Productivity, Frugal Girl Style | 3 Ways to Be Efficient

by Kristen on January 6, 2011 · 29 comments

in Organization, Productivity

(for those of you that are new: this is a continuation of a series we started back in November. It kind of got derailed over the holidays, so we’re finishing it up this month. If you’re interested in catching up, you can read the first two posts, which are Get Thee to Bed! and Plan Ahead.)

How To Be Productive

Though I’m not one to shy away from hard work, I am always looking for ways to work smarter, not harder. And I do mean always. In fact, in the past few months, I started an experiment in grocery shopping every two weeks to see if doing so would save me time (I think it is so far!).

Since most of you probably would like to work smarter, not harder, I thought I would share a few tactics I use to get more done in less time. These aren’t terribly situation-specific (make phone calls while folding laundry) because I thought that wouldn’t be nearly as helpful as some guiding principles would be.

So, here are 3 principles that help me to be efficient with my work.

Multi-Task (sort of)

Some types of multi-tasking are quite the opposite of efficient, which is why the “sort of” is there. Talking on the phone while reading your email is an example if this type of multi-tasking. Most people can’t talk/listen, and read at the same time without performing one or both of those tasks poorly. In that case, it would be better to talk on the phone and then check your email.

However, there are some tasks that work very well together. I’ve been doing this kind of thing for years, but it wasn’t until I read The Other 8 Hours* that I understood why my type of multi-tasking works. The author of that book differentiates between head tasks and body tasks and points out that matching up two head tasks doesn’t work (talking on the phone and reading email) but that matching up a head and body task does work (talking on the phone while folding laundry).

*that’s an Amazon affiliate link, but I recommend that you look to see if your library has the book before you buy it. That’s what I did! And I would link to the library instead of Amazon, but that wouldn’t be too helpful to you if you don’t live in my county. ;)

I put head and body tasks together all the time, which helps me to accomplish more than I could otherwise. I purposely fold laundry or dust the living room while I supervise my children’s piano practicing. I iron or do some crocheting while Mr. FG reads to me at night. I listen to sermons or messages when I have to be in the car for a long time and while I work out at the gym. I pray while I take my morning shower. If I’m on the phone for a while, I try to do some dishes or some cleaning up.

Look for the times in your life when your body is busy OR your head is busy and see if you can find a corresponding head or body task to do at the same time.

Do things in bulk

That might not be the clearest phrase ever, so let me explain. Bulk activities are sort of like bulk products….bulk products get you more product for less money, and bulk activities help you get more done in less time.

For instance, instead of ironing Mr. FG’s work shirts one at a time, I try to get them all done at once (usually while Mr. FG is reading to me…yay for multi-tasking!). This means I only have to set up and take down the ironing board once instead of 5-7 times, and that definitely saves me time.

As another example, when I’m cleaning up a space like my kitchen, and I find something that needs to go downstairs, I don’t take it downstairs right away. I set it aside, and if I find any other items that need to go downstairs, I add them to the pile. That way I’m not running up and down the stairs each time I find another downstairs item. I do the same thing when I need to bring things upstairs…I often have a little pile going at the bottom of the steps!

My two-week grocery shopping plan fits under this heading too, I think. Instead of doing a full shop every week, I’m doing one larger shop every other week. This saves me the loading everyone up, unloading everyone, loading everyone back up, unloading everyone routine because I only have to do that once every two weeks instead of twice.

Focus and Finish

One of the downsides of traditional multi-tasking is that it causes you to waste time as you jump from one activity to another. Your brain takes a little while to get focused on a new task and if you’re constantly jumping between tasks, this focusing time really adds up.

You’ll get more done in less time if you focus on and finish the task at hand before moving on to another one. As a mom of 4 kids, I know that it’s not always possible to work without interruptions (!), but I do try to minimize them when I can.

For instance, I am much more efficient at getting Sonia and Zoe’s school done if I do nothing else during that time. So, when I’m working with Sonia and Zoe, I don’t answer the phone, I don’t check my email, I don’t throw in a load of laundry, and Joshua and Lisey know that I am unavailable if they have questions (they just go on to the next subject or next problem and I help them later).

Also, once I’m done blogging in the mornings, I try to stay completely off of the computer until school is done, checked, and corrected, dinner prep is done, and the house is sort of picked up. The computer is just too distracting and the minutes spent constantly popping in to check my email (and Twitter and Facebook) really add up!

(so that you’re not too impressed with me, I should share that in order to accomplish this, I have to resort to actually shutting my computer off. Yep, it’s that bad. I love me some email-checking!)

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I’ll have to check my blog plan for the month, but I think I have one or two more posts to write before this series is done. And if I’m efficient enough (hee.) they’ll be posted on the next two Thursdays.

Today’s 365 post: “Do you do school in your pjs?”


Leave a Comment

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jewels k January 6, 2011 at 9:33 am

good idea~ i need to shut off the computer also & I need to stop answering the phone while we are doing schoolwork too. thanks for the tips! good day!

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2 Elaine January 6, 2011 at 9:37 am

Excellent post! The “experts” are now saying what a farce multi-tasking is, especially in the office (I work full time as an administrative assistant). We spend more time flicking back and forth from these interruptions than we would spend doing tasks one after another. But you know, the want ads still have “ability to multi-task” as a job requirement.

I love your phrase “Do Things In Bulk”. Again, in the office this is called “batching”. It’s extremely helpful, and a big time saver.

The one thing you didn’t list that I find invaluable is “Make Lists”. I make lists (or notes) of everything, literally. My memory is terrible and I need reminders all the time. Of course, I sometimes lose my list, but just writing it down helps imprint it on my brain, and that helps my memory.

I love your blog!

Elaine

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3 Kristen January 6, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Oh yes, I love to make lists! I covered that in the Plan Ahead post in this series.

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4 Dani January 6, 2011 at 9:47 am

Thanks for sharing Kristen!

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5 Kim January 6, 2011 at 10:33 am

laughing because your productivity series was interrupted for so long. This is also my life with kids

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6 Kristen January 6, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Yep! I planned poorly and eventually decided that no one wants to read about productivity in December anyways. lol

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7 Paula January 6, 2011 at 10:35 am

Incredible! As a stay at home mom myself, I always wonder how other moms manage their days. Thanks for sharing the tips for how you get soooo much done.

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8 Britta January 6, 2011 at 10:58 am

I agree so much about the mind-body pairing of tasks. Excellent advice.

I hate to do gender stereotyping… but my husband seems incapable of doing this. Folding laundry while watching a toddler in an enclosed living room? I do it with ease but for him it’s IMPOSSIBLE. He’s a one-task at a time guy.

Do you think there’s a way to quickly teach this? Or do you think it’s more about subtle learning we’ve done throughout our lives?

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9 Kristen January 6, 2011 at 8:42 pm

I don’t know…I think some people are just naturally better at this than others. It does seem like a lot of men have difficulty accomplishing much of anything while keeping an eye on children, though!

(I’m sure there are women that have this problem too, but mostly I’ve seen it with men in my experience. Apologies to the men in the audience. hee.)

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10 Barb @ 1SentenceDiary January 7, 2011 at 2:10 pm

I believe (though at the moment I can’t find a reference, so feel free to take this with a grain of salt) that research has shown that men and women’s brains are wired differently in this area. Multi-tasking comes more easily to women, while a sincere focus on only one thing comes more easily to men. It has to do with the brain stem, though I can’t recall the details. I know my boyfriend has read the same studies, and agrees with them. Sorry I can’t find the article…

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11 Barb @ 1SentenceDiary January 7, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Ahhh… found the study I was thinking of, from IEEE. You can read the abstract of the paper here: A Deeper Look at Gender Difference in Multitasking: Gender-Specific Mechanism of Cognitive Control.

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12 Kristen January 7, 2011 at 2:48 pm

That’s so interesting! Mr. FG definitely does less multi-tasking than I do, particularly if child-watching is involved, but it’s neat to see that this pattern holds true for more people than just us.

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13 Molly January 6, 2011 at 12:30 pm

I’ve started trying the 2-week grocery shop, too, and I’m loving it because it means that other Saturday can be used for sleeping late and morning dates.

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14 Barbe January 6, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Kristen you should invest in and try the conair steamer for $20.00. I thought it was no match for the iron, but I was wrong! I too do all my steaming/ironing at one time. And, steaming has saved much time. It is faster and it is easier on your clothes. It doesn’t press down the fibers in your clothes and it gets out those really deep wrinkles. Just thought I would share that with you. Oh, and you never have to pull that ironing board out again.

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15 Gretchen January 6, 2011 at 4:33 pm

One technique I use is called “bussing a room” – a technique taught to waiters/waitresses. The concept is not to travel empty handed. For waiters it would mean picking up an empty plate off a customer’s table while walking across the dining room into the kitchen. For me it means taking the time to do the same while travelling around the house. Even though my house isn’t that big it helps keep down clutter if I do this while doing my normal household stuff.

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16 Kristen January 6, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Oh yes…that’s EXACTLY what I was trying to say! Never go somewhere without carrying something with you.

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17 littlegreenvillage January 6, 2011 at 5:43 pm

I am trying to change from being a multi tasker to concentrating on one thing at a time ie Focus and Finish.
Life is so much more pleasant for me doing one thing at a time.

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18 Dmarie January 6, 2011 at 6:47 pm

excellent post. great idea to group objects. I like to add up the steps in a day, so I don’t do that as much as I would if there were a time crunch. But it does help to get things done if, e.g., I make myself gather up some laundry to take with me before walking to one of the bedrooms.

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19 Tashrin January 6, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Thank you so much for posting these. I was relieved to see I have already been doing all the things listed here but I can not wait to see what more you’ve got lined up. :)

Happy New Year. Your blog has been my most valuable find this year. :)

Look forward to hearing from you

Love

Tashrin from Toronto, Canada

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20 Kristen January 6, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Happy New Year to you too! I’m so glad that my blog has been helpful to you. :)

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21 Librarian Katie January 6, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Hey Frugal Girl! If you want to direct people to libraries near them that hold a book, you can always use http://worldcat.org. Each book’s record lists libraries near the user’s IP address that hold the book. WorldCat is a huge catalog of many libraries’ holdings – many public libraries’ collections will be represented. It’s not perfect, but it works pretty well for many books!

When you click into the record for the book, there is a “permalink” link in the upper right hand corner. Here’s the link for for “The Other 8 Hours”: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/426807377

I really enjoy reading your blog!

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22 Tina (Tightwad Mom) January 6, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Thanks for a great post! I am great at multi tasking and list making , but focusing is sometimes hard for me. I get pulled in to many directions and get distracted easily. Blogging (or reading blogs :D ) and checking my email is like a Siren’s song for me. I have to tell myself I have to accomplish a set number of things, and then I can “reward” myself with computer time (just like I do for my kids). LOL!

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23 Fudgie January 6, 2011 at 11:27 pm

That is a great plan. What about dentist or Dr. time? Do you think it is good to take every one at the same time?

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24 kim January 7, 2011 at 10:43 am

Great post, with great suggestions. Now, I pray that my kiddos will be efficient, as I try to be. My dear hubby is much more… relaxed than I am… ;)

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25 Glory Lennon January 8, 2011 at 6:59 pm

I love the head/body tasks done together…been doing that for years and years. Made several handmade quilts, folded innumerable loads of laundry, cooked dinners and baked tons of cookies and crocheted many an afghan while watching TV and/or supervising homework that way. Way cool idea!

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26 Maribel Ibrahim January 10, 2011 at 10:37 am

I absolutely love this post. I’m an Industrial Engineer by trade and always look for ways to multi-task and save time. The Engineering term for doing multiple things inefficiently is time sharing. This is when you attempt to do more than one thing but sacrifice performance and focus on both because your brain has to take turns doing the tasks at hand.

If you dread doing laundry, you may enjoy my formula for getting it done here:
http://www.suite101.com/content/manage-laundry-in-5-easy-steps-a248813

Regards,
Maribel
The Frugal Writer
http://www.twitter.com/thefrugalwriter

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27 Kate December 12, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Such a good idea to shut off the computer! I definitely need to do this. Also liked your head & body multi-tasking plan, that is a good way of putting it, I already did this but the concept wasn’t concrete in my head, just a fuzzy notion. Also I LOVE grocery shopping once every 2 weeks that is my perfect way. Some people do it once a week (too many trips for me!) some people once a month (I can’t quite manage that)… but every 2 weeks is just perfect!

A good example of the do things in bulk principle is using my food processor. I LOVE the thing but it’s really a time waster if you only use it for 1 onion or 3 carrots. I buy a bunch of onions and have an onion chopping session and freeze them all in 1 cup servings, LOVE it!! Saves me so much time!!! Same with celery and carrots which are frequently used.

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28 Kate December 12, 2011 at 11:25 pm

I also forgot to mention. I used to live in an apt. with upstairs/downstairs and so I had a basket at the foot of the stairs, I’d fill it up and then bring it with me when I finally needed to make the trip up there. Then I’d leave it up there to do the same thing on the way down! :)

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29 Jo@simplybeingmum December 14, 2011 at 4:29 pm

I need to re-read this series in the New Year me thinks! Logging off… too much computer time of late!

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