10 Ways to Save Time by Spending Time

By Lynn Truong on 14 April 2010 (Updated 10 April 2011) 4 comments
Photo: eflon

Just like the adage you have to spend money to make money, it’s just as true that sometimes you have to spend time to save time. But when do we know if a time investment will have a high ROI? Here are 10 ways to save time by spending it.

1. Learn a Skill

If there is a recurring task that takes up a large amount of your time, consider whether getting some training will speed things up for you in the future. If you run a blog, but haven't taken the time to learn all that your CMS (Wordpress, Drupal, etc.) has to offer, you're probably spending a lot of time doing things the hard way. Information and training is not only readily available, but mostly at a low cost. Unless it's something you are planning to outsource, there's just no reason to continue to do something inefficiently if you can learn a valuable skill and save time in the future.

2. Build a System

Sometimes a lot of our time is spent repeating steps. Are you answering the same emails every day? Create a canned response in Gmail, or save an email template for Outlook. Are you doing things manually that can be automated? Use Quickbooks or Mint.com to automatically download and sync your credit card and banking transactions. Stop repeating tasks that can be eliminated if you can spend the time to build a proper system for it.

3. Assign a Point Person

When there are too many cooks in the kitchen, most of the time is spent figuring out how to avoid tripping over someone else. If there are multiple people (or departments) involved in a project, decide ahead of time what needs to be committee approved and what can be left to the discretion of the point person. A lot of time is wasted waiting for approvals from various people for decisions that really don't deserve so much attention.

4. Establish a Routine

Don't get stuck figuring out over and over again how to do the same task. Having good documentation is time consuming, but it's essential to have step-by-step instructions for tasks that are extremely detailed and prone to error. Otherwise you'll end up correcting the same mistakes. Make sure to keep this in an easily accessible place or you'll forget or be too lazy to reach for it when starting the task. You'll also find this handy when it's time to pass this task to someone else.

5. Set a Deadline for Decisions

It's not wise to make decisions too quickly, but it's just as detrimental to take too long. If you have all the information you're going to get, allow yourself some time to ruminate over the pros and cons or come up with a creative solution, but waiting and hoping that something will magically come to you is not a good move. You'll just end up reviewing what you've already gone through many times over. Decide on a deadline to make a decision and make it, so you can move forward.

6. Read Carefully

Whether you're skimming through emails too fast or tossing the instruction manual aside before putting together the crib, you'll inevitably waste time undoing errors or rereading an email because you found out you missed an important question. Don't end up back on square one because you decided to skip the first step.

7. Keep Organized Notes

Do you find yourself in meetings where you end up discussing something that was previously resolved in another meeting, but no one remembers? Do you find yourself asking the same questions or running into the same problem that you vaguely recall fixing last time? Takes notes and make sure it's organized and effective — no, mental notes won't cut it.

8. Plan Ahead

Ever bought a desk without measuring and realize it won't fit through your office door? Some people are really good a "eyeing" it or improvising, but for the rest of us, it's just a time sink. Take the extra time to make a plan of action — even if you're just shopping at IKEA.

9. Make a To-Do List

Whether you use a task management system or a spiral notebook (I use both), just make sure it works for you and your lifestyle. Do this the night before as a way to wind down and let go. In the morning, your list will be ready and you won't have to stress over what to do next.

10. Breathe

For all our running around obsessed with being productive, we end up running in circles because we don't know when to stop. Take some time to recenter, refresh, and relax. Drink some water. Get some sun. Maybe you'll decide a few of those things on your list isn't even all that necessary. What better time saver is there?

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Jedrzej

Nice article Lynn! It really is important to learn new skills. I find it to be one of the most satisfying things in my life. Constantly improving my skills makes me feel confident and safe. 

Guest's picture
Guest

Loved the post, it's very true that sometimes to get things done faster, you have to step back a moment and take some time preparing yourself/others so that you can eventually do it faster.

One more item to add - Clearing the Decks
All too often, a precariously high pile of items to deal with, even though a lot of them can be very short, can clutter your mind and make all your tasks take longer, as you are disturbed by phone calls and emails asking for trivial things that you should have dealt with long ago. Taking even an hour to do all these tiny-tasks can still leave you with several major items on your to-do list, but a clear run to do them in, methodically and efficiently.
Along the same lines, taking time to file all the items that you have already dealt with - I personally spend far too long looking for items in my "to-be-filed" pile when it would have been so much easier and quicker to locate if it was already in the relevant file. These things can accumulate especially when you're pushed for time, but if you take a moment to deal with them, you can be faster in the long run.

Guest's picture

Great article Lynn!  I think it is so important to spend that time to save it later.  One thing I do is sit down at the beginning of the week, either on Sunday evening or first thing Monday morning and get my tasks lined out.  Right now I am using a white board (archaic I know) but I will soon be switching to something digital that I can manage from my PC and my iPhone.  But seriously, since I started getting my "ToDo's" lined out at the beginning of the week, I am and feel much more productive!  Again great job on the article!

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Kevin

Wow, lynn. I'm fascinated by your ideas and list of topics that you've came up with. It's true, when i learn something each day, i don't feel like i m wasting time, rather i feel productive. It's difficult to maintain that focus though. Any ideas or advice to maintain a focus on learning something that interest you at first but it's very difficult to learn that you want to give up? I need a little more motivation than will power and curiosity. Thanks Lynn,

Kevin Thanh Do