Not another life hack article! Yes, the phrase alone makes me want to cringe, yet I’m always looking for more ways to find efficiencies in my day, so I can spend less time and mental energy on the things that aren’t serving me. Jason makes the playful analogy that I’m somewhat of a robot, I prefer’ life optimizer’ but I’ll take it as a compliment!
There’s no secret formula to getting more hours in a day, however I’ve found some life hacks that help save time and energy during especially hectic phases of life (similar to the one we’re in now). Here are a few things to try implementing in your life and home:
1. Batch ‘mundane’ tasks and do them in chunks on weekends.
Our brains LOVE the easier path that requires less critical thinking, enter ‘productive procrastination’. “Oh I’ll just order X off this website” or “I think I’m going to take a lunch break and spend 20 minutes deciding what I want”, instead of tackling the more demanding tasks. This behavior not only wastes time and distracts us, it also causes decision fatigue, making it harder to complete the tasks that require more thinking, which we eventually put off until the next day. Solution: remove these tempting distractions by spending a few hours front-loading them on the weekend to save time during the week.
Amazon or E-Commerce Orders: How many times do you open a tab for Amazon or click an email from a brand, browse their site and then minimize it only to return to it later? Every time you revisit that tab your brain goes through the same decision making process all over again, doubling the time spent on this task. Solution: Amazon lists. In my phone I keep an ongoing note, and every time I think of something I add it to the list. On weekends or evenings, while we’re watching TV or doing something mindless, I’ll open the list and complete my order without spending excessive time on it. This reduces the template to even start browsing during ‘working hours’. Additionally it lowers the environmental impact (slightly) by shipping things once per week in fewer boxes.
Meal Preparation: In a typical week, the only meal I’m actually spending time preparing is dinner, and in most cases I’ve pre-cooked our protein, so it’s more of an ‘assembly activity’ than ‘from scratch’. I make all lunches and breakfasts on weekends so they can be reheated. I pick recipes that I know I enjoy on back-to-back days, and for Jason because he’s more normal human and less robot, I’ll alternate his lunches every other day so he doesn’t get bored.
Vitamins & Supplements: This is small but effective, put all supplements in designated morning and afternoon pill dispensers and position it next to the coffee machine so you remember to take it at the same time each day with breakfast. This saves minutes every morning opening and closing bottles.
These are a few examples of ‘batching’ common time-sucks, there are so many more you can uncover in your life.
2. Organize your day around your circadian rhythm and protect your peak focus time.
I realize this is a luxury, however there are small tweaks we could all make to optimize our schedules. Determine if you are a morning, afternoon, or evening person. When do you do your best thinking and most efficient work? Block off that time on the calendar and assign yourself measurable tasks during the designated focus window. When your energy levels start to dip it’s time to do ‘low brainpower’ tasks, for me that’s answering emails, doing meetings (yes, I will openly say I find meeting horribly disruptive for my workflow and almost always do them in the afternoons when possible).
I protect the post-workout, first 3 hours of work window like it’s gold, because I can get more done in that time than in 3 afternoons combined. That’s how my brain works, and by being deliberate with your ‘peak productivity window’, whether that’s morning, afternoon or evening, you will see progress on those meaty tasks, which has a cascading impact on the rest of your day. There’s compelling research on willpower that demonstrates once you feel a sense of accomplishment, you’re more likely to keep working towards your goals. The same is true when you start to go ‘off the rails’, our natural inclination is to throw away the day (i.e. cheat day on a diet).
3. Optimize the timing of your nutrition and caffeine intake.
In addition to saving money and reducing decision making, when you prepare your meals in advance, it’s easier to be conscientious about the macronutrients you’re taking it at various points throughout the day to prevent the dreaded, afternoon slump. Reflect on the times you went for a large, heavy meal then came back to the office feeling extra tired and distractible. It feels as if your brain isn’t working properly. News flash, it isn’t because your body is putting all that energy towards digesting. This is especially true when consuming a higher carbohydrate lunch, that spikes your blood sugar and causes a crash within a few hours.
To keep energy levels consistent I aim to have a complete protein and fat with every meal, ideally a healthy, non-processed protein and fat from plant or responsibly-farmed animal products. I have more carbs in the morning, usually timed with exercise, and fewer in the afternoon to regulate blood sugar. I find this helps with the endless desire to keep snacking, another procrastination trick that our brain deploys when tired.
Jason is a little different but equally effective in his meal timing. He will usually stay fasted through breakfast or have a fat with his coffee to help his brain run effectively while following a ketogenic diet. That may be the ultimate way to save time (however it’s not for everyone)!
If you can tolerate caffeine without impacting your sleep, here’s my formula. I have between 2-3 servings in the form of coffee, caffeinated Nuun, or matcha green tea in the first 4 hours of the morning, totaling to about 200mg, sometimes 250mg if I need a little more of a boost. I have 1 serving when I wake up prior to working out, and the second cup around 10am, when your body has a natural lull in cortisol. I find if I time this well, I’m able to push that peak productivity window out another 1-2 hours without impacting my sleep. While you're at it throw a chic Dorai River Rock Coaster under your mug.
Many studies support this, and I’ve found it to be true, caffeine after 12:00pm can unknowingly disrupt your sleep cycle, which makes you less productive the next day. Caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours in men and up to 8 hours in women, meaning if you have a cup at 1:00pm, 40-60 mg may still be in your system at 8:00pm when you’re ideally trying to sleep. For these reasons I say keep that second cup before 11am just to be safe.
4. Simplify your wardrobe and pre-select your outfits.
Similar to life hack #1, try selecting a week’s worth of outfits and line them up in the front section of your closet. I started doing this in San Francisco because I run-commuted to work, requiring me to bring my clothes in on the weekends. If we’re being honest I didn’t enjoy this morning routine very much, but I did enjoy the ease of getting dressed every morning and have carried it over. I’d rather save that morning decision making for my ‘peak productivity window’.
Taking this one step further, trends such as Capsule Wardrobes and Project 333 are super trendy on social media, demonstrating how simplification in wardrobe does not mean compromising on style. On 9 out of 10 days I’m wearing a basic v-neck from Madewell that I love and own in about 5 colors to make mornings extra easy! I find spending less time shopping and having fewer options to go through in the morning help with my goal of reducing stress outside of work.
5. Invest in ‘low-maintenance’ solutions and automate wherever possible.
There’s a reason so many people are drawn to the minimalist lifestyle or downsizing to tiny homes, it requires less effort and time to ‘manage life’ and therefore decreases stress. When I’m shopping for products or looking to make improvements to my house or yard, I’ll often consider ‘cost of maintenance’ as a factor. For instance in buying a juicer, I could get a cheap option, however the time to clean it will be longer and impact my relaxation time in the evening, so I’ll go for the more expensive option that’s easier to clean. In our yard, we’re learning first hand how annoying grass is. It’s wasteful and requires upkeep, we hate it! So when we’re able to do so, we’re going to xeriscape the yard to reduce our water consumption and management time. This is another reason we love our Dorai Bath Stone, it’s so easy! No need to worry about washing a cover or drying it out, it’s a time saving investment.
Automation is your friend, whenever it’s possible to have a computer do something, I will pick that option. Set all bills to autopay, then add monthly recurring reminders to the calendar that let you know when bills are going out, freeing up mental space and time. For Instagram and Pinterest we do our best to tackle the week in one sitting and schedule it for automatic sharing. Tactics such as these take a little more time or investment upfront, but save you exponentially in the long run.
Bonus Tip: Say NO to notifications.
It's likely you've heard this one, but it's time to put it into practice. Whenever an app asks to send notifications my automatic response is no. If I need to, I can go turn it on, but I would rather the default be off. The only notifications I allow on my computer and watch are calendar updates and Shopify sales because 1. I need to know when I have a meeting coming up, and 2. I LOVE getting notifications that someone has decided to invest in Dorai products!
This allows me to check email, Slack, WeChat, Instagram, etc, in the time that works best for my brain, versus having others dictate your schedule. In the end it’s a win win because I get things done faster, enabling me to be more attentive to others and present when they need me.
These are a few optimizations or ‘life hacks’ that I’ve found implementable, lasting and effective. I don’t share these to help you become a robot, because simple saving time doesn't add value to your life. I share these because I want you to have a richer life being present in the activities that bring you fulfillment, not worrying about lingering work tasks. Our brains have a natural tendency to ruminate or wander, but in being more deliberate with our time we can reduce some of the mental load.