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Productivity, Frugal Girl Style | 3 Ways to Be Efficient

(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!)


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?”

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Wednesday 14th of December 2011

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


Monday 12th of December 2011

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.


Monday 12th of December 2011

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! :)

Maribel Ibrahim

Monday 10th of January 2011

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:

Regards, Maribel The Frugal Writer

Glory Lennon

Saturday 8th of January 2011

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!


Friday 7th of January 2011

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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