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Make More Time

This post is part of my productivity collection.

Have you tried batching your errands?

It can save you a lot of time and reduce your stress.

There are several ways to do this, not one right way.

Choose (or create) the option that best fits your needs and your errands.

Batching Errands Option 1: By Type

This is the normal way you batch any type of task (which you should be trying in other areas of your life.).

Batching by type helps improve your focus on the task (very important for more complex tasks than simple errands). It can save time because you already have some or all your resources out and ready but it can also save time because it's like your brain has a running start. If you are switching from an unrelated task, it's like your brain needs to come to a complete stop and then get going again.

You can imagine this like a four-way-stop versus a roundabout. Sure, you may need to slow to enter the roundabout and there might be a situation where you need to come to a stop, but otherwise, you just keep going. The alternative is a complete stop (and it's a stop with poor visibility so you have to stop longer before you get going again).

Your brain switching ideas is context switching. If you think about the driving analogy, you can quickly see the advantage of keeping like tasks/concepts/contexts together. You keep driving even if you slow or pause at a roundabout versus a full and complete stop (there's no option to roll through the stop in this analogy!). The more stops, the longer the journey will take.

Similarly, the more times you switch the type of task, the longer it will take to do the same selection of items.

If you want to strictly batch your errand, you would do all your grocery shopping at one time so you are focused on groceries.

This is not necessarily the best option for errands, although it is critical when you are doing tasks that need a lot of focus.

I'd say "errands" are a batch or think about them in these groupings:

  • errands outside the home (more on this in a moment)
  • errands where you need to call
  • errands where you need to email
  • errands where you need to look something up, first

Batching Errands Option 2: Optimize Your Drive

You may only think of errands as something you do outside your home and the other options I listed above as "tasks." This is the definition I'm going to use going forward.

Another way to batch errands is to do all your driving errands at once.

Don't go driving all over town, though!

Plan your errands along a route that will save you the most time.

I live outside Atlanta. Our traffic is horrendous, everywhere, almost all the time.

This can save hours!

Even if you live in a small town, you can save some time and you'll save gas money and wear and tear on your car. Who isn't looking for more time and money?

If you live rurally, I bet you already do this because once again, it's a time savings of hours if you have to drive to different locations.

Optimizing your drive means you need to plan.

If you need more time, no matter what for, the only way to "make" it is some type of planning. You have to decide on (plan) a way that makes something you have to do take less time. That might be planning your errand route or planning to pay to have groceries delivered, instead (trading money to get more time).

Batching Errands Option 3: Batching Your Drive

You might keep your errands together but it might make more sense to batch your locations.

Errands are usually pretty simple, they can often be made simpler by planning, such as making a grocery list. The list reduces how much you need to think while shopping so you need less focus.

That means context switching is not that big of a deal with most errands.

So, save time by doing what is close together.

This also means you need to plan.

Here's an example how I don't batch like items but save time (and hopefully money).

I do batch my meal planning and grocery list making because those require more focus than the actual grocery shopping.

That doesn't mean I always follow the meal plan so I don't always want to buy all my groceries in one trip. I may also want to take advantage of sales at different stores, especially to get an item I only buy on sale.

I do NOT drive all over town to hit multiple grocery stores. Instead, I batch my driving.

This is not option two. I'm not doing all my errands at once.

Since I work from home I don't leave the house as much as some people so this is a big deal to plan. It only saves time and money if you do plan.

I take the kids to school daily, but only one way (my husband also works from home and takes the other direction of carpool). Whether I do drop-off or pick-up depends on if they have aftershool activities and this actually works great, not having the same schedule.

(I'm about to describe how I choose stores, I don't hit all of these every week but this is how I optimize my driving so you need to see how it varies. You probably have more places you go than me so you'd be able to batch different locations, better.)

If I need to go to Wal-mart, I do that on the way back home in the morning. I pass it already. A physically big store like Wal-mart takes a lot of time to go in and get to what you need so I've stopped thinking "I'll run in..." This alone saves an hour, usually. 

Instead, I try and have several things I need, get the single items somewhere else (even if it costs more, my time has value so occasionally doing this is still savings), OR I use the grocery pick-up. With Wal-mart, they store cold items so even though I pass by right between two pick-up windows, I can schedule for the earlier one and know my items won't be rotting. The fact they put the groceries in the car makes this so fast.

That's pretty obvious, I stop when I'm already passing but switching to grocery pick-up (and figuring out I needed to use the earlier pick-up window) has been a game changer. The problem with ordering groceries is them not having items I need for my menu plan.

If I want to go to Aldi's I have to stop in the afternoon (I also pass that on the way home from the school but it's not open when I drop off in the morning).

For the one item I'm missing or a change of plan, I can hit Publix while my kids are at dance in the same shopping center. This is 3-minutes from our house but it's large enough, running in for one item kills my schedule if I'm not already passing by in the car (I can also stop on the way home from taking the kids to the chiropractor). Choosing between these two actually also involves planning.

I run into the store while my kids are at dance so I'm not dealing with them. However, dance is only 3-minutes away. I can go home and do some blogging. I'm choosing between the grocery store and working.

I don't plan to do the bulk of my shopping at this time for that reason.

However, when I take the kids to the chiropractor, they're coming home with me. I'm not going home to work. This is the optimal time to stop (although dragging two kids through the grocery store can be a chore, particularly if it's right before dinner time!).

I thought everyone planned driving tasks this way but apparently not.

If you aren't planning your drives/errands, it can save a lot of time and possibly a lot of money.

With my choices, I gain several hours of work time so it equals money for me.

You at least use less gas and reduce the wear and tear on your car.

If you need that time for something fun or something necessary, planning and batching can save you stress, too.

It's hard to make more time without trading money to gain time (paying to have someone do something for you). It's also hard to make time by completing individual tasks faster. You rarely have control over how long it takes to get groceries. There will always be factors like items that are out of stock or have been moved. There can be long lines to check out.

Planning and optimizing your plan is the best way to make more time.

Depending on what you're trying to do, you may need to batch to avoid context switching.
You may want to batch to knock out one type of task or errand all at once (do all your phone calls at one time and all your driving errands at another).
If you plan the parts of your tasks where you can control the time, like planning your drive or choosing smaller stores, you can save time consistently. 

Don't forget to consider the value of your time, too. It might be worth paying more if it will get you back to work quicker or if you could save enough time where you could work overtime. You might also just value your time enough to make paying more worthwhile in some situations. 

(Be careful with this as you may not be making more than you spent once taxes are taken out. You might get more immediate fun time but you're spending more time trying to unsueccessfully get your budget undercontrol or your stress level goes way up because you've overspent. It's a balancing act which requires you start by planning!).

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