About a year ago, I stopped taking sugar with my coffee.
Part of it was due to health reasons--sugar is just bad for you--but there was something else behind this decision. After repeatedly waiting in line at the Starbucks for my skinny latte, spending a few extra seconds trundling over to the condiments bar to empty two packets of sugar and stir started to seem like a few extra seconds too many. Why not forgo that step and save a little time?
So just like that, I decided I could live with drinking sugar-free coffee forever and, in return, got a few extra seconds of my life (plus a few calories) back. It sounds so minimal, but it became a timesaving habit that stuck.
Turns out, I'm not the only one with an odd habit like that. In this 24/7 world, some of the busiest people I know have their own weird timesaving tricks and they've shared them with me through the years. Here are a few of my favorites that I hope will save you some time.
1. Go to the bathroom between meetings.
This one comes courtesy of John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco, who once told me that he does this to clear his mind. Sometimes we are so bogged down in back-to-back meetings that not having that moment to decompress makes us less efficient as the day wears on. Nobody disturbs you in the loo, and nobody ever questions why you're going in the first place, so go as many times as you like (or need).
2. Bunch email replies together.
A little while ago, in this very publication, I read about how Tony Hsieh of Zappos manages his emails. He puts emails he needs to reply to into a "yesterbox" and answers them all at once the next morning, so that by noon, he noted, he's pretty much finished and able to focus on the rest of the day's work. I stole his method and modified it a little--I put a star next to all my non-urgent emails, and at the end of the day, I reply to them in one fell swoop. That way, I know I haven't missed anything and at the same time I can devote 100 percent focus on each correspondence rather than try to multitask my way around all of them.
3. Use the car as your closet or office.
Bob Greifeld, the CEO of Nasdaq, is up at the crack of dawn every day for his commute into the city. Like many of us, he tries to fit in a workout at the gym and says one of the ways he shaves a little time out of his morning is to change in the car. God bless tinted windows.
The car, whether you're driving or being driven, is often a nice refuge for when you have to do things like change clothes or shoes, power up your phone, make phone calls, or whatever else needs to be done. It's idle time that can be put to great use. As for finding time to change into gym clothes, others take it one step further--another CEO says he often sleeps in his gym clothes so that he doesn't even need to change in the morning.
4. Keep the "RTI" in mind.
Last year, I was sitting with a few Berkshire shareholders at the annual meeting in Omaha. Several of them--longtime friends--had traveled from Europe, Israel, and elsewhere to attend the Sunday breakfast with Warren Buffett. One of their peers hadn't come, and when I asked why, they said his calculus was very formulaic--in the time it would have taken for him to travel to Omaha, he could do X more hours of work to improve his business. He felt like the time invested in the meeting wasn't going to give an attractive enough return.
Clearly his friends, who all made the trek, didn't see it the same way. But it brings up a great way to look at your valuable time: What is the return? I call it "RTI": return on time invested. If you feel like the return is worth less than the time you put into an activity or event, don't do it. I've heard of CEOs who don't watch sports or others who never go to parties because they find the RTI to be too low--or in other words, time wasters. So be picky about where you spend your time and look for those things with a high RTI.
Now I'm curious, how do you save time?