I’m not crazy about the term “life hacks,” but I’ve found something that’s really been working for me that I want to share. I love productivity tips and finding ways to optimize my life, so I’m always trying things and experimenting, reading how-to books, etc., but this one didn’t come from a book or advice column. I just sort of figured it out by applying something that worked in one area to another area. I call it “staging,” though it could also just be called “preparation.”
I’ve always tried to get things together the day before if I have to leave early in the morning on a trip. I have the suitcase packed except for things I need while getting ready, which I have set up on the bathroom counter. I lay out my clothes, shoes, and anything else I’ll need. That way, all I have to do in the morning is get out of bed, get dressed, pack those things I use while getting ready, and get out the door. It drastically lowers stress because I don’t have to make decisions or find things. Then it occurred to me to do that sort of thing whenever I have to go anywhere in the morning. Even just for something like going to church, I’ll plan my clothes, lay everything out, and make sure I’ve got all the things I’ll need. I’ll hang up things that have been folded so the wrinkles can fall out and know that everything I’m planning to wear is clean. That means a much easier morning.
Then there was breakfast. I would often plan to have something like muffins or waffles for breakfast, but in the morning that would seem like too much to deal with, all that measuring and mixing. One night after I mixed up a bread dough that has to rise overnight, I got the bright idea to measure the dry ingredients for the muffins I planned to make the next morning while I had the flour and measuring cups out. It was so easy the next morning to add the wet ingredients, so now I do this all the time. I measure the dry ingredients the night before and cover the bowl so I have a head start on breakfast. For biscuits, I’ll mix up the dry ingredients and cut in the shortening and put it in the fridge overnight. I don’t know if this has been such a good thing because it means I make muffins and waffles all the time now.
Recently, I made something in the slow cooker and thought about how much I liked doing the cooking early in the day so that all I had to do at dinner time was dish it out. I often get to dinner time and can’t decide what to make and can’t bear the thought of having to do any of the work to make dinner. There are way too many nights when I resort to mac and cheese from a box because doing stuff like chopping and measuring is too daunting at the end of the day. It finally occurred to me that I don’t have to do all the cooking work at dinner time. There’s a lot I can set up earlier in the day. If I’m cooking something that involves measuring a lot of spices, I’ll measure those out earlier in the day (often while I’m doing something like making tea). I’ll chop veggies, cut up and marinate chicken, or do whatever else I can do early in the day, so at dinner time I don’t have to decide what to make and can just throw stuff in a pan. I’ve seen articles online about doing all this prep work for many meals at once and freezing all the sauce, veggies, and chicken in a bag, but while it is good to season and marinate chicken ahead of time to absorb flavor, too long in a marinade affects the texture, so I’m not sure about the freezer thing. Plus, I don’t have a big freezer. Just chopping onions early in the day helps me a great deal.
I’ve managed to apply this to my work, as well. I’ve started drafting my blog posts the day before I’ll post them (or sometimes earlier) so I don’t have to think of what to say in the morning when it’s time to post. I plan the next scene I’m going to write either the night before or in the morning before I sit down at the computer. When I stop work at the end of the day, I close out my browser and pull up Scrivener on the screen before I put my laptop to sleep so that when I open the computer in the morning, the book is right there, the first thing I see. It makes it a lot easier to get to work. I’m trying to get better about scheduling Twitter posts ahead of time so that I occasionally manage to do book promotion and have an online presence even during times I’m not online.
A lot of this involves figuring out the times of day that are your “I can’t deal with this” times and when you have the time and energy to do tedious things. I find that first thing in the morning is bad for me — any time before breakfast — as well as late afternoon, after 4 or so. After breakfast I can get some things done, and right after lunch is also a good time. I do a lot of my dinner prep when I’m cleaning up from lunch. Then mid-evening is good for preparing for morning—not late at night right before bedtime, but before I start getting ready for bed. I generally avoid having to make decisions before breakfast, in the late afternoon, and at bedtime.