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Quickfire Tip #12: Automate the Small Stuff

by Paolo Cuomo about a year ago in how to
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Give yourself more time with this actionable productivity tip from ‘Realistic Life Management’

Quickfire Tip #12: Automate the Small Stuff
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

However you look at it there are only 24 hours in a day; that’s 168 a week. Remove the time spent sleeping and working and the numbers already getting pretty small.

(Note, this is not an article on how to sleep fewer hours or work more efficiently. The first is typically a mistake and the latter is a constant theme that requires a far longer post.)

Shave off time from the more banal things

One thing we could all benefit from is reviewing the (usually) necessary things we do that we don’t get enjoyment from and working out how to automate them to some extent.

That automation can vary but typically takes the form of:

  • Get someone else to do it
  • Reduce decision making time
  • Remove the need to ‘remember’
  • Change the frequency which something needs doing

This is not a one-time activity, it’s something that ideally becomes a natural part of how you think every time you realise you’ve just invested your limited time in doing something that brought you no direct pleasure.

Get someone else to do it

The obvious one here is shopping for food and other standard essentials. Some people (not me) enjoy clothes shopping etc. Fine, it’s thus a pass-time. A few chefs and gourmands similarly enjoy food shopping, but a visit to the local Farmers’ Market to search for inspiration is not the same as buying the weekly essentials from the supermarket.

A decade ago online shopping was a lottery where you would get random substitutions (veggie pizza replaced with Meat Feast) or the oldest fruit and veg. Things have changed now and it’s far improved. (I speak from the point of view of the UK; I can’t comment on the US or elsewhere in Europe.)

So, consider online shopping for all your regular and basics.

Screenshot by author from HP site

Online shopping may be so obvious it’s boring. So how about you printing needs. I never order printer ink anymore. As part of the HP InstantInk subscription program the printer tells HP when to send the new ink and it simply arrives in the post.

And what about the gardening or cutting the grass. Yes, for some people this is a passion; for other’s something they want to improve at; others find it part of there weekend wind-down process. For all the rest of us it’s a chore that takes time, creates stress and ultimately doesn’t give the best outcome. So why do it?

Pay someone who is more experienced that you to do a better job in less time.

Reduce decision-making time

When it comes to food and clothes we are drowning in choice. This function of our culture and brands efforts to fill shelves is creating a tyranny of choice.

Much has been written about Obama’s suits or Mark Z’s t-shirts. While that won’t suit everyone there is plenty where you don’t need to make decisions all the time.

If you’re happy to buy socks, underwear etc online then each time you need some more why not simply find the previous order and hit Repeat?

When it comes to food the chance that the new flavour of yogurt, or the new pizza toppings are significantly better than you current favourite is small. Why even bother spending time considering a change?

Sure, when you are going to a restaurant take time considering the various options. But not for everything else.

When it comes to the mundane is not regularly saving a few moments more valuable than occasionally finding a slightly better flavour?

I’ve signed up to Audible books on an annual program which means I get a decent discount on the books. This puts the “price per book” below my decision making threshold, so instead of spending minutes deciding whether or not I definitely want to spend that much on the book I simply click the button and go for it. Sure, several of those books I’ve not listened to for more than a few minutes, but equally there are lots that if I’d hesitate I’d never have bought and never have enjoyed. Most recently the utterly surreal “The Book of Dave” by Will Self.

Remove the need to remember

Three thoughts here — two ‘tech’ and one old-skool.

When it comes to things that you need to remember as a family or couple or individual where do you note it down? A friend just brought a small blackboard and put it in the kitchen. No more forgetting the bananas or the upcoming concert.

I also use Trello as a to-do list, and specifically its repeat function. Every weekend I need to remember to fill the bird feeder. Once a month a need to log into a utilities website. One every three months I need to replace the water filter. Instead of having to remember these I simply trust Trello to tell me at the appropriate time.

Equally helpful is Amazon’s Subscribe and Save. Initially I was attracted to this by the discounts it offers (up to 15%) but in fact its most useful attribute for me is I can set the frequency I want certain products and leave it to Amazon to manage month-by-month. On items such as batteries, tooth floss and bird food this is invaluable. And if I need something a month early that it’s just a few button clicks away.

Change the frequency which something needs doing

What are you doing more frequently than you need? Shopping again comes to mind. Clearly it depends on the size of your house but some people could definitely benefit from buying in bulk and storing away. Typically people think of this because of the getting a slightly lower price.

From me, it’s the time saved that’s most valuable.

This is true also with exercise. How many people naturally think trying to do something daily is the right answer, or “more is better”. Sure, if creating a daily routine increases the chance of you doing something that’s great.

But if three hard sessions a week is the same (or better?) than 5 or 7 lighter sessions then look at the time spent — whether journey time to the gym, getting changed before and after etc etc.

When considering how long something takes don’t just think of the ‘doing time’ but also the related ‘before and after time’

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These are just a few ideas — some of them obvious. The real aim is to get you thinking about this constantly yourself.

And importantly of course realising it takes a few minutes to set up many of these things, but within a month or two they will have more than paid you back on that time!

(This article contains affiliate links)

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For other useful Quickfire Tips take a look at the full directory or consider the two below.

Quickfire tip #10 — The bribing power of Lego figures

Quickfire tip #24 — Ensuring a Good Night’s Sleep

how to

About the author

Paolo Cuomo

I right to share my insights and what I have learnt from others. This includes practical productivity ideas, especially around working from home for those used to the office.

I also cover technology in particular quantum computing!

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