Find an Extra Hour a Day
Time Suck: Every time I stepped into my laundry room there'd be a pile on the floor, a clump of wet clothes in the washer, and a still slightly moist heap in the dryer. Even if I washed, dried, and folded what was there, the next time I walked in -- boom! -- it was all back.
Time Saver: Containing the laundry monster requires ruthless organization. Keep three baskets in the laundry room labeled "whites," "lights," and "darks." Separate the laundry right out of the hamper into the baskets. When a basket is full (and only then), toss it in the washer. Set a buzzer so you know when the cycle is over, then immediately put the wet clothes in the dryer. Once the load is dry, fold directly into another set of baskets, each labeled with a family member's name. When a basket is full of folded clothes, give it to the person. The rule? He or she must put the clothes away, then return the basket.
Bonus Tip: Put clean socks in a separate basket. Have the kids sort them on rainy days.
Time Suck: I'd decide to scrub the bathroom sink. Then I'd clean the whole room. Then mop the floor. Then wipe down the kitchen counters. Before I knew it, a three-minute touch-up had become a three-hour spring-cleaning.
Time Saver: "Housework expands to fill the available time," says Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. To vanquish this tendency, she suggests setting a timer at a specific time every week (mine is first thing on Sunday mornings) for one hour -- just one! Clean fast and furiously until it beeps. Then you're done. To minimize the weekly cleanup, set the timer for 15 minutes every evening to pick up what's lying around.
Bonus Tip: Place supplies in a bucket you carry from room to room instead of wasting time hunting for Windex.
Scheduling Our Lives
Time Suck: Every day at 5:10, my husband would call and ask, "So, are you picking up the kids?"
Me: "Aren't you?"
Him: "I got out of work late."
Me: "I can do it, but I still have a call to make for work."
Him: "I can be there in 20 minutes."
Me: "I can be there in 10."
Him: "So, are you picking up the kids?"
Time Saver: On Sunday nights my husband and I convene to look at our calendar and decide, for every day of the coming week, who is picking up the kids, taking them to soccer, getting the dry cleaning, finding a sitter for Friday, cooking/buying/stealing dinner, and so on. We figure out as much as we possibly can so we can just stop talking about it. Then we write it on the calendar. "You should not use your brain for remembering," says Duncan, a very wise woman.
Bonus Tip: Try Google Calendar. Everyone in the family can access it and it syncs to whatever computer or smartphone you use. I'm a Mac and my husband's a PC and we can share the same calendar. This is, like, a miracle.
Using Social Media Sites
Time Suck: In the eight seconds a day I wasn't on Facebook, I'd be on e-mail. It's on my iPhone, too, so I checked it while waiting in line or standing in the kitchen, 20 steps from my computer.
Time Saver: One friend applies the old snail-mail rule to e-mail: Only handle it once. So she opens an e-mail, then reads, answers, and deletes it. I'm not that decisive -- yet -- but I no longer check it during the first hour of my workday. "That way, you set your agenda for the day, rather than letting other people do it," says professional organizer Julie Morgenstern, who literally wrote the book on this topic (Never Check E-Mail in the Morning).
Bonus Tip: Stever Robbins, author of Get-It-Done Guy's 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More, suggests a "Hands-Off Zone" for the iPhone so you're not tempted to check it. I now turn off the volume when the kids are home and awake, and I've moved the charging station to my desk in the basement.
Time Suck: I'd go on Facebook to see if anyone liked the witty status update I'd posted three minutes earlier. Then I'd look up and 45 minutes would have elapsed. I'd reprimand myself. Eight minutes after that I'd check again.
Time Saver: "If you don't rule Facebook, it will rule you," says Regina Leeds, author of One Year to an Organized Life. She advises strictly limiting your time on FB (or other online site) to 10 minutes in the morning and 10 at night. I've upped the ante by completely logging out between visits so that now when I absentmindedly pull up FB on my Bookmarks Bar, the log-in page is a reminder to just say no.
Bonus Tip: If you don't care what someone thought of last night's episode of Glee, click the X to the right of her name to hide all her posts. That way, you don't have to defriend her, but you won't waste time reading her updates.
Time Suck: As soon as my husband and I had gotten the kids into bed, the two of us would collapse onto the living-room couch and tune in to, say, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (which we love), then stay, zombielike, through Desperate Housewives (which we don't even kind of love) and sometimes even through the local newscast (which is so painful it hurts). And that was just Sunday.
Time Saver: Every person I know said "TiVo!" So now we use DVR and fast-forward through commercials, thereby reducing a 60-minute drama to less than 40. But Vanderkam warns that DVRs have a flip side: "Some people record so many shows that they end up watching more TV, not less." So we set a cap of seven shows a week and no matter what, after watching one of them, we turn off the TV.
Bonus Tip: Look at the TV listings and make an actual schedule of what you want to watch. Then set up the TiVo to record only those shows and nothing else.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2011.