Find an Extra Hour a Day

Do you constantly feel as though there aren't enough hours in the day? Even though you feel like you split your time between tons of important things that need to get done, you're likely wasting some valuable time in between -- we'll show you how to take control of the clock and be productive.
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I open the refrigerator -- again -- and stare inside. Disappointment sweeps over me since, in the two minutes since I last opened it, a pan of lasagna has not materialized. Nor has a pot of beef stew. The trouble is not my lack of casseroles or that my kids are chanting they're starving or that my husband just walked in the door without a pizza box in his hands, though all this is true. The trouble is, I've fallen prey -- again -- to the most consistent time suck of my day: figuring out what to make for dinner.

The 10 minutes I typically waste every night gazing at kitchen appliances may not seem like much. But add in the three minutes it took to hunt for my daughter's boots this morning. And the five minutes I spent rearranging the piles of mail on the kitchen counter. And the 38 minutes it took to drive to the store for the milk I forgot to get yesterday. And, worst of all, the untold minutes that vanished during the 27 times -- yes, 27! -- I logged on to Facebook while I was at my desk, um, working. Minute by precious minute, my days disappear into a black hole. But I'm determined to turn this sorry situation around. I e-mail friends for time-saving tips. I poll experts and test-drive just about every idea I hear. And guess what?

I do it! I save an hour a day! Actually, I save more than an hour a day: I save my sanity. And you can do it, too.

Shopping for Groceries

Time Suck: I used to shop three times a week (often towing two kids), with a mental list I swore I'd remember. Then I'd spend 45 minutes more than I should because I'd backtrack to the dairy section six times.

Time Saver: Rule One: Leave the kids at home, even if you have to shop at night, after they're in bed. Dealing constantly with their demands for gum and Lucky Charms wastes time and money and creates unnecessary stress. Rule Two: A shopping list is critical. Some friends maintain theirs on phone apps like Grocery Gadgets (grocerygadgets.com). In our family an old-fashioned pencil-and-paper version works best. Before you leave, organize the list so it's department-specific: dairy, bakery, produce. Once you're in the store, stick to the list. I'm now in and out in half the time and save money because I resist impromptu "bargains," like the buy-one-get-one-free five-pound bag of shredded cheddar. At checkout, I group items according to where I'll put them at home and bag them the same way. And finally, shop once a week. Period. If you're out of something, deal with it.

Bonus Tip: For the rare (if you follow the rules above) times when you're caught short, stock these emergency nonperishables: Parmalat milk, frozen Egg Beaters, and Folgers Coffee Singles.

Making Dinner

Time Suck: Typically, I wouldn't think about a menu until I walked in at 5:30 p.m. to find I had no plan (somehow this always managed to surprise me). Hence the frequency of my Pasta and Jarred-Sauce Delight.

Time Saver: On Friday night I now thumb through a folder of recipes I've torn from magazines and write out menus for the next seven days on a notecard that I clip, with the recipes, to the hood of the stove. (For easy dinner ideas, go to LHJ.com.) It helps to think strategically: My friend Carla makes at least two meals a week -- marinated chicken on the grill and chicken tacos, say -- that involve the same main ingredient. She cooks all the chicken the first night, saving a second stint at the stove. Another pal deliberately makes extra every night in order to have a couple of nights of "Mom's Second-Chance Buffet."

Bonus Tip: If you have the freezer space, double the amount you're cooking and freeze half for another meal. (One of my friends triples her recipes, but our freezer just isn't big enough to do this.)

Getting Dressed

Time Suck: Every morning I'd stand in front of my closet, wrapped in my bath towel, waiting for a sign from the Outfit Gods. I'd put something on, look in the mirror, hate it, toss the clothes on the floor and start over. I'd do this anywhere from three to seven times.

Time Saver: Heed my mother's advice (I wish I had): Never purchase a top unless you have a bottom that goes with it, and vice versa. That way you'll never waste time hunting for a match for an orphan separate. (Dresses are one piece, so they rule your world.) One working mom I know writes down successful outfits -- from shoes to earrings -- in a notebook. At night she turns the page and, voila, she's set for the next day. If an item is in the laundry, all she has to do is flip the page. (Extra credit: Add photos.) For those willing to spend time to save time, check out the app Pocket Closet (pocketcloset.deepwell-software.com). Sure, you have to shoot photos of all your clothes, but you can then create outfits -- or let the app create them for you. The best part? It keeps track of what you wore when, so you won't show up at a client meeting in the same burgundy jacket you wore for the last one.

Bonus Tip: Decide on your outfit the night before. Keep a spray bottle filled with water in your bathroom. If something's wrinkled, spritz it and let it hang in the shower. Not only will it be dry in the morning, but it will also be wrinkle-free (or free enough).

Managing Mornings

Time Suck: Mornings at my house used to be chaotic, to put it mildly. I'd sprint from the shower to the kids' bedrooms, to my closet, to the kitchen to make breakfast and lunches, to the car to retrieve lunch boxes.

Time Saver: Personal productivity expert Peggy Duncan advises clients to do as much as they can the night before. "No matter how tired you are, there's more time then than in the morning." Pick your outfit, get the kids to pick theirs, set the coffeemaker, empty the dishwasher, make lunches, check the calendar to be sure everything you need (including keys) is packed and in a spot you call the "place I put stuff." Many experts suggest bathing at night, too, but my morning shower doubles as a shot of Red Bull.

Bonus Tip: Enforce a morning rule: No TV until the kids have gotten dressed, eaten breakfast, and brushed their teeth. Nothing motivates a child to move more quickly than withholding Degrassi.

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