Vanderhacks/Laura’s little list of life hacks

Thanks for all the suggestions on what to call these! I’m partial to “Vanderhacks” myself 🙂

Over the past few months I’ve been posting the occasional short list of life hacks. Here are a few more little things making life easier these days.

French toast. My kids eat a lot of sliced bread, but somehow my husband and I have a monopoly on eating the end pieces…unless they are turned into French toast. Since we do breakfast for dinner every Wednesday night (this was a previous Vanderhack), if I notice the bread drawer getting full with abandoned bread heels and packages of two leftover slightly hardened hot dog buns, I declare it French Toast Night. People mostly eat old bread if it’s covered in egg and sugar and cinnamon, and then even eat the extra pieces for breakfast the next morning. So this is a win all around.

A griddle. Having a large flat cook surface is great when you might need to make many pieces of French toast simultaneously (or pancakes, or grilled cheese). I now own two waffle makers as that likewise speeds up the waffle-making process (one is shaped like Mickey Mouse). I’m thinking of purchasing a third.

Boxes of birthday cards. Buying individual birthday cards from a store is not only pricey, it’s hard to find the exact sentiment you might be looking for. But you can often buy boxes of a dozen-plus Hallmark (or other brand) birthday cards online that have minimal messaging. You can then write whatever you want to in there, which is more personal and saves time and money. Seriously, if you send birthday cards to people in your life, go buy a few boxes right now! (You can get fancy blank cards too, and those are great for thank you notes/sympathy notes/etc. but I find that birthday-specific cards tend to be a bit more festive.)

Kindle samples. I love being able to buy and download ebooks instantly. This feels like such a bonus if I’m sitting in the dark with my 3-year-old waiting for him to go to sleep. However, I’ve been burned a few times on thinking I would like something and then realizing within the first few pages that I had just purchased a truly terrible book. Now I almost always download the sample first. After I’ve reached the end of the sample, it’s very easy to go back and order the book — the Kindle app will open it automatically to where the sample left off. If I make it to the end of the sample I’m all in (I have purchased two ebooks this week because I enjoyed the sample). If I read the sample and realize it’s not for me then it’s just like reading a few pages in a bookstore or library and putting the book back.

Choosing a random calendar date. It can be hard to capture things that you can’t act on now but could possibly at some future date (even if you don’t know what that future date will be). Where this recently came up for me — Several years ago I read The Cotton Kingdom by Frederick Law Olmsted (best known for designing Central Park). His accounts of traveling in the pre-Civil War South are absolutely fascinating (and at times horrifying). I read in the Publisher’s Lunch newsletter that there is a new book coming out about his travels and writings and I’d like to read it, but the reason it is in Publisher’s Lunch is the deal was just completed — the book itself likely won’t be out for a year or two. So my system is just to choose a random future date and write that book on my calendar. I always look at my calendar, so when I get to that week in the future, I will put that item on my weekly to-do list and look to see if the book has a publication date yet. If it does I can then put that date on my calendar. If not, I can just choose another future date (like in another 6-9 months or so). Anyway, the point is that you don’t need a specific date to think about something in the future. You can just choose a random date if you know you have a way to send messages to your future self, because you know there is somewhere you will always look and act on any to-dos that have been recorded there.

Industry newsletters. Speaking of Publisher’s Lunch… I read this weekly recap of book deals every Monday. Some is of interest and some is not, but after 20+ years in the writing business, almost every week I see that someone I know has gotten a book deal, which is generally good to know (not to mention a good reason to send congratulations). I’m guessing that your industry has some similar sort of newsletter about people’s moves/achievements/etc. It might be worth checking out.

Saving frequently used files with a “_” in front of the name. So there are lots of ways to pull up frequently used documents and files, but this oldie-but-goodie works for me. When I’m interviewed for a podcast or article, people often ask for a headshot. There’s one available for download here on the website (see the About section) but I also have it saved as _LauraVanderkam_highres.jpg and so when I go to attach a file to an email it’s among the first few on the alphabetical list of options. I could see doing this for anything one sends frequently. For some freelancers that might be a W9, for job seekers it might be a resume, etc. (I have some frequently scanned documents saved on my phone as well for easy sending.)

The short bio. On my About page you’ll notice that I have two bios. The first came about because I was like, hey, this is the web, I can write as long as I want because there are no space limitations! Then, I had the experience (multiple times…) of being introduced as a speaker with someone reading that long, long bio. No one needs to sit through that! So, as someone scrolls down the About page, they now see the short bio with the instruction “Are you introducing Laura? Please use this one!” Problem solved.

The annual National Parks Pass. If you’re an American reader, you can buy an annual pass to all national parks for $80. I only have plans to go to Acadia currently, but maybe I’ll add to the list. If you have a fourth grader you can get a free pass. This might be worth building a family vacation around!


7 thoughts on “Vanderhacks/Laura’s little list of life hacks

  1. Re: the National Parks pass: You have a ways to go on this, but for your older readers, when you are 62 you can buy a lifetime parks pass for the same price as an annual pass. (It used to be $10, but now it is the same price as an annual pass.) We do not live near many National Parks, but my husband gave me one as part of my “here are all the senior discounts you can get as of your birthday!” Thanks, sweetie.

  2. The file name is brilliant – I need it for my headshot, an image I use frequently, etc.

    A few from me:
    Calendly to let people book in your diary – limited time slots that suit me, no email back and forth
    Snoozing emails til you need them (tickets, itineraries, things that you don’t need to see now). Crucial for inbox zero people.
    Equally, scheduling emails to avoid a rapid reply that might lead to a back and forth

    At home:
    Saving all the veggie scraps in the freezer and making broth in the instant pot
    Blank cards and postcards that can be decorated by kids for birthdays
    The 5L bottle of body wash, hand soap, etc.
    A pile for mail with a blank back that can be used for drawings/scrap paper

  3. Bread pudding is another excellent way to use up stale bread, as well as all sorts of other leftover odds and ends, as it can be made either sweet (with fresh or dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, sweet spices) or savory (with cheese, sausage, herbs, beer, etc.). French toast can also be made with a savory rather than sweet batter and served with savory rather than sweet toppings.

  4. I love your idea of having a pile of cards at the ready. We have that too but also actively buy them when we are on trips as souvenirs, especially when we go to art galleries. They are light to travel with and a way of sharing our adventures. People can enjoy them and frame if they love them or recycle and move on. We also have a Present Cupboard where our kids could ‘go shopping’ before parties. At end of year we pull everything out suitable for adults and kids select gifts for all the staff members at their school.

  5. Vanderhacks is a winning name! I love life hacks but most of these are new to me. Can’t wait to try them out! Particularly french toast. I don’t know why I have forgotten about this food but I don’t think my kids have ever had it…

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