Perhaps you’ve seen this time-saving “hack” making the rounds: UPS trucks almost never make left-hand turns! Should you do the same?
Or maybe you’ve seen that kitchen time-saving hack: pre-soak your pasta, so it cooks quicker! Then there’s my personal favorite: DVR your favorite shows so you can fast-forward through the commercials. You save about eight minutes every half hour, so in the course of watching two hours of TV, you find 32 minutes to exercise!
This is true, but you know another way to find 32 minutes to exercise?
Time hacks in general often miss the point
Time hacks may save minutes here and there, but those minutes are easily squandered on other things. It’s better to focus on the big picture and do the important stuff first, and the bits of time will take care of themselves.
Let’s start with those UPS trucks. It makes sense if you have thousands of trucks making thousands of turns to optimize what you can, but the average person lacks this scale. Rather than reroute to avoid two left turns while doing errands, join Amazon Prime and get stuff delivered. That way those UPS trucks are on the road (avoiding those left turns) rather than you.
You’ll save much more time by lowering your standards than by any particular strategy
I collect old magazines, and one of my favorite “time saving” tips from a 1960s Good Housekeeping was to use a butter knife to spread wax evenly on your floor waxer. Most of us don’t spend a whole lot of time waxing our floors these days, which turns out to save more time than any butter-knife technique. You can fold your towels more efficiently, but if you re-use your towels, you’ll be doing less laundry and hence less folding. Or you could find a wash-and-fold service that delivers.
You can streamline your morning routine and get an app that sends your order to the coffee place before you get there. But it might be an even bigger win to negotiate to work from home once a week. Yes, you might need to make your own coffee, but you’ll have plenty of time with the two hours you save.
As for the DVR, there’s nothing wrong with fast-forwarding through commercials. But I suspect that most people use the eight minutes saved every half hour to watch more TV: three shows when once you only would have been able to watch two. This is certainly efficient, but it’s not very productive.
Think about what you want to do more of with your time
Plan the big stuff—the meaningful stuff, the fun stuff—first. Having trouble getting out of work by 7 p.m.? Try getting tickets to a sports event that starts at 7 p.m. You might surprise yourself with how efficient and motivated you are.
I used to think I didn’t have much time to read. Then I started getting some real page-turners, and wow! I found all kinds of time. I didn’t actually make more time, but it felt like it.
When we build the lives we want, time saves itself.
Laura Vanderkam is the author of I Know How She Does It, 168 Hours and What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast.