Most of us are already hip-deep in online efficiency tools like shared calendars, code libraries, and rss feeds; here are 30 simple ways that you can make your life (the real one) easier:
- Synchronize recurring events. This can be done annually, monthly, or even weekly. As an example, there are many household tasks that really only need to be done annually. Make it easy to remember when they need to be done by doing them all on the same day. The switch to daylight savings time is a good time to check batteries in smoke detectors, clean screens and windows, change air filters, clean fireplaces, etc. You can do the same with your car, by checking your tires, wiper fluid, battery, etc., every time you get an oil change. Sacrificing one day a month to do household chores like laundry, cleaning, and gardening can relieve the burden of having those things hang over your head and follow you around during the rest of the month.
- Re-key your locks. This is a fantastic way to cut down on the number of keys you have to lug around. One visit to a locksmith can put all of your home access points on a single key, and usually for a very reasonable price. Though you can’t do this with cars or office buildings because you need to be able to bring the lock to the locksmith, this can still reduce the number of keys you carry around significantly. Some padlocks allow for re-keying as well.
- Scatter lots of cheap pens and pencils. Distribute them all over your home and workplace. It's a great idea to do the same with note pads, sticky notes, or note cards. This is especially easy if you find yourself attending conferences often, because you can pick up lots of the freebees and promotional pens and paper. If you tend to have high standards for your writing implement, go ahead and stock the nice pens, too, but this way you’ll never be frantically looking for something to write on and with.
- Hoard stamps. It's true that snail mail is becoming less and less important, but every once in a while, you do need a stamp. In fact, it's probably because you don’t use them that often that they're hard to keep track of. Instead of buying a couple stamps at a time, buy a whole book or a roll to keep around. Now that the USPS is selling forever stamps, you can buy as many as you want at the current price, and they will always have enough value for a first class mailing.
- Get a toolbox. One box, many tools. Stock it with the basics: screwdrivers of different sizes, a hammer, picture hangers, pliers, electrical tape, light bulbs, etc. Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place, but if you keep these things handy you won't have to wait for a repairman or a visit to the hardware store to get things fixed.
- Make complete sets of spare keys. Make three extra copies of each of your essential keys (or single key - see "re-key your locks" above). One copy should stay in your home for guests, or as your own backup, one set should go to a trusted neighbor, and a third should go to a friend or family member who lives nearby. This way, you can be certain that lost or misplaced keys will not cause too much of a disruption to your day.
- Keep your essentials in one place. Set a specific location and container where you can deposit your keys, phone, wallet, purse, etc., when you get home. Ideally, this would be near the door and in a high-traffic area, such as a hallway. Once you get in the habit of depositing these items in the same place, you'll get very used to finding them right where you left them!
- Check your snail mail once a week. Or, only as often as you need to so that the mailbox doesn’t overfill. Since most mail is junk anyway, feel free to let it sit in your mailbox for a couple of days instead of on your counter or table top.
- Get and use a DVR. There are two ways that this will make your life easier, and that’s before we even talk about fast forwarding through commercials. First of all, recording the shows you love will help ensure that you don’t waste time flipping through mediocre TV. You get to watch what you want, and you never risk settling for reruns of Flavor of Love. Better still, a DVR can be a great time management tool. You can decide to only watch shows that you have chosen, and when you’ve seen them, stop watching. Once you get used to this, you'd be amazed how easy it is to turn off the TV when you actually have to sit through a commercial to see the conclusion of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
- Keep cards, wrapping paper, and even a few simple gifts for last-minute occasions. This is a great way to reduce errand-running stress. Wait for a sale, if you want, or just hit the store with the intention of purchasing a few birthday, thank you, and blank all-occasion greeting cards. Add to these a couple of gift bags and tissue paper, along with some simple, generic gifts. Gift cards to popular stores, picture frames, and candles are all good ideas for storable, unisex gifts that can save you from a last-minute, errand-running stress-fest.
- Outsource your chores. Seriously, the kid down the street could get really excited about the ten bucks you give him for mowing the lawn, walking the dog, washing the car, whatever. Your time and sanity are worth way more than that kid's hourly wage. If you have the means, ask your friends and neighbors for a referral for a housekeeper that is trustworthy. Most housekeepers offer a great hourly value, especially compared to your hourly value, not to mention the value of rest and relaxation.
- Set up one charging station for all of your electronics. A power strip or two should be all it takes to get your phone, PDA, Bluetooth accessories, camera, mp3 player, laptop, and rechargeable battery charger all plugged in. Keep a stock of new batteries nearby as well. Never moving the chargers for your electronics means never having to look for them.
- Get and use a filing cabinet. Even if all you do is open the drawer and drop important documents into the “To be Filed” folder. At least that way, you'll know where to find them when you need them.
Away from Home
- Avoid Traffic. There are so many good reasons to do this, but we especially love the feeling of flying past a line of cars on a bicycle. Even when walking, close neighborhood errands can often be quicker when there is no need to park/repark your car. Plus there's all the added benefits of saving the planet and your own cash that you're not spending on fuel. You can take this strategy to the next level by trying for a job that will allow you to work from home or flex your hours so that you'll never be forced to sit in rush-hour traffic.
- Plan your errands with the most efficient route in mind. No matter if you're on foot, on a bicycle, or on public transport, when you leave the house you should have a good idea of what your stops are and the easiest way to get there and back, with all the destinations in between. Don’t forget to consider traffic patterns, and be okay with putting off errands for a day or two so that you can accomplish many things in one trip.
- Program your mobile phone with all possible numbers. If you plan to be away from your home or your computer for an extended period of time, it’s a good idea to prepare by anticipating phone numbers you will need and programming them into your phone. Especially when you are traveling, some examples of numbers you may need in a pinch are hotels, rental cars, taxis, airlines, and restaurants.
- Never travel without a swimsuit. Period. You don’t want to miss an opportunity to enjoy a hot tub or sauna because they won’t let you go commando.
- Hide money and important documents in multiple places. Especially when you’re traveling abroad, it’s a good idea to keep your stores of cash or traveler’s checks hidden in several different locations in your luggage. By splitting up your funds, any potential robber will think they’ve got your stash when in fact they have only found a bit of it. Similarly, keep a few copies of your passport and plane tickets hidden in different locations throughout your stuff. If something should go missing, it will be far easier to replace if you’re holding on to a copy.
- Don't be ashamed to carry a man purse. We mean it. There's a reason why women carry those things--they're just darn useful. If it makes you feel better to carry something shaped like a backpack, go ahead and do that instead. Whatever the shape, pick out something that holds what you need it to, and don't apologize for being the one ready with a business card, a pen, or your reading glasses. And if someone asks if you're carrying a man purse, tell them that it's European.
- Keep an umbrella, a blanket, and a gallon of water in your trunk. Because these are the things you will miss the most, should you need them. If you need to be prepared for more than foul weather, romance, or overheating, we recommend an extra pair of comfortable shoes, snow chains (if you live in that kind of neighborhood), and a Frisbee for throwing while you wait for the parking lot to empty out.
- Park far away from entrances. Walking across a parking lot isn’t necessarily the most pleasant thing, but it’s still walking. Walking is exercise and therefore reduces stress. Waiting patiently for a spot near the front, only to have that yellow H2 ignore you and pull into your spot will have the opposite effect.
With Your Money
- Keep lots of change around. While quarters are the most useful, there are lots of good reasons to keep change around. If you don't acquire coins in the course of your normal routine, virtually any bank will trade you quarters (or other coins) for bills. Keeping a stack of them in your home, your car, your purse, your locker, or your desk will save you from scrounging when you encounter a parking meter, laundromat, or especially a vending machine.
- Keep a back up fund of cash hidden in your car, wallet, or at home. The trick to this is that you have to learn to consider it backup money, and is therefore not for spending except in a real pinch. Keeping this money in your wallet will make it harder not to spend, but will also be very useful when you have an unanticipated need for a taxi or a meal. Keeping the money at home or in your car will often save you from spending it, but will save you from having to visit the ATM when you're rushed.
- Subscribe to online delivery of bills and account statements. This will benefit your actual life when you find your mailbox is no longer clogged with dead trees. Plus, you won't have to file them.
- Use direct deposit whenever possible. This is such a great service. If your employer offers it, they will often allow you to break the deposit up into a few different accounts which can help you budget your savings or other investments just by filling out a single form.
- Use autopay. Autopay can be arranged through your bank or directly with the vendor. Aggressive use of this technique can virtually put your finances on autopilot. You just need to ensure that there's enough money in the account when the payments are scheduled, and then don't worry about tracking down your checkbook, a stamp, or the invoice.
- Change the billing cycles on your monthly bills so that they're all due at the same time. Usually this can be accomplished with a quick phone call if it can't be done online. This can prevent forgotten or lost bills, since you'll have to go through your entire list of liabilities at the same time. If one of your accounts won't allow you to change the billing cycle, then change all the others to match that one. The other useful thing about this practice is that it makes it easier to calculate your monthly expenses and make good decisions about your budget.
In Your Personal Life
- Feel free to let the phone ring. Many people don't realize that you don't have to pick up the phone, or you can just turn off the ringer. The point is that people often call at bad times because they don't know that it's a bad time. Rather then let them interrupt you and complicate your life, simply ignore the call and get back to them when it is a better time for you.
- Say no. Essentially, we just wanted to remind you not to be too caught up in your sense of responsibility. Social events, work opportunities, volunteering, or overtime can all be hard to turn down when the opportunity arises. However, keep in mind that if scheduling and participating in these things bring you more stress than they do money or pleasure, you're probably better off disappointing someone and saying no.
- Make lists, keep a journal, and keep a calendar. Whatever technology you prefer for these things is fine. While Google Calendar, TiddlyWiki, Blackberrys and other PDAs are all very useful, we have found that nothing takes the place of a small Molskine journal or other pocket-sized calendar. Here you can make lists, write down notes, ideas, and contact information, and they're small enough to fit nicely into your wallet/pocket/man purse. Keep it with you, and refer to it often.