Time-Saving Strategies That Could Change Your Life

In her new book, The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe for Success and Satisfaction, bestselling author Samantha Ettus urges women to think of their lives as a pie containing six or seven slices: career, children, health, relationship, community, friends and hobbies. Women who are the most fulfilled, Ettus suggests, spend time making each of their slices delicious. But how do you find the time to do that? Here she shares three of her nine time and sanity savers.

It was 8:34 in the morning, and even though I was sitting in a chilly outdoor theater in Los Angeles, I felt beads of sweat forming in my armpits. I was anxiously waiting to see my seven-year-old daughter, Ruby, perform in her school play, and the stress was killing me. Ruby was to play the lead in Chrysanthemum, based on a story by Kevin Henkes. She was supposed to go on first, at 8:10, and I thought I could catch her performance before darting off to do my nine o’clock live radio show. I had arrived at the theater early and positioned myself strategically in the front row off to the side; that way, I thought, Ruby would see me and the memory of my presence would become etched in her mind, and I would still be able to make a quick, unobtrusive escape after she finished her part.

It was now 8:37 and the play still hadn’t started. I could make the radio show—the studio was only five minutes from school—but the play needed to start now. I found myself wishing that I didn’t have to feel so rushed, that I could enjoy my daughter’s play and even stay to watch her friends perform. But if I had abruptly canceled that morning’s show, I would have risked losing the show altogether. And if I hadn’t shown up at my daughter’s performance, she and I would have both been devastated. So there I was, trying to fulfill two responsibilities at once, an approach that clearly wasn’t working.  As I sat there looking for any sign of the kids to emerge, I felt furious with myself for cutting it so close and not anticipating the possibility that her performance could run late. I probably should have just canceled the radio show in advance.

Ruby finally took the stage at 8:41, thirty minutes late. She played her part so beautifully and adorably that for a moment I forgot all about my time crunch. All I wanted to do was grab her and kiss her delicious cheeks, as inviting as the softest pillows—she would always be my baby girl. As soon as she finished, I got up as quietly as I could and raced to my car. As I turned the keys in the ignition, I could barely breathe. All I could think was, “Life shouldn’t be lived like this.” I sped over to the show, willing myself to stop at every stop sign. With seconds to spare and as the intro music was cueing up, I ran to my chair and put on my headphones. I am shocked that I didn’t introduce the show with, “Hello, I am Samantha Ettus and I am about to have a heart attack . . .”

When I ask women across the country to name the one thing they want more of, 90 percent of them say time. The good news is that you can get more time, or at least more useful time. So many minutes slip through our fingers each day, compressing the time we have to devote to people and activities that really matter. I can’t magically give you a twenty-fifth hour in your day, but I can share proven strategies for managing your time more effectively so you can win back priceless minutes and hours of your week. If you find a more efficient way to live each day, you will reap the rewards in the form of a much easier life. A key ingredient of any lasting Pie Life makeover is learning how to spend as much time as possible on what matters the most. Adding time to your life will make it easier to have room in your pie for all of the slices. And when we participate in all of the slices, we feel the most fulfilled. 

Small Changes Drive Big Results
Did you know that American Airlines once saved $40,000 by removing just one olive from each salad tray in first class? It’s true. The most minor changes can yield dramatic gains—and not merely in the world of business, but in personal time management as well. To add more time to your life, you don’t simply want to look for big, dramatic changes; you also want to pore through your daily schedule to find smaller, seemingly insignificant changes that, over the span of weeks or months, will make a meaningful difference.

Thanks to my work with thousands of women, I’ve come up with many small tips, techniques, and strategies for managing time better. And in the course of writing this book, I have uncovered still more time-saving secrets that I have adopted in my own life. These tips fall into two categories: general time-savers and more specific tips for streamlining your daily routine. Don’t feel the need to instantly incorporate every single one of these strategies into your life—that might be overwhelming. Instead, as you read through the rest of this chapter, circle a few that seem especially accessible and easy. Try them out for a few days or a week, and then come back and pick a few more to work into your life.

Most of us think about budgeting as it pertains to money, but your time can and should be budgeted too. Challenge yourself to constantly up your time management game. Over the course of a month, you’ll start to see important changes. And three months in, you’ll be marveling at all the newfound time that you have. 

The Top Nine Time and Sanity Savers

Strategy #1: Calendar Choreography
I still don’t know if “mommy brain” is a myth or a reality, but I do know that if I don’t write down an idea or a to-do, it might never return to my mind. After having one too many great gift ideas or scheduling changes or business follow- ups disappear from my memory, I started to write down everything.

Whether you lean old-school pen and paper or tech-savvy app user, make the calendar your best friend. At the start of the school year, look at your child’s  school calendar and add every single important item to your own calendar, including holidays, school performances, and parent-teacher  conferences. If you have a partner, make sure they add it to theirs too.

Adding the school calendar events to your calendar is important because it affords you the ability to schedule your year proactively. You can arrange child care to cover school holidays that you don’t have off, you can plan family vacations ahead of time, and most importantly, you can avoid scheduling business trips on days when there are conferences or performances.

So often when we are participating in a conference call, the conversation turns to scheduling and someone asks, “Which two days in October are best for that business trip to Seattle?” If you have the school events already marked on your calendar, you can navigate around those precious days by proactively suggesting alternative dates that work for you.

Strategy #2: Weekly Playdates
One of my favorite tricks as a working parent is to find a family with kids the same age as mine and schedule a weekly playdate, ideally extending through dinner. When my oldest was three years old, I started this kind of arrangement with another family across the street in New York City. I never felt guilty working late on Wednesdays because I knew my kids were having a great time enjoying a playdate and dinner with their friends. Every other Wednesday it was our turn to host, and our sitter supervised the playdate and served dinner while I got a few extra hours to work.

Playdates outside of school are a great boost to your kids’ social lives, yet scheduling them can be ridiculously difficult. Working moms don’t have time to schedule two new playdates each week per child—coordinating schedules with other parents, making sure our kids are compatible, checking if the other child has food allergies. Reinventing the wheel each week for playdates will send you into an administrative and thankless tailspin. The weekly playdate is the solution: organize it once, and you can rest easy for months without having to reinvent the wheel. A winning byproduct of the consistency is that you have created a more meaningful friendship at the same time.

Strategy #3: The Golden Triangle
Here’s a great shortcut that seems so obvious you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it. To get back some of your lost time each week, commit to doing all of your errands—from hair to groceries to doctors’ appointments—within what I call “the Golden Triangle.” This is a triangle defined by three points: your workplace, your home, and your child’s school. You have to drive or walk between these points anyway throughout your week or even every day, so you might as well take the opportunity to perform errands along the way. If you commit to trading your out-of-the-way hair stylist, markets, and dentist for those within the triangle, you will save hours each month.

I know you might be wed to your favorite hairstylist or dermatologist whose office is 20 miles away, but I assure you that talented people exist within your triangle. You can (and must!) find them.

When I first relocated my family to Los Angeles, one of my greatest challenges was finding the right people, from the pediatrician to the plumber, who could be part of our team. After a mishap that nearly resulted in my daughter undergoing an unnecessary dental procedure, a friend sent me for a second opinion to her relative, a pediatric dentist one hour from my home. My need for an honest dentist had me doing this one-hour drive for two years. I would schedule all three kids’ appointments at once and we would make a Saturday road trip out of it.

All went well until my son got sick on the day of the kids’ teeth cleaning. I brought the girls and then had to return separately with my son. Six months later, it was my daughter who came down with a stomach bug on the day of the dental visit. Again, I had to make two trips. I realized that there had to be a more local solution. And there was: our new dentist is five minutes from home and sits all three kids in chairs right next to one another. They are even worked on all at once by her and her hygienists—an efficiency fantasy!

Julia, a photographer and mother of two, swore she would never leave her hair colorist even though her salon was an hour’s drive from her home. Julia went there every four weeks—that is, until she did the math. She lived in a big city with a salon on every block and realized that if she could find a good hair colorist within 10 minutes of her home, she would save more than 90 minutes a month. That would add up to an entire day per year. She switched and hasn’t looked back. (And don’t tell her old stylist, but her hair looks better than ever!)

Ettus offers more time-saving tips in The Pie Life, released today by Ghost Mountain Books.

(Ghost Mountain Books, Inc. is owned by Jay McGraw. A member of our staff worked on the editorial production of this book.)