As our lives become more and more hectic, it can seem nearly impossible (read: incredibly overwhelming) to check off everything on the to-do list, let alone find time to reconnect with ourselves or those we love, both of which have been proven helpful when it comes to one’s happiness and health (there are even studies that say too much stress can make one physically ill).
Luckily, there are ways to shave time off your daily to-dos by working smarter, not harder. We tasked experts who’ve been in your shoes (and, for many, have dedicated a career to developing products and services to help simplify and improve the lives of others) to share their once-best-kept secrets for getting out of the weeds.
From creative ways to cut back on cleaning time to working more efficiently at the office to getting out the door fast, read on as experts from various industries share small adjustments you can make that can help shave time off of your weekly schedule. You’ll be left with more precious time to invest in the people and activities you enjoy most.
The hack: Set a strict start time
How it works: A tip Annie Tevelin, makeup artist and founder of SkinOwl, has found hugely helpful when it comes to staying on time and remaining productive is waking up at the same time every day. “By doing this, I am able to create an efficient routine, be it making breakfast, walking my dog, and sitting down at my computer at the same time ready to take on the day. It has changed the game and my day flows with minimal stress and unpredictability,” she says.
Approximate time saved per week: 2 hours
The hack: Pre-stock every one of your bags with essentials
How it works: If you tend to accessorize with different bags for various occasions, save time spent on swapping your essentials by having them pre-stocked with things like lip balm, hand sanitizer, a pair of headphones and mints. “Then, you just have to worry about the main things like your keys and wallet. It also doesn’t hurt to include a shoe duster for when you're swapping your shoes,” advises Kimmie Smith, a celebrity fashion stylist and co-founder and style director of Athleisure Mag. She personally loves Dagne Dover’s Parker Air Mesh Pouch ($25 and up) for toting around small items, which Tevelin advises should also include face wipes, a hydrating mist, SPF, dry shampoo, and any multitasking makeup needs for minimizing time spent having to stop at a drugstore or home should you need to freshen up.
Approximate time saved per week: 30 minutes
The hack: Create a cereal or coffee bar in the kitchen
How it works: For easier mornings, Jeanie Engelbach, president and founder of apartmentjeanie, suggests creating a coffee bar by putting everything you need — such as a coffee maker, mugs, spoons and condiments — on one tray. “If you wish to keep the mugs in a cabinet, try to have the coffee set up directly underneath. Keep only the necessities and frequently-used coffee beans and pods on the tray and the extra becomes backstock in the cabinet above,” she says. You can take the same approach to a cereal bar with bowls and spoons, and your favorite cereal contained in clear cereal-specific containers — just add milk!
Approximate time saved per week: 35-56 minutes (based on 5-8 minutes saved each morning)
At the office
The hack: Do a handwritten brain dump every Monday morning
How it works: To help clear your mind and get ahead of tasks for the upcoming week, Engelbach recommends getting everything out on (preferably lined) paper. “Once you’re done with the initial list, you can begin to edit and prioritize. I like to color-code by days of the week and enter tasks into my digital calendar so I have additional backup. Not only will streamlining allow you to structure (and save) your time, but you’ll feel prepared at the start of the week, which is invaluable,” she advises.
Approximate time saved per week: 1 hour+
The hack: Schedule your day in 50/10 time blocks
How it works: If you often find yourself distracted by social media, texts or chatting with co-workers, this one is for you. To help balance work and rest, try structuring your day so that you’re working in intervals of 50 minutes of work and 10 minutes of rest, suggests Lauren Zoeller, a CTA-certified life balance coach. “During your 50-minute time block, make sure that you are in a comfortable work environment with zero distractions (that means no cell phones). Work diligently on your task for 50 minutes and then, once the timer goes off, enjoy 10 minutes for checking your phone, taking a brisk walk around the office, stretching and so on,” she explains. “If done correctly, you will increase the amount of work you can accomplish while also taking care of yourself in the process.”
Approx. time saved per week: 5 hours a week (based on 60 minutes saved each day during a 40-hour work week).
The hack: Set up an email auto-reply during certain hours
How it works: As a business owner, Tevelin says she’s had great success with setting up an auto-reply outlining the times she’ll be on email. “For example, I let people know that I will be responding to emails at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., which helps manage expectations and create boundaries for how often I check in. This helps me save time because I’m not constantly scanning my inbox when I don’t need to be or interrupting other work for one-off responses,” she explains.
Approximate time saved per week: 1 hour
The hack: Try task-grouping
How it works: Multitasking might not always be easy (or possible) but, when and where it makes sense, Susie Coelho, TV personality and founder/creative director of House of Sussex, says it can make a big difference when it comes to being productive. “A simple example might be paying or approving multiple timesheets, invoices or bills at once, which can often save you the time of having to reference documents and log in and out of systems. Another might be scanning and printing multiple documents in one session, which can save you trips back and forth to the printer,” Coelho explains. Alexis Korman, co-founder of Big Easy Bucha, says she’s also experienced success with batching bigger projects that require the same skill sets and programs, saving people from having to switch gears all day long. “Our marketing team has dedicated photography days that are strictly devoted to building content without distractions, our sales team will schedule meetings and pitches on specific days to maximize computer time, and so on.”
Approximate time saved per week: 5+ hours
The hack: Streamline meetings by creating a strict agenda
How it works: Meetings can be a great opportunity to brainstorm, hash out important details and keep projects moving. Unfortunately, they can also be a huge time suck, especially if held unnecessarily and unfocused, points out Susie Carder, a business and profit coach and founder of SC Consulting. "In order to streamline, try to keep meetings as concise and small as possible, choosing only those who truly need to be involved and a date and time that everyone can attend. Have a stringent start time, as well as an agenda to give others the opportunity to prepare ahead of time and keep everyone on task during, and make sure you yourself are prepared with any necessary documents for reference," Carder explains. She also suggests assigning tasks, such as taking notes and next steps, to help keep people engaged and concluding with a clear plan of action.
Approximate time saved per week: 10 hours (based on cutting 20 hours of meetings in half)
The hack: Make a delegation to-do list
How it works: This one is for the managers out there. Katie Sandler, an impact coach and founder of The Impact Retreat, firmly believes that one of the most effective ways to save time in the office is to learn when you should be taking on a task versus when you should be delegating it to someone on your team. “Start by getting to know each person one-on-one so you can hone in on their individual strengths and capabilities. Then, make daily to-do lists with items that need to be achieved and include specific tasks for each individual. If, for some reason, a task falls in your jurisdiction, then that’s when you really have to structure your time effectively,” explains Sandler, who points out that it’s important to have a strong relationship with those you are delegating to so they feel appreciated and stay motivated. You can also cut back on some of the day-to-day delegation and create a sense of autonomy by establishing general roles and responsibilities early on. (We’re thinking this also could be a smart tip to implement at home with your spouse and kids, too).
Approximate time saved per week: Varies
The hack: Let an app do it for you
How it works: From managing your banking to important bills and documents, mobile apps have changed the way we interact with the world around us, so James Lambert, public relations professional and founder of James Lambert Consulting, suggests putting these tools to use as much as possible. “For example, check to see if your bank has an app to keep track of transactions and see if there’s a mobile check deposit feature. Don’t have time to stop at an office or photo center? Download a scanner or photo app to export important forms or order prints. By finding what apps best fit in with my lifestyle, I’ve lessened the load from my schedule and been able to focus more on work,” he explains.
Approximate time saved per week: 1.5 hours (based on typical time spent commuting to various institutions)
The hack: Set up auto-delivery
How it works: Have a history of under or over-buying groceries? Save time spent running to the store by ordering your staples on auto-delivery. “By inputting my grocery list into Instacart and having the same items delivered every Monday, I not only save money (because I'm not at the store, distracted by items that I may or may not cook), but I save time and always have a fridge and cupboard full of what I know I’ll eat,” says Tevelin. You might also want to look into auto-delivery options for other items (such as toiletries or grooming products) you tend to purchase regularly.
Approximate time saved per week: 2 hours
The hack: Hire a virtual assistant
How it works: For Amber Alexandria, a celebrity stylist, hiring a virtual assistant (in her case through Overdrive) has been a total game-changer when it comes to managing mundane tasks and accomplishing more throughout the day. “By delegating simple tasks I don’t enjoy doing, such as sending emails, booking appointments, managing travel, coordinating my calendar and schedule, data entry and document creation, I save a ton of time for those I do enjoy,” she explains. While Alexandria typically invests about $400/month on what some may consider an additional employee, there are also free services (such as Hound) that can assist with everyday tasks such as researching hotels or checking your flight status in a pinch.
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Approximate time saved per week: 15 hours
Cleaning the house
The hack: Use the dishwasher to clean more than just dishes
How it works: If you’re only using your dishwasher to clean dishes, you aren't using it to its full potential, says Leanne Stapf, chief operating officer at The Cleaning Authority. “Some other things you can wash safely in the dishwasher (and therefore save some time on hand-cleaning) include rubber flip-flops, canvas sneakers and baseball caps, makeup brushes, non-electrical plastic and rubber kids’ toys, contacts cases, mouth guards, hair brushes and combs, shower heads, refrigerator shelves and plastic and metal garden tools. You can wash these items together, but I wouldn't recommend combining them with dishes to reduce the chance of any lingering food bits getting stuck in the items. Simply rinse the items off and run them through the normal cycle to clean quickly and efficiently,” she explains.
Approximate time saved per week: 30 minutes
The hack: Vacuum sections at a time
How it works: If vacuuming the whole house in one go seems overwhelming, try tackling it in batches. “By dedicating 5-10 minutes each day of the week to 1-2 rooms at a time, you will have the entire house cleaned progressively and have more time on the weekends to do the things you want to do,” advises Richard Ciresi, owner of Aire Serv in Louisville, Kentucky.
Approximate time saved per week: 30 minutes
The hack: Throw in a rainbow load of wash
How it works: If you’re short on time, but need a ‘rainbow’ of garments cleaned (whites, darks and colors), wash them together with the help of a color-grabbing sheet (such as this one from Carbona), advises Melissa Maker, a cleaning expert and founder of Clean My Space. “It will absorb the dyes that would otherwise be absorbed by the clothing.”
Approximate time saved per week: 1 hour+ (depending on how many individual color loads of laundry you’d have to do instead)
The hack: Use the drop-cloth method for high chairs
How it works: Have a baby or small child at home? Maker suggests placing a drop-cloth (a towel or old sheet will do) under a high chair or toddler’s seat to help capture spills and stray food and save you time on cleaning up. “Collect the corners of the sheet after meals and toss food bits into the compost or sink. Wash the sheet once or twice per week,” she says. This is also a great trick to employ when you have messy kids (or adults) at the dinner table. Just opt for a large drop-cloth like a plastic tablecloth or old sheet.
Approximate time saved per week: 1 hour
The hack: Skip the heat tools on your hair
How it works: If you’re someone who typically relies on heat tools to style your hair, Andrew Fitzsimons, a celebrity hair stylist, recommends air-drying to save time. “Not only is it more efficient, but it’s better for your hair. I encourage my clients to air-dry at least once a week to help reduce the damage heat tools can cause. If you’re new to air-dry styles, practice on a weekend or day off when you have some time. Once you’re comfortable with this technique, you’ll be able to shave hours off the time you spend in the bathroom each week!” Fitzsimons explains.To keep flyaways at bay, he recommends working a small amount of smoothing oil, such as NatureLab. TOKYO Smooth Hair Oil ($16) or, for those with a lot of frizz, Moroccanoil’s Smoothing Lotion ($32), from mid-length to the ends of hair while still damp. “For those with curly hair, I recommend applying a hydrating cream like Carol’s Daughter’s Pracaxi Nectar Curl Twisting Custard ($14) to towel-dried hair and tying it up in a loose high pony. The tension and weight of the ponytail will pull on the spirals to elongate their shape. Let it down when hair is slightly dry and you're good to go!"
Approximate time saved per week: 20-60+ minutes (depending on your typical style routine)
The hack: Rough-dry your hair prior to round-brushing
How it works: If you can’t avoid heat tools completely, remove excess moisture from your hair prior to round-brushing by rough-drying, which Savannah Fincher, a licensed hairstylist and corporate educator at Blo Blow Dry Bar, says will cut the time spent on your blowout and help prevent over-exposure to concentrated heat. “Use your hands to shake the excess water from the hair, then use a brush made for wet hair that is vented and heat-safe (such as this Wet Brush, $15) to brush the hair in all directions while haphazardly blow-drying all throughout the head to confuse unruly growth patterns. For coarse, curly or frizz-prone hair, you can use the concentration attachment that comes with your blow dryer to help control flyaways. For fine or thin hair that lacks volume, you can flip your head upside down to achieve more lift at the root,” she advises. For curlier hair, she recommends rough-drying no more than 50 percent prior to round-brushing. For straighter hair, she recommends rough-drying up to 70-80 percent of the way prior to round-brushing.
Approximate time saved per week: 1 hour (based on 10-20 minutes per blowout)
The hack: Choose products that work double duty
How it works: The fewer products you have to deal with when getting ready, the faster you’ll be able to move on from the task, as pointed out by Meredith Baraf, a celebrity makeup artist. “It may seem insignificant, but searching for, opening, closing and putting away items adds up, so it’s helpful to opt for brands and products that offer multitasking, double-ended, or on-the-go fixes. Surratt Beauty’s La Baton Rouge Lip Duo ($38) and Charlotte Tilbury’s Instant Look in a Palette ($75) are among some of my go-tos,” she advises. Baraf also recommends making your existing products work harder by using your bronzer as an eye shadow, a chubby lip pencil as both a lip liner and lipstick, and so on.
Approximate time saved per week: 20 minutes
The hack: Apply dry shampoo within 12-24 hours of washing your hair
How it works: Contrary to popular belief, dry shampoo is intended to work as more of a preventative measure, rather than as a replacement for traditional shampoo, says Fincher. “When you apply dry shampoo within 12-24 hours of washing your hair (or immediately after blow drying), the dry shampoo is able to absorb the excess natural oils as you produce them, which keeps your hair cleaner longer," she explains.
Approximate time saved per week: 3 hours (depending on how often one typically washes and blow dries hair)
The hack: Color-block your core wardrobe items
How it works: When getting dressed, Smith points out that people typically look for certain styles or colors to complete a look. “Organizing your closet and drawers by style, as well as color, allows you to find items more quickly and with less hassle, getting you out the door faster and in a good mood,” she explains.
Approximate time saved per week: 30-45 minutes (based on 10-15 minutes saved looking for clothing at least three times a week)
The hack: Create a mix-and-match wardrobe
How it works: As another way to help prep clothing for the week, Smith suggests setting aside a day over the weekend to select 14 pieces (for example, three dresses, four bottoms, four tops, two jackets and one jumpsuit) that can be worn together. “This allows you to create a combination of a minimum of 10 looks that you can swap, layer, etc. In addition, you can pre-steam/iron the pieces and pull out accessories that generally work for each of the looks.” Engelbach says this also allows you to notice any snags — like stains or loose buttons — ahead of time and save you the hassle of dealing with it last minute.
Approximate time saved per week: 3.5 hours (based on an average of 30 minutes saved per day)
The hack: Whip up a weekly supply of breakfast smoothies
How it works: As another morning trick, Engelbach likes to create a large batch of one type of smoothie and separate it into serving-size freezer bags. “Place one bag into the refrigerator before bed and your breakfast is basically ready to go the next morning,” she advises. If you crave more variety, you can also gather a week’s worth of fruits and vegetables for your smoothie and separate them into serving-size freezer bags. “When it’s time to make your morning smoothie, grab a frozen pack and toss the contents into the blender.”
Approximate time saved per week: 90-120 minutes (based on an additional 15-20 minutes spent gathering ingredients, preparing and cleaning each additional morning)
The hack: Batch-cook grains and veggies
How it works: To save time and hassle prepping, preparing and cleaning on weeknights, Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, a nutrition and weight loss expert, recommends batch-cooking up a single grain (such as quinoa or brown rice), along with a sheet pan of veggies (like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts) on Sunday nights. “With this strategy, you can create a number of meals and season as you go. For example, toss the veggies in a store-bought pesto sauce on night one and serve with quinoa and sautéed shrimp (also tossed in the pesto). On night two, have a nourishing bowl with a base of veggies, a scoop of quinoa, some hummus, canned, rinsed chickpeas and olives. On night three, you might serve the quinoa and veggies along with some rotisserie chicken,” she explains.
Approximate time saved per week: 2 ½ hours
The hack: Opt for frozen produce
How it works: Don’t have time to hit the supermarket? Keep your freezer well-stocked so you can amplify meals with produce on the fly. “Frozen produce is always fresh, and often pre-prepped, saving you additional time when it comes to chopping and so on. Plus, it steams up in minutes in the microwave, which also shaves significant cooking time. I love tossing steamed veggies into pesto sauce for an easy side dish,” suggests Cassetty, who also recommends keeping frozen grains handy.
Approximate time saved per week: 3 hours (considering the typical time spent traveling to the grocery store and preparing fresh produce items)
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