The Art of Spending Minutes to
Save Hours

Spend Time to Save Time

During happy hour last Friday I spent some time listening to one of my colleagues confess her utter distaste for the Windows Vista Start menu.  “The system is organized all wrong.  The programs I need are buried and the ones I never use are right at my finger tips.  I waste so much time digging through menus,” she said.  “But you can easily rearrange that,” I replied.  She looked down with a despondent expression on her face.  “I know,” she said.  “Someone else told me that too, but I haven’t taken the time to figure it out.”

Suddenly it dawned on me, you have to spend a little time now to save a lot of time later.  It’s the notion of giving some to get some.  This ties into the idea of working smarter not harder.  Countless hours can be saved over the long-term by spending just a few productive minutes now.

Here are a few ideas to help kick-start the practice of spending minutes to save hours:

  1. Learn to Search Google Effectively – If Google is the prime portal to the information superhighway , Google’s advanced search operators are the most efficient vehicles on the road.  Once you learn them, you will find what you seek in half the time… every time.
  2. Organize Your Space – How fast can you access something in an organized space?  Instantaneously!  Spend a little time organizing your space and you’ll forever spend less time searching and more time doing.
  3. Research and Use the Right Tools – Possessing the right tools can easily shrink a mountainous task into a molehill.  The time you take to find the right tool will be repaid 1000 times over.
  4. Uncover the ShortcutsKeyboard shortcuts, driving a less congested route, hitting 2 birds with one stone, etc.  There are simple shortcuts for almost everything you do.  It’s worth your while to uncover them.  Once you do, you can shave a few minutes off your tasks on a daily basis.  Compound this over a year and you’ll saving hours of precious life.
  5. Automate Tasks – Spend the time necessary to automate everything you can.  Create checklists to help you remember things.  Design templates to speed the process of recreation.  Utilize modern technologies to automate bill payments, data backups, to-do list reminders, etc. 
  6. Listen Carefully the First Time – The better listener you are, the more you will learn.  The more you learn now, the fewer questions you will have later… and the less time you will spend searching for answers.
  7. Take Useful Notes – …and store them in a trusted place so you always know where to look.  Not doing so will lead to extensive wastes of both time and opportunity.
  8. Handle Simple Tasks Immediately – Constantly thinking about doing something simple but avoiding the actual act of doing it takes more time than actually doing it.  Follow the GTD 2-Minute Rule.  If it takes less than two minutes, do it now.
  9. Learn to Type Efficiently – If you use a computer on a regular basis, learning to type efficiently will save you days (if not weeks) worth of time over the course of your lifetime.
  10. Adhere to Basic Safety Precautions – If you don’t spend the time to put on a helmet, how much time will you waste in an injured state when you bang your head?  If you don’t spend the time to backup your data and the hard drive crashes, how much time will you waste trying to recover files?  You get the idea.
  11. Reflect on Your Goals and Direction – Not doing so is committing to wasteful misdirection.  The process of self reflection helps maintain a conscious awareness of where you’ve been and where you intend to go, giving you the ability to realign your trajectory when necessary.
  12. Teach Someone How to Help You – Teach your dependants how to fish so you no longer have to fish for them.
  13. Presort Before Placing – Presort the lights and darks before tossing them in the hamper.  Presort those files before stacking them on the desk.  That which takes a couple seconds now will take several minutes later on.
  14. Make Reservations – When a 1 minute phone call can save 1 hour of waiting.
  15. Let Your Mouse Do The Walking – Shop online.  Rent movies online.  Pay bills online… etc.  It’s sooo much faster.

Photo by: Jek in the Box


  1. says

    I do this a lot when I’m setting up software, such as turning off pop-ups when starting windows. All those clicks and annoyances add up. Unless you take a few seconds to turn it off in the settings.

    Great post, submitted to StumbleUpon.


  2. says

    This is a great principle. Creating a system for how to handle tasks quickly and efficiently is something else that takes up time now but can save you loads of time in the future.

  3. says

    You’re so right Marc – if I’d just take a few minutes to get set up and organized I’d save so much time…it would probably be like adding another whole day into my week. I’m especially bad at organizing and presorting – for example, if I’d put my bills all in one place when they arrive then I don’t have to hunt for them when I think they’re due. Thanks for the tips – I’ll be using them.

  4. says

    If we can work wonders with our time — and we can — then having more of it is a good thing.

    #6, Listen Carefully the First Time, is especially important I think. The most meaningful actions we take involve people. If we can listen better (to ourselves as well), we will learn more deeply, connect more strongly, and act more effectively in a shorter time span.


  5. says

    @Laurie: Putting things in the same place is the foundation for an organized life. 😉 Good luck!

    @John: I love your point about listening to yourself. It’s something we tend to overlook in the madness of our haste. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. says

    I am an advocate for anything that can save me time, I have been spending months trying to get organized, so thanks for the list, I especially like the typing idea cause I can’t type to save a lick…

    Thanks again


  7. says

    Marc I have been thinking of the typing one for months now and doing nothing about it. I type quickly with loads of errors especially when I’m tired. It’s insane not to sharpen that particular saw, so I am committing myself to do so!

    Thanks for the kick up the behind

  8. says

    @Tabs: Go for it… learning to type efficiently is one of the best time-saving skills out there. Good luck.

    @Tim: Anytime Tim. 😉

  9. says


    This is some of the wisest advice I’ve seen lately. Some of it sounds like things my mother said.
    I had to learn the importance of this the hard way sometimes, but finally I’ve got it.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t get the urge to skip the important set-up/learning minutes, but when I remember my hard lessons from the past I snap back.

    Thanks for sharing this list.

  10. says

    I think it was Seiton technique from the 5S that require us to “assign a specific place for everything”. Do correct me if I’m wrong.

    For example, designated a place specially for car keys, and stick to that habit. We will never waste time finding the keys our entire life.

    Thank you for the wonderful list Marc.

  11. says

    If your colleague has a problem with the vista start menu, I recommend launchy. It’s a small windows program that comes up when you hit the alt+space button combination (or you can program it to a mouse button)

    You then just start typing in the name of the program you want to run. For example, when I type in “w” it has learned that I’m probably looking for Microsoft Word. I just press enter and word is launched and ready to go. It learns which programs you want to run based on your past use.

    It can also be used to navigate to folders on your computer. I’ve been using it for a while, and I never even touch the start menu.

    And it’s completely free. My explanation here can’t do it justice, check out to try it out. It definitely saves time over hunting through the start menu.

  12. says

    Many people like to make the problem bigger than it is because they are afraid of developping the solution. Talking instead of action seems to be a psychological theme also.

  13. says

    I can testify to the power of keyboard shortcuts. My husband will laugh at me for doing something the slow way and I’ll get pretty irritated. But then I’ll take his advice, use the shortcut, and forget how I ever did things any other way!

    Definitely worth the few seconds it takes to learn, as well as the small hit to the pride to admit you’re being old school (and not in a cool way).

  14. says

    I just posted last week about doing some busy work and finding it very satisfying – and productive. The best example, which ties in to your post, is entering email addresses into my comcast address book, rather than always searching for a sticky note or looking in my paper address book!!

    I’m new here and really enjoyed this post.

  15. says

    Reminds me of old people with cell phones. They know that the phonebook feature exists and would save them time and frustration remembering the numbers, but they never take 10 minutes to read the manual and figure it out.

  16. says

    I love these tips. Those of us who weren’t brought up in an organized home and whose personality doesn’t just naturally rotate into organization need these tips. I found that David Allen’s book on “Getting Things Done” really helped me in the office. A friend of mine had taken his workshop and came back so fired up about it that I bought the book and set about doing what he said. Having the information organized and easily reachable was the big change for me. Saves me hours of searching!
    I’m also enjoying your stuff. I stumbled upon you! Love that Stumble!

  17. says

    I stumbled on this and gave it the thumbs up! Your article is well written and gave me food for thought. I’m a ‘last minute’ person so I really need to read stuff like this to reinforce that I need to really budget my time not to stress that much! I love stuff like this :) Excellent work

  18. Kat says

    Kudos for this wonderful piece full of smart ideas that seem to escape most people, particularly those in management positions.

    In almost every aspect of my life, I ponder how I might work smarter, not harder. Working for individuals who allowed me the time necessary to streamline formerly overwhelming, complicated systems so as to better accomplish multiple tasks resulted in my being able to easily accomplish several projects in a day that previously took many days or even weeks. When in place, the systems I designed and created not only made my job easier but also enabled others in the company to more easily find the information and resources needed to more easily do their jobs or to fill in for me.

    Managers who gave me the green light to implement more streamlined systems without the time to do so always wound up hiring at least two employees to replace me when I resigned.

    Imagine how much money companies could save on salaries by getting rid of managers like this!

  19. Hilde Weisert says

    Very helpful tips, I would add this one:
    When you put an incomplete task down – something you’re writing, whatever – jot down a note to self on what you were planning to do next. When you pick it up again – often with enough time in between to have totally forgotten where you were going with this – even a few short lines can save the awful overhead of “what was this about? where was I?”

  20. says

    A super creative list. I do some of these but certainly not all, and I know exactly what you mean in that a little investment up front makes heaps of difference. Disciplining ourselves to do that is the real challenge :)! Thank you.


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