The lattes of time

126427239_20f05f9cba_mI’ve always disliked the question of how one can find an extra 15 minutes a day. The easiest way to find 15 minutes is to turn off the television which, according to the American Time Use Survey, 77 percent of Americans watch on any given weekday, and 80 percent do on the weekend. Of people who turn on the television, the average time is 3.31 hours on weekdays and 3.98 hours on weekends. That’s for television as a primary activity — meaning people are watching it, not just having it on in the background.

That said, after years of thinking about how I spend my time, I have come up with a few tiny hacks that shave some seconds off my routines. These aren’t the biggies, like “don’t watch television except on the treadmill” or “order everything you can on Amazon.” These are, instead, the little “latte factors” of time (to borrow David Bach’s phrase). When chucked, they free up a few minutes here and there — though not a lot in the grand scheme of things. Just like lattes and money. Here are a eight of mine:

1. Too-slow running. I realized that running the “slow” parts of intervals on the treadmill at 5.0 mph feels pretty much the same as 5.2 mph, but I save 30 seconds per mile. Over 3 miles that’s enough to get an extra set in on the weight machines. One reason I’m trying to get faster in general is that if I go from 5.7 mph as a normal run (10:30/mile, roughly) to 6.3 mph (9:30/mile, roughly) I can save 1000 minutes over a 1000-mile year.  

2. Hair drying. If I shower at night, I wake up with dry hair, which I then curl. If I shower in the morning, I either have to dry it or wait for it to dry before I can curl it. It looks slightly better if I blow dry it, so if I have something big, I’ll shower in the A.M. But otherwise it isn’t worth it.

3. Making something new for lunch. I’ve started making one meal in the Crock Pot on Monday, which I then eat for lunches the rest of the week. Favorites include chili or chicken with mushroom, tomato and rice. Crock Pot prep takes roughly 5 minutes, and then daily lunch prep time is basically the 90 seconds it takes to heat the leftovers in the microwave.  This is faster than zapping Lean Cuisine meals — which take about 4 minutes in the microwave.

4. Making the bed. Confession time: I don’t make my bed every day. There’s a whole school of thought that says making the bed first thing makes you happy or leads to a more productive day but I don’t spend much of my day (except sleeping time) in my bedroom, and no one else does either. See my post about how Your cupboard is not a metaphor for life. There’s a hilarious Ask Mr. Whys Guy column in this month’s Redbook in which a reader asks him why her husband won’t put the throw pillows on the bed when he’s making the bed. Mr. Whys Guy responds, in a rather elegant rant, that bed throw pillows are a waste of time.

5. Daily kid baths. In the winter, we’re a 2-3x/week kind of family.  

6. Mid-week shopping trips. I’ve started to buy two gallons of milk at a time. We don’t always need two gallons a week, but the point is to avoid having to make that mid-week trip if I can. It doesn’t always work, because sometimes we run out of other, unforeseen things.  

7. Inefficient processing. When unloading the dishwasher, rather than carry over the children’s plastic cups in small quantities to their cupboard, I stack them up and transport them all at the same time. See what I mean by tiny hacks? That saves all of 30 seconds.

8. Making and labeling specific files. I create one rough draft file each month. All my blog posts and most of my articles get written there first before being posted. Some interview notes go in there too. I back this file up, but having fewer files means less time searching for stuff. If I wrote it in February, I know where it is.

What are your lattes of time — little things that are relatively easy to trim?

Photo courtesy flickr user stevecadman



22 Responses to The lattes of time


  1. Abby says:

    I think a lot of these little hacks are about saving sanity as much as time. It’s like putting out my kids’ clothing a few days in advance. Yes, I could let them dress themselves, and yes, it only saves a few minutes to do it at the top of the week. But it’s like your lunch plans – not having to think about it saves time, too.

    I’m intrigued by your running tip. I’ve started to think about sneaking in exercise by being inefficient. I can walk from one site at work to another, but it takes about 10 minutes each way. Most days I feel like I don’t have the time, but maybe I’m missing a huge opportunity by saving those 20 minutes. After all, I can think while I’m walking – something that can be tough to do at my desk.

    • Laura says:

      @Abby- you should think of your walk (hopefully done briskly!) as a break. People always take breaks, we just don’t do it consciously. We surf the web, read pleasant emails, etc., and think of it as work but it kind of isn’t. A walk is a real break and will be more productive.
      Agree on the decision fatigue. Maybe that’s another blog post!

  2. Susan says:

    Kind of like your efficient method of faster running, I’ve been doing HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts on my lunch hour. I can burn a lot of calories, plus help preserve muscle, in 20 minutes, as opposed to a 30-35 minute cardio workout on the elliptical or the stationary bike. In the time saved, I can shower, dress, reapply my makeup, and get back to my desk.

    • Laura says:

      @Susan – I’m intrigued by quick workouts. Mostly right now I’m trying to get faster so I can increase my mileage while holding time constant. My exercise time is me-time, so I’m not looking to minimize it :) But if I were racing to get somewhere it would be HIIT all the way. As it is, I know it’s probably a better workout, but some days I feel like just zoning out at an easy pace.

      • Susan says:

        Yeah, they’re intense. They’re not something I think I could do every week long term, but they’re a good tool if you have to get somewhere soon. I think the main thing is not to become bored with your workouts or let your muscles get used to them.

  3. Cloud says:

    Hmmm. I think my most successful “little bit of time saver” is at work- it is using the last 10-15 minutes of the day. I leave work at 4:30 to go pick up my kids. So many times, I’ve looked at my to do list at 4:15 and thought that I’d need to work that night, to the point of writing my home to do list- but then discovered that I finished it all in those last 15 minutes.

    • Laura says:

      @Cloud- there is a certain efficiency in just doing it. Many times, things don’t take as long as they do in our minds when we’re ruminating on them…

  4. Ana says:

    Ha, we do 2-7 already; we also eat make one main meal for dinner each week. I don’t run very fast, but doing high speed intervals, I can actually get a decent workout in 20 minutes. Mostly I consider these energy/sanity savers, because I don’t really believe 15 extra minutes of time is going to make any difference in my productivity or happiness. The whole concept seems silly to me. If I really truly needed extra time, I know where to find it in my day—I’d cut out the hour of TV/reading that I do most nights—when I have major deadlines, I do exactly that. I also get up earlier & leave the house, which takes away from some of my quality-kid-time, but its OK for a specific short timeframe.

    • Laura says:

      @Ana- no, the 15 minutes doesn’t really matter. I have started reading between 10-11 at night, and that’s extra time I could use. If I plan ahead, there’s usually time on weekends I could use, too. Time is pretty elastic and in general I think it’s important to sweat the big stuff first.

  5. If I really wanted to save more of these little tidbits of time, I’d turn off internet access!

    • Laura says:

      @NicoleandMaggie – oh yes. Though I suspect web surfing might, for some of us, fall into the “big stuff” category!

  6. Olivia says:

    #2,3,5,6,7: yes indeed! But I must make the bed. It just costs me too much in mental static not to. My cupboard is definitely a metaphor for my life, but that means I have removed the cabinet doors and shaved more time off of unloading the dishwasher!
    I agree with other posters that sanity saving is an important aspect of time hacks. My big three targets are disorder, divided attention, and decision fatigue.

    • Laura says:

      @Olivia – we all have to know ourselves. If it bugs you, then it’s worth it to make the bed. It doesn’t bug me, so I don’t do it that often. Now, I will admit that things were a little different when my home office was actually in my bedroom. Then making the bed had a bit more to do with the rest of the day (though even then I didn’t always do it).

  7. TG says:

    If you have the space, an extra freezer or refrigerator/freezer can save lots of time. We live ~18 minutes from the grocery store (one way)

    Regarding milk, if I go anywhere that sells milk, I buy more to have 4 gallons in the refrigerator. At the rate we consume milk, we will consume it before it goes bad. Four gallons isn’t the right number for all families, but knowing your number saves you time. Similarly, I buy too many bananas to avoid trips to the store. (and yes, I know there are people who use the extras in smoothies or banana bread, but my kids don’t like smoothies)

    • Laura says:

      @TG – we started buying the organic milk our local supermarket sells, which has a much later expiration date than the “normal” milk — I suppose because of the way it’s treated. So milk spoilage is usually no longer an issue. We’ve thought about getting an extra freezer for the garage, but so far has not been necessary. Maybe when my kids are older and eat more.

    • ARC says:

      This is one of the blessings in disguise of having a kid with a dairy allergy – we all switched to soy milk, which you can buy in shelf stable cartons. So every time I go to Trader Joe’s, I buy 8 1/2 gallon cartons and we’re good for about a month :)

      Our limiting factor is bananas and lunch meat.

      • Laura says:

        @ARC – yep on bananas for us too… though usually we can substitute some other fruit that lasts longer (apples, grapes).

  8. oilandgarlic says:

    I think my big time saver was changing my work hours so that I go to work earlier and leave by 4:30. I shaved 20 minutes off my commute both ways!

    My “latte” time saver is grab everything I need from one room before heading elsewhere, so that I don’t go back and forth from room to room.

    • Laura says:

      @OilandGarlic – I like the idea of batching trips between rooms, too. I keep a basket in the “non-toy” rooms to stash toys. Eventually, I or someone else can carry the basket elsewhere and redistribute. But it provides a quick way to clean in the mean time.
      Congrats on switching the commute. 40 minutes per day is huge.

  9. NoTrustFund says:

    While I do make the bed in the morning, we only have a duvet- no top sheet- so it’s super easy. The no top sheet is a little bit of a time saver, but mainly I just find it more comfortable to not get tangled in a sheet.

    And I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one that does not do daily baths for the kids!

  10. Nadia says:

    My best trick is to rinse dishes and pots, etc soon after using them – otherwise it takes me forever to get the caked-off food off them.

    • Laura says:

      @Nadia- I learned to put tin foil down first in the Crock Pot for precisely this reason.