Five Ways to Gain Back Time

by Mike Shea on 20 August 2008

Today I went to the Hair Cuttery and got a haircut at about 11:45am. The place was empty and, as I sat down, the stylist said "It's good that you came when you did. At noon or twelve fifteen the place fills up. I realized that, without trying, I scheduled in my haircut at the best time of the day. It was during a lunch hour for me but earlier than everyone else's lunch hour. Why can't we do this with everything?

My goal for this article is to save you, dear reader, up to a year of your time. The process is simple and probably elementary, but hopefully rooting the philosophy deep will make it so regular as to save a great deal of time we spend doing things we don't want to do. There is no commodity worth more than your time. While money can come and go, time only goes. We have only so many minutes in our lives to enjoy. It is important to enjoy every one of them.

The core of the process for saving some time is simple: don't go where other people are going. Feeling the urge to go out to dinner? Likely so is everyone else. Do the opposite. This can be applied all over life and will in turn save you an incredible amount of time. Find those perfect times to run an errand, buy groceries, go to dinner, see a movie, go on vacation, or get a haircut when it fits well into your life and avoids the time everyone else does the same thing.

Without further introduction, here are five ways to save yourself time:

  1. Have dinner no later than 5pm. Sure you may feel like an old retired couple but there's nothing better than going to a popular restaurant and finding the place empty. The staff haven't yet burned out serving a thousand people, the food is all fresh, and you can get seated right away.

  2. Go on vacation a week after labor day. Almost all vacations are built around the school year. For some, I suppose, there is no other choice. However just because every parent has to go on vacation during the summer doesn't mean you have to. My wife and I celebrate our anniversary with a two week vacation in the middle of September. The tourists are all gone, the lodging is cheap, and the delays are short. A lot of popular places are squeezing in last minute deals as well making it even more beneficial.

  3. Find that ideal grocery time. Grocery shopping can be a big time sink if you're waiting in line behind every other jackass with a cart full of Red Bull, Vodka, and Ho-Hos. Go early on Saturday morning and avoid the big rush. The food is good and the lines are short.

  4. Watch movies at home. As TVs get bigger and cheaper, the reasons for seeing a movie in the theater get smaller and smaller. First, most movies suck. Second, they cost way too much. Third, they add about 30 minutes of advertisements, 15 minutes of expensive food shopping, and all the parking, lines, and ticket buying hassle. Avoid all that. Wait three months for the DVD to come out. Once you're on a good schedule, you won't worry if Batman came out in the theater, you just got Ironman at home! If you miss the social interaction, invite your friends over for a big party. It's a lot nicer sitting on your couch eating a burger you grilled yourself than it is waiting in line to buy a stale heavy-bag of popcorn.

  5. Stay at home. Find enjoyment at home rather than seeking it out. Shop, eat, and entertain yourself from your own fortress of solitude. Build the sort of environment you enjoy living in and being in. Take comfort from being at home. Again, if social interaction is your goal, invite people over for a party, a movie, some D&D, or any other reason.

Now time for some advanced tips. These aren't nearly as easy as the ones above, but if you can swing them, you'll save even more time.

Work from home. If you can work it out with your boss, working from home saves a ton of time in preparation and commuting. Often people report that working from home makes them more productive in less time. While the social interaction of work is one of the primary individual benefits, taking a regular work at home day can make a big difference.

Live close to where you work. Another tough one since selling and buying a house, townhouse, or condo isn't as easy as waiting for The Dark Knight on DVD, but if you have a choice, live close to where you work to cut your commute time. Easier still - add some great value to your commute time by listening to audiobooks. Listening to the Dark Tower series during my 45 minute commute was one of the great joys in my life during that time.

Get off the net and stop checking email. Now we're delving into Merlin Mann / Tim Ferriss territory but the internet is stealing our time so its worth mentioning. You don't need to immediately see if someone sent you a gmail, what the latest Digg headlines are, or what your friend just reported he is doing on Twitter. Go relax and read a book away from all your machines. Shut down the machines completely so booting them up is a pain in the ass (this also saves you quite a bit in power costs). As Tim Ferriss says, go on an information diet. Take the Blackberry off, turn it off completely, and stick it in a dish until you need it the next morning.

What now?

Once you've saved all this time, a likely more difficult question remains. What do you do now? Relax is an easy one. Take it easy. Don't worry about filling up every moment with something productive or fully engaging. Take a break and just sit outside. Go take the dog to the dog park. Pick up a novel you haven't quite finished. Go draw a picture. That won't fill up all your free time but perhaps consider picking up an old hobby you used to enjoy but left long ago.

Sit outside with a piece of paper and write out a list of what you would do if you had $3 million in the bank and could live the rest of your life on interest. When you have a list of some ideas, go start doing them now. Maybe "go to Hawaii and hike the volcanos" isn't quite possible next weekend, but "learn to sketch" might be something more reasonable.

Above all, relax and have fun.