Chores. No one really enjoys these menial yet essential tasks, mostly because they suck up valuable time we'd rather be spending something else. If you feel too pressed for time each week with all the grocery shopping, cleaning, bill paying, cooking and clothes laundering you've got to do, here's how to put your chores on auto-pilot — or at least shave precious minutes off these tasks each week to find more time in your life.Below, we'll cover some basic chore-related time-saving principles, methods to reduce time spent on specific chores, and, most importantly, set up a schedule for getting these tasks done with the least amount of overhead possible on your end. You may not save decades of your life by streamlining your chores as detailed below, but you will save some precious time by putting as much as possible on auto-pilot — and you'll take a lot of the stress out of your chores.
4 Chore-Busting Principles
1. Automate everything you can. Our most important strategy will be to automate as much as possible. Everything from bill-paying to refilling your prescriptions can be set up on a schedule these days. So if you're looking to save some time on your chores, the first question to ask is if there's a service or feature that will do that automatically for you.
2. Do things in batches. Consolidating your chores — dedicating a day to cooking or tweaking your personal finance system (see sample schedule below) — can be more efficient than sporadically doing these chores throughout the week. It's kind of like being in a production line, where working on one specific task or ganging similar tasks together simplifies and speeds up the process. That's why the sample Google Calendar below dedicates some days to shopping, cooking, laundering, or finances; you can import individual events from the example calendar to your own calendar and customise for your schedule. Cleaning, unfortunately, tends to be an ongoing task.
3. Multi-task and use available idle time. As a busy student, professional, parent, and/or person, you know that every minute counts. One of the best ways to find more time in your life is to make the most of each moment: Catch up on your reading in the waiting room, wipe down the kitchen counters while waiting for your tea to steep, fold laundry while watching Mad Men — you get the idea. Many of the 10-minute cleaning or other chore suggestions can be done in that idle time.
4. Enlist help. Whether or not you use a modern tool like web app Chore Buster to organise and delegate your chores, if you have a multi-person household, you'll need all hands on deck to get all your chores done. Some things may be best outsourced if you're really pressed for time (calculate your hourly wage and compare to the cost of outsourcing a chore like laundry to see if the time saved is worth it to you).
Create Your Schedule, Set Up Reminders, and Stick to It
Your chores schedule will surely differ based on your own circumstances, but below you'll see a starter schedule with the basic idea. By creating a calendar for your chores, you can put them on auto-pilot, so to speak, and make sure they get done (10 minutes a day speed cleaning your kitchen is better than hours on the weekend). We're trying to automate as many of these tasks as possible, but the calendar also serves as an important reminder to check in with chores that still need regular monitoring, like bill paying, just to make sure you're on track.
In this sample schedule below, you can click on any item in the calendar and add it to your own Google Calendar (and adjust the frequency or timing). This is just a suggestion for organising the inevitable chores to be done, but if you implement the auto-pilot or time-saving techniques in the section below, this schedule might free you with its structure. For various activities, like "Cook meals for the month", I've included links to resources to help you on your way. Below the calendar, I'll walk through the thought process behind each chore.
With as many as four chores/day, my streamlined chores calendar may look a little daunting, but I've broken down the chores in such a way that they're really easy to keep up with. Here's how:
10-minute cleaning: The kitchen and bathroom tend to be the areas needing the most cleaning, so we're dedicating Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to the kitchen and Tuesdays and Thursdays to the bathroom. (On weekends or as you go along, you can tidy up the bedroom and other areas.)
To do a 10-minute cleaning, set your timer or a cleaning music playlist to tackle these essentials (or you could just use the 10 minutes in the morning as you're waiting for your coffee to brew, as you're brushing your teeth, etc.): Clear clutter from the area (put items where they belong, e.g. the dishwasher, which you should run when full). Wipe down counters and other surface areas with a disinfecting wipe, or if the surfaces are wood, dust with a microfiber cloth. Use a Swiffer (or other quick-clean broom/mop combination) to clean the floor.
On some days, you may want to switch to speed cleaning a targeted area of a room. For example:
- In the kitchen, focus on appliances one day: Clean the microwave more easily by heating up a bowl of water (with a few slices of lemon, for added freshening) for about three minutes to steam the inside; then sponge off. Meanwhile, you can clean your stovetop using boiling water.
- Similarly, in the bathroom you might tackle just the tub one day. Use a mop to clean the walls and the tub more easily, toss the shower curtain in the laundry, pour boiling water down the drain to keep it from clogging up, etc.
- In other areas of the house, 10 minutes decluttering just one hot spot or place where things tend to accumulate can make a world of difference.
- Consult our previous cleaning tips for making this chore easier all around the house.
That's it. It's not automated, but if you schedule a quick cleaning every day, it becomes automatic and your cleaning chores less taxing overall.
Useful automation tools:
- Roomba: Before my vacuuming robot suffered an untimely death (choked by two dogs' shedding fur), the Roomba did a decent job of automatically sweeping the floor at the press of a button. There's even a mopping model available now, for the ultimate in set-and-forget cleaning. If you don't have pets or a really disastrously dirty place that will kill your cleaning robot, the $US200+ investment may be worth the time saved sweeping up to you.
- Automatic shower cleaner: Automatic shower cleaners are supposed to do what their product names say — clean your shower automatically, by spraying your shower/tub to eliminate soap scum and mildew. Anecdotal evidence says that those products work for the most part — less bathroom scrubbing for you! — but may need replacing after a few months.
- Squeegee: It's not automatic, but if you squeegee your shower after each use, you can make it easier to clean in the long run.
Meal planning: You may not consider cooking a chore, in general, but when you've got no free time available, making your own meal may seem like an impossible task. Planning your meals once a week, coordinating your grocery shopping accordingly, and cooking food in batches can save you some much needed time overall and help avoid breaking your budget for takeout food or dining out.
On our sample calendar, we have meal planning on Saturdays. If you're often wondering "what's for dinner tonight?", there are several grocery list and meal planning web apps to help you get organised and offer quick meal suggestions delivered to your inbox weekly. Or you could make your own weekly meal plan. Either way, set aside some time to think about what you're going to eat for the week, to make your weekly grocery trip more efficient.
Grocery shopping: If your local supermarket offers either delivery or pickup service, take advantage of it. You'll save time wandering up and down isles and, in the case of delivery, time spent travelling to and from the grocery. (Buying your groceries online is also greener.) Plus, in some cases you may be able to create a recurring list.
Cooking: Some people like once-a-month cooking, where you spend a day cooking an entire month's worth of meals and freeze them for later use, but if making 30 or so days' worth of meals seems like too much work, consider starting out with just one day (like Sunday) to cook the base for a couple of meals for the week. For example, on Sundays you could make a roasted chicken that could be used for sandwiches, soups, tacos, etc. or a meat sauce that could be incorporated into a few dishes.
You might also set aside a day or two for crockpot meals. In the morning before work, just stick your ingredients in the crockpot and come home to a hot meal. AllRecipes has a nice collection of slow cooker recipes.
Laundry: If you want clean clothes and sheets, you have to do laundry. By paring down your wardrobe and doing all your laundry in one day, however, you can make this task go by much more quickly than the typical "several times a week" inefficient laundry system.
First, consider whether or not to outsource your laundry. If you're really struggling to find time in your day, $20 a week may not be too much to spend for your sanity.
Otherwise, the best way to streamline your laundry chores is to dedicate once a week to this task (for fun, we pick Friday, but any day will do). Doing all your laundry on one day will make sure you're not wasting time/energy on other days with partial loads and it will save your washing machine from additional wear and tear.
Much of the wasted time doing laundry has to do with sorting, folding, and putting clothes away. The solution to sorting clothes is to have everyone in your household place his/her clothes in separate hampers for whites, colours, dry cleaner, etc. Also, it seems common sense, but if you're folding clothes without doing something else, like watching TV or listening to the news, you may be wasting valuable time; folding clothes is one of those chores built for multi-tasking. To make putting clothes away quicker, sort your clothes as you fold them into different piles by drawer (t-shirts, pants, etc.) and place them into separate bins for each household member.
Useful streamlining tools:
- Real Simple often posts recipes using one ingredient multiple ways. You can use this to plan a few meals for the week.
- MealMixer creates a meal plan, with printable menu and shopping list for the week ($US5/month)
Twice a Month
Bill paying: Every other week, tackle your bills. Ideally, you'll automate your finances so you spend less time tracking your finances: have your recurring bills paid automatically from your checking account, and savings transferred to your high interest savings account.
Every month, when your pay comes in (for most people), log in to your banking accounts to make sure all is in order, and pay off any bills that aren't recurring or scheduled.
To make bill-paying easier, consider sticking to one credit card only or simplifying the number of accounts you use.
Useful streamlining tools:
- Your bank's auto bill payment/transfer service.
Preventative cleaning: Until the self-cleaning house becomes a reality, once a month, implement overnight or irregular cleaning solutions that make the cleaning chore much more efficient. For example:
- Pour a cup of borax into the toilet bowl before you go to sleep and in the morning clean with a brush.
- Apply lemon oil to a glass bath door to prevent mould mildew.
- Use borax, ¼ of a cup, in the bottom of the dishwasher to clean out film and spots in your dishware and freshen up your dishwasher. Leave overnight then wipe down with a damp sponge and just run the washer the next day.
What techniques do you use to make chores less time- (and soul-) sucking? Let's hear about your best tips in the comments.