearly reviews at work. As noted before, sitting still and twiddling my thumbs is not my style, and I get a little thrill whenever I can figure out a way to do something more efficiently. Below are some super simple ways to increase efficiency in your life.

  1. Own multiple laundry baskets. We have three. It is embarrassing how many years I lived as an adult before realizing this. Having more than one laundry basket for carting away clean laundry makes your life awesome. During the spring, summer, and some of fall, we almost exclusively dry our laundry on an outdoor clothesline. I can dry three loads at a time, but carting multiples loads out to the yard as they finish in the washer would be a pain in the butt using only one laundry basket.
  2. My first real “grown up” job was running the office of a member of the Washington State House of Representatives. I was 21. I learned a lot in that role, but the biggest takeaway I got from it came in the form of an amazing tip from a member of the IT department. I carried this tip with me to every professional job I have had since then, and I spread the word wherever I go. Let’s say you are responsible for responding to emails as part of your job. A lot of emails. And many of those emails dictate the exact same response every time. Simply save your standard response in Outlook as a “signature”. Then, when you respond to the 600th email that day asking where the FAQ section is on the website, you just click on signatures, it drops down the various options, select the one you want, and it pops right in to the email. I would often have 30+ signatures saved at my various jobs.
  3. At night, before I go to bed, I fill up a sippy cup with milk, and one with water and put them in the fridge. It’s so much easier to deal with a sleepy and hungry kiddo if I just have to open the fridge and drinks are ready.
  4. Our washing machine has a “delay start” option on it that rules my heart. I can put a load in ready to go at night, put detergent in the dispenser, schedule it to start at 6 am the next morning, and go to sleep. Technically I could just try to remember to start it at 6, but that doesn’t always happen. The delay start option ensures the washer is working for me when I want it to. Our dishwasher also has the same feature, but I rarely use it. Instead I start a load of dishes after dinner, set it to “air dry” and when it finished before I go to bed, I open the door and pull the racks out to air dry overnight. It uses less energy because I don’t have to dry the dishes, and it puts off the task I hate more than anything else.
  5. We have always given the kids a bed time snack. In the bath tub. Yep. When the boys are little, we feed them applesauce or yogurt in the tub. When Jack got older, he would get a dish of frozen blueberries (“cold blues”) every night. He was four before he realized that wasn’t a real dessert. It is a mini insurance policy against the “I’m hungry” BS routine that kids pull before bedtime. We call it “topping them off”. Plus, you get the added benefit of easy clean up since they’re literally IN THE TUB.
  6. Bennett and I take a walk almost every day. Some days dictate a short jaunt, and others call for a long stroll. Either way, I use that time as my thinking time. Sure, I listen to all my favorite podcasts, but I can also think of blog post topics, and even write some posts in my head while I push the stroller. By time I am able to finally sit down at my computer, it’s just a matter of putting words to the screen. Walks have become important to both my physical and mental health, and I compare them to the time I took up fake smoking at work.
  7. After years of working in a corporate culture where we were taught a communication method called “answer first”, it drives me bonkers to talk on the phone or in person to people who never get to the damn point. So, in my professional communications, and when I have to make a business call, I make sure I have my topics ready to go and structured in a way where I am not wasting other people’s time by rambling. Efficient communication is a gift to anyone who experiences it. Rambling however is a fun part of blog writing. 🙂
    1. FYI, for the curious out there, the “answer first” version of the above recommendation would have been as follows:  It is important to make sure you have your topics and ideas organized and ready to present during phone calls and business meetings. I used to work in a culture that taught a communication method called “answer first”, and it has been extremely helpful in my day to day interactions.
  8. Take a quick few minutes every morning and think about the day ahead. I usually do my best thinking in the shower, and as I shampoo my hair I run through all the tasks that will need to be completed. Meals, school drop offs, work, etc., and I make sure I haven’t missed any details about the day’s events. If we’re having soup for dinner, did I make sure there is enough homemade chicken stock ready to go? Jack has baseball practice, but maybe all his pants are still dirty. I know I have a post that needs to be scheduled for Saturday, but the next few days are going to be super busy with phone calls and appointments. What can I get written ahead of time to remove the last minute stress? Just a quick rundown of your day can help you find any potential potholes.
  9. I buy all the same gifts for the birthday parties Jack gets invited to. I hope the kids don’t compare or notice, but honestly I don’t care if they do! They all have a variation of the same name anyway, so happy birthday Kayden, Kallen, Kaylen, Kellan, or Kiran. (Please keep in mind, I was a “Sarah” growing up in the 80’s. I get it.) Boys get a small $16 Lego set, and girls get a Goldie Blocks set. Boom, done, no need to think about it. I often pre-buy multiple sets and have them on hand.
  10. Have 10-15 go to meals in your repertoire, and learn to make them with your eyes closed. Make sure they are balanced, delicious, and pretty healthy. And keep the ingredients in your well-stocked pantry. If something happens to your planned meal, just serve breakfast for dinner, or popcorn. Popcorn is a whole-freaking grain people! 🙂
  11. What in your life can you automate? Savings, laundry, bill pay, the temperature of your house, and even some ordering (like Amazon Subscribe and Save) can take the hassle out of keeping track of lots of little details. I automated my breakfasts and lunches years ago. I’ll go a whole year or more essentially eating a variation of the same thing for breakfast. It’s important to pick something you love and can eat day in and day out, and never hesitate to jazz it up from time to time. I went from oatmeal, to homemade Greek yogurt, to my current breakfast of eggs, a carb, and fruit. Knowing what I am going to have before I even wake up, removes the responsibility of having to make one more decision that day. Lunch is always leftovers from dinner the night before. I did that while working, and saved a fortune on going out to eat throughout the week.
  12. Get rid of junk and clutter. Seriously. Having less stuff around makes it easier (and therefore faster) to clean. Learn to appreciate quality items that you love and that will last throughout any fads or trends. Classic, well-made pieces don’t have to cost you an arm and a leg, but they should be something you love and makes your home better instead of just filling space. I own a TV stand/console that I get compliments on all the time. I purchased it at a garage sale for $15…and later realized it was a piece worth about $1k. I bought it because I thought it was lovely and had character. The value is just a fun side benefit.
  13. Make organization part of a room’s decoration. Have you ever visited a Montessori preschool? The learning tools the kids use throughout the day are all visually pleasing, and easily accessible. It makes me happy. You are more likely to keep something organized and know where items are, if they look pretty and attractive. Knowing where items are located saves you time because you aren’t constantly searching for them. We store books and most toys in our small basement on large IKEA shelves. Books are generally organized based on height and if they are a part of a series. Toys are in bins with mostly similar items. I have no doubt that this shelf could easily become a giant mess if it wasn’t such a large and obvious part of the room.
  14. Unsubscribe from most email lists. I realized every morning I would have 15 emails in my inbox, and only a few were “real” emails. I realized I rarely bought anything from those deal of the day websites, but they cluttered my inbox and took time to delete them each day. I unsubscribed from anything I didn’t actively use, and it has been both freeing and economically smart. I’m no longer tempted by items I may be convinced I think I need based on a daily marketing onslaught.
  15. Learn to say no. Yep, I love to be involved in things and to help others out, but I have learned over the years that I need to occasionally say no when asked for things. Do it judiciously, and say yes when you can, but throw the guilt away when you say ‘I’m so sorry, but I’m unable to help this time. Please keep me in mind for future events”.

Now, I’ll sit back and listen to your tips on how you have made your life more efficient. I learn so much from you all!

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11 comments on “15 Things Anyone Can Do to be More Efficient”

  1. Love this post!!!!
    I’d be dead without the alarm on my phone. I set it for, like, 45 minutes before the actual appointment so that I am alerted and don’t have to go nuts getting ready to run out the door.
    I have a grocery list that has 80% of the things I buy on it as a printout. I made it myself. I just circle what I need. If I need a different brand or item from the list, at least I have an idea of what aisle I need to look in which cuts time in half. ‘Course, it causes much cursing when the store (I only go to one) moves their items.
    If you’re worried you’re going to forget it, hang it on the doorknob.
    I keep a small notebook by my bed. I go over my day the night before and sometimes I’m like, “Ah! I can’t forget I have to –.” So I write it down in the notebook, lay the notebook open at bedside and I can sleep knowing the forget-me-not is not going to slip through the cracks.
    When I am cooking a new recipe, I never use the book. I copy it onto paper or print out the recipe from the internet and hang it on a cabinet door with a clothespin hook. It’s a hanger-shaped clothespin. I use these hooks for a million things and could not live without them. Handy for travel and organization.
    Speaking of clothespins, I keep those everywhere too. They keep chips in the bag fresh, they keep my coupons clipped on my printout-list, they keep my MP3 player cord neat in the car. Yes I’m old, I have an MP3.
    Speaking of coupons, if I have a lot, I paperclip them to an open file folder by aisle. I spread that in the baby seat of the cart.
    If I go to two stores like grocery and Target and can’t find something I’m looking for, I just Amazon it. The prices because of the free shipping are not as good — they raise them to make up for the free shipping I’m sure of it — but my time is worth money.
    We do our own painting and you would be amazed at the gadgets available to make the job go easier. From paintbrush and roller covers to little pots to put the paint in that are ergonomically shaped for your hand and scrape the paint correctly, if you’re going to paint, check them out, they are cheap and save your sanity.

  2. Sarah,

    I’ve worked in an office my whole adult life and consider myself to be super organized, and computer proficient, but I’ve never thought to use the e-mail signature for “canned” responses! You have just rocked my world! There are several emails I send out on a weekly basis and I now I will never have to type those again once I save them to my signature files.

    Thank you so much!

  3. Your tips are all useful. I am a big fan of saying “no” since no means yes, meaning you then can say yes to something you really want or need to do. Perhaps saying no to a request will give you yes time to relax which is essential to fit into our busy lives.

  4. I’m usually out of my house for 13 hours a day, so my time is PRECIOUS, especially as I live alone and don’t have anyone to share the chore load with me. I’ve recently begun to “program” my week, and while I’m working out the kinks, here’s what’s helping so far, along with a few other habits that just improve my quality of life:

    1) I am planning my entire week’s worth of outfits on Sunday. Laundry is usually done Friday night or Saturday morning, and by Sunday morning everything is sufficiently dry enough to throw top/camisole/slacks/undergarments or dress/cardigan/tights/undergarments on hangers together so I can grab and go in the morning (especially since I’m dressing around 5 AM). I also have my gym clothes for the week in a basket that I recently emptied thanks to de-cluttering, and I can drowsily reach in there for pants/shirt/sports bra/socks without having to hunt through a dresser in the dark.

    2) I make meals and freeze them in batches RELIGIOUSLY. Since I commute on the bus, and plastic meal containers were bulky, piling up at the office, and it really freaks me out to eat food heated up in one of those, I’ve started to portion a FULL meal into a Ziploc bag to freeze, and then I can groggily reach into the freezer for one of those dudes, pop it into my commute bag without even looking at it, and it has a portioned out complete protein/veg/whole grain carb. I heat them up in glass or ceramic dishes from the office cabinets. I wash and reuse the baggies if they’re salvageable because of course I do, and then about once a month I bring them home en masse to re-do the whole process.

    3) When doing my laundry, I rarely use my dryer in the summer, but since it’s currently cold/wet/wintry Pacific Northwest where I live, too, I start off by fluffing the load, minus any delicate items, just to shake off pet hair and help with the not-so-terrible-wrinkle process. Then, anything that will eventually go onto a coat hanger just goes onto a coat hanger when wet and it’ll dry there. Bam. Moved it once. I thankfully have a giant closet that I can hang these items in with enough airflow in between each garment that they tend to dry pretty quickly. Everything that cannot go onto a hanger gets dried on a rack and then eventually folded and put away (or, it’ll live on that rack forever until I pick it clean while getting ready for things).

    4) I live and die by my Reminders app in my iPhone. As soon as I think “Oh, I need to do X,” into my phone it goes along with a time when I need to do it. This is easiest when my phone is charging, as I can say, “Hey Siri, set a reminder for 5 PM today to buy cat litter,” and then 5 PM rolls around while I’m on the bus and I remember to make a stop before getting all the way home and facing two VERY disappointed cats. I probably have anywhere between 10-30 reminders set up on my phone at any given time, and I can set them to be repeating ones (like when to change my sheets) so that I don’t think “Oh god, when was the last time I did THIS?” It just gets done.

    5) I had a cheaper gym membership, but it was so out of my way that I wasn’t going, so it was $10 a month wasted, Now, I ponied up a much higher gym membership fee ($37 a month! *clutches chest*) but it’s literally right on the way home, where my bus transfers, so I leave work and get dropped off at its front door. Consequently, I am actually going to the gym now, which is good, as I’ve set a goal to go at least 20 times per month, meaning each visit, including a great shower with hot water, is only $1.85. I can swing that. And there’s just something about getting to use a shower that someone else is responsible for cleaning.

  5. I have four laundry baskets – white, dark, bright colors and special attention. Dirty clothes get tossed into the appropriate basket from the get go and when the basket is full it gets washed. Also eliminates carrying one baskets going back and forth from the clothes line in the summer too. I just leave the basket out by the line, turned upside down to avoid bugs and leaves and wind gusts.

  6. Love the tips! I have started using curbside grocery pick-up (order on-line, sign up for an hour time slot, call when you get there, they bring your groceries out). I’ve been doing that few a few months now (not as consistent as I would like) and it’s amazing how much time, money, and sanity I save doing this.

    Always put my keys in the same spot, well, one of two spots. This saves so much wasted time trying to remember where the keys are.

    Every weekend I write out my week in a “bullet journal” type format. I pull up our google calendar and add in anything that is already on there. Then each night I write down a few things I would like to get done the next day or two. Considering most mornings when I wake up it takes me a while to remember what day of the week it is, doing this has helped a lot.

    I wish I could eat the same thing for breakfast every day, but I haven’t found the right food yet.

  7. I love these ideas and I can see myself picking up a few to make my life a little easier! The first thing I will need to schedule in is some sort of de-clutter program, if I can break it down to ten minutes a day it means seventy minutes a week – that is do-able! Having an uncrowded home will make my less stressful! Thanks everyone xx

  8. This is so great to read, also the comments are awesome.
    I am totally on board with most of the ideas! The “signature” also works in gmail. There it is called “canned response” (the icon also looks like a can). And it is so so useful!

    I love that you bring attention to the answer first thing! I work with people older then me – so they love using the phone and leave slow rambling voicemails and and then save time after all the rambling and speak super fast for their return number. So yes, structured information and slow down on the important stuff.

    I also use the 15 (or so) fast meals, and like somebody in the comments I lay out the cloths for me and my two boys on Sunday. Simply because then I probably look more put together… and I realize on Sunday that we would run out of baby socks on Thursday 😉

  9. I love all the tips and I am stealing some of them. I was wondering what that Darth Vader looking object is on your top shelf. It looks like something my husband just purchased today at the thrift store.