The word “hack,” in the context in which I use it in the title, means “a good, and perhaps very time-saving, method that produces exactly what is needed.” Those who read My Pleasant Places know that I am big on hacks. I love saving time, saving energy, saving money, etc. I feel very gratified when I feel as if I ‘beat the system’ in some way. The hacks that I am going to share in this post are not mind-blowing. In fact, most of them are just common sense. But maybe one of them will be new to you and will help you feel as if you ‘beat the system,’ too.
First of all, I have to qualify my hacks by stipulating that, unlike many of my readers, I do not have children at home (at least not 24/7). My husband, Steve and I, live alone, and so I am not cleaning up after a bunch of people all the time. That, in itself, will separate some of my hacks from the way mothers must do things. Still, you may be able to tweak some of my hacks to suit your lifestyle.
1. Clean as you go.
When I was a young mother, it felt as if I cleaned all day every day. It was my job. With less people underfoot now, I am able to pretty much stay on top of the housework by doing a little here, a little there. Toilet needs cleaning? Just clean it. No need to make an event of it and mop the bathroom floor, too. Make the bed first thing in the morning. Rinse dishes and put in the dishwasher as soon as they are used. The only time this doesn’t work is when the dishwasher is full of clean dishes that need to be put away—which brings me to my next hack.
2. Empty dishwasher a little at a time.
I don’t know why emptying the dishwasher is such a cumbersome chore, but people everywhere seem to be in agreement on this point. My preferred method of emptying the dishwasher is a little at a time while I am waiting on something else. For instance, I find myself at numerous times throughout the day heating up something in the microwave. While I am waiting on that—usually about a minute—I will empty as much of the dishwasher as possible. This is one of my favorite ways of ‘beating the system.’ I’m not wasting time while I wait on the microwave, and I am not emptying the dishwasher when I could be doing something else. It usually takes me several of those one-minute, microwave-heating segments to get the dishwasher completely unloaded, so I keep the dishwasher open (my reminder that there is more to put away), and every time I go into the kitchen, I’ll put away several things. I usually have the dishwasher emptied in short order, but I don’t feel as if I really spent any of my precious time doing it; instead it was a little here, a little there during what would have otherwise been “dead time.”
3. Cook ahead.
I wrote about this in Where Time Management Meets the Kitchen, but it’s too important a hack to not mention it again. I don’t mind leftovers at all. In fact, I prefer them to cooking! So I will often cook a pot of something and eat it throughout the week. I have to confess, this is definitely one of those hacks that would not have worked for me when my children were still living at home. Just this week, my daughter, Misty, mother of four, asked me if I ever had trouble getting any of my four children to eat. The immediate response was NO! Never! And we NEVER had leftovers. So, though I could have really used this hack in my motherhood days, it would not have worked for me then. Now, however, it’s the only way I eat (at home, that is). Cook once, heat up several times. Which is a good time to empty the dishwasher.
Speaking of cooking ahead, I discovered something of a “delicacy” this year in the way of breakfast foods: steel-cut oats. I read about them on some blog, and learned that they took quite a while to cook (an hour!). I don’t like oatmeal enough to spend an hour cooking it, but then I stumbled onto this hack for making it: bring the water to a boil, add the oats, boil for one minute, remove from heat, cover and let sit overnight. Voila! This is now one of my breakfast staples. It is so much better than regular oatmeal (in my humble opinion), and I make a batch, keep it refrigerated and dip out a serving as desired throughout the week.
4. Always have reading material with you.
This may not sound like a time-saver—unless you love reading like I do. And whether you love reading or not, if your job requires it, it is still something that must be done. So always, ALWAYS have reading material with you. I keep a magazine or two in my car at all times. I have e-books on my phone and iPad, I have an app on my phone whereby I can read all my subscribed blogs (see Getting Wiser on the Run). If I am going somewhere where there is a chance I will have “dead time,” I take a book. This is not only a time-saver, it is a time-redeemer. It provides a way for me to make the most of every opportunity. And it keeps me from being cranky if I have to wait on someone.
5. Do all your away-from-the-house errands at once.
This hack is for those who work from the home. If you have to get out to do one errand (pick up some supplies, for example), go ahead and take care of as many as you can in that one outing (pay bills, drop off cleaning, stop by the library, buy groceries, etc.). Running errands is one instance where “a little here, a little three” is not the most optimal use of your time (unless you work in town and can only take care of a single errand during your lunch hour—or some similar scenario). Create the most time-saving, gas-saving route, and go from one errand to the next, ticking them off your list one by one, setting up the rest of your week for errand-free, extended time to work on your more creative endeavors.
6. Work out efficiently.
I became committed to strength training (with weights) several years ago after reading the book, Strong Women Stay Young by Miriam E. Nelson (great book, by the way; I recommend!). Around that same time, I came across a strength training manual, targeted towards women, with exercises for all the major muscle groups, upper and lower body. This book, as most that I have taken the time to look at since then, recommended three sets of three different exercises for each muscle group. So, for example, that means doing three different exercises that target the biceps. Do each of those exercises twelve times (each time is called a “rep”), take a tiny rest (a few seconds), then start over and do all three exercises again (each time you do a single round of all three exercises is called a “set”), take another tiny rest, and then do all three exercises yet a third time. In workout jargon, that translates into doing three sets of biceps exercises. When you take into account that there are biceps, triceps, shoulders, chest, and back muscles that comprise the upper body alone, doing three sets of exercises for each body part is quite a time commitment!
Some time later, after trying for quite a while to remain consistent with the workout regimen I just described, I read an article about a study done at a university that challenged the value of doing three sets (forgive me for not being able to state which university and the exact scientific findings; this was years ago that I read this article, and I only remember the bottom line). Over a period of time, the study compared the benefits in a group of test subjects that did three sets of exercises to subjects that only did one set of exercises and found that there was only a minimal difference in their muscular development. In other words, the “one-setters” were getting about 85% of the return of the “three-setters” for only one-third of the investment. That sounds like smart investing, if you ask me! I am a committed one-setter, and I’ve never looked back!
My philosophy on working out all boils down to your “why” (see Know Your “Why?”). Are you planning on entering a Mr. Muscle or Ms. Muscle contest? If so, then you might want to opt for the three-set workouts. But if you’re just wanting to be fit, build strong muscles and bones, have enough strength to lift your children and grandchildren, then it would probably be a better use of your time to commit to consistent workouts of one-set strength training sessions.
There’s similar cases that could be made for aerobic exercise, too. For instance, here’s a link that says that intensity trumps duration—how hard you work out is more beneficial than how long you work out. My “why?” is a little different for aerobic exercise (which is running, for me). Running is all about fitness, but it is also about getting outdoors, challenging myself, building endurance, de-stressing, increasing my energy level, “me time,” bringing my body under subjection, etc. For all these benefits, I deem it worthy of a greater time commitment than strength training. Therefore, I put in a bare minimum of time in strength training (15-20 minutes two times a week), but I give over an hour to running and stretching at least three times a week. It’s all about the “why?”.
7. Listen While You Work Out.
Because of my love for books (and more specifically, knowledge), I consider it a real treat to be able to “beat the system” by listening to an audio book while running and/or strength training. There are lots of free sources for audio books these days. You can download from your local library or from other online sources. I can download books from my trade organization at realtor.org, and I’m sure other trades have e-book libraries, as well. There is also a vast array of podcasts that you can download and listen to.
The point is, if you like listening to something while you run and getting double duty out of your workout time, it is not difficult. I go through spurts of always having something to listen to, followed by long spurts of enjoying quiet, thinking time while I run. I consider both ways of doubling up on the benefits a valuable hack of my time.
What kinds of hacks can you suggest? Please share in the comments.