I’m too busy to work out. I don’t have time to eat a healthy breakfast. I’ll start my to-do list once my email inbox hits zero. We all have excuses for why we don’t have time to do what’s most important. And with only 24 hours in a day and hundreds of emails to answer, meals to prep, and messes to clean, it’s no surprise we feel like we can’t accomplish it all. To help find the hidden minutes lurking in our daily schedules, we’ve rounded up time-saving strategies to use from breakfast to bedtime. Make-ahead breakfasts mean you’ll never go hungry on hectic mornings, while a 10-minute workout you can do anywhere (yes, even the office) lets you squeeze fitness time in between meetings. Then, speed-cleaning tips and a grocery delivery service leaves you free time in the evenings to actually relax. Here are 10 ways to make the most of your day—morning, noon, and night.
7 AM: Prep a Make-Ahead, Portable Breakfast
If your typical morning routine is a rush of cooking, dressing, and cleaning, followed by a mad dash for the door, these make-ahead breakfasts will transform your mornings. Recipes that can be made the night (or weekend) before will save you the struggle of trying to scramble eggs, all while picking out clothes for the kids and blow-drying your hair.
Plus, these recipes are so good you may just find yourself waking up a little early in anticipation. When mixed with yogurt and fresh berries, peanut-butter granola makes for a crave-worthy update on classic PB&J. Or whip up a batch of healthy whole-grain banana muffins on Sunday for a grab-and-go breakfast you’ll enjoy all week.
8 AM: Organize Your Closet and Get Dressed Faster
If this is the school year you’re seriously (really this time!) committed to streamlining your morning routine, there’s one spot you’re going to have to tackle: your closet. While organizing a cluttered closet requires some initial investment, the effort you put in to sort out your closet next weekend will shave minutes off your get-ready routine all season long.
Start by incorporating some blogger-approved tricks for doubling your storage space. For example, Sarah Gibson of Room for Tuesday divides her closet horizontally so she has two rows for hanging shirts and blouses. Once you have an organizing system in place, consult our top seven closet hacks that make getting dressed easier. Our number one tip? Get rid of everything you never wear. How can you find your favorite work shirt when five outdated t-shirts you haven’t worn in years are blocking it? We thought so. Start by curating your collection (let our Fall Capsule Wardrobe be your guide) and you’ll be surprised how much faster you get dressed in the morning.
11 AM: Gain Control of Your Email Inbox
According to Adobe’s recent Consumer Email Survey, Americans spend an average of 5.4 hours checking their email every weekday. When we only have 24 hours in the day, it’s no wonder email often feels like a big time-waster. While we can’t ignore this important form of communication entirely, we can adopt strategies to make it more efficient.
For starters, follow four tips for gaining control of your inbox from Charles Duhigg, the author of the bestseller Smarter, Faster, Better. One trick you can start immediately: before you even get to work, set a realistic amount of time to spend on your morning email check. Then, prioritize your inbox so you don’t accidentally spend two hours answering low-importance messages. Do you waste too much time drafting “follow up” emails to unanswered messages? Using this email closing is most likely to get you a response—the first time.
Noon: Pack a Prep-Ahead Lunch
Every year, the back-to-school season raises the same question: What to pack for lunch? To save time on hectic mornings, pack lunch the night before so you won’t resort (once again) to shelling out lunch money as the school bus pulls up. If you and your little ones are tired of the standard PB&J, try these seven creative lunch ideas designed to fit neatly inside a lunchbox or bento box. Most of these items can be thrown quickly into the container, and items that require prep (such as cheese tortellini and quinoa) can be cooked the weekend before. These flavor-packed recipes aren’t just for the kiddos. A pita pocket stuffed with hummus and veggies or a baby spinach salad with sliced strawberries would make a delicious lunch for the grownups in the family, too.
3 PM: Squeeze in a Workout
This is the workout for people who don’t have time to work out. Each of these eight simple exercises uses the weight of your own body for resistance, eliminating the need for weights or exercise bands. If you work from home, you can fit in a quick set between conference calls, or if you’re in an office, the staircase or a nearby park could become your new favorite gym. While you may not be comfortable doing crunches in the stairwell, lunges, squats, and calf raises can all be done with your feet firmly planted on the ground.
Want another reason the office stairs should become your gym of choice? Researchers at McMaster University in Canada found in a recent study that even short periods of vigorous stair-climbing (just three 30-second bursts) could improve cardiovascular health over time. Go ahead, invite a co-worker pal and your 10-minute workout will double as chat time.
5 PM: Skip the Shopping Trip
If you consider shopping for clothes more a chore than a treat, these clothing subscription services will save you from spending hours at the mall. For example, Stitch Fix will set you up with a personal stylist who will pick out five pieces for you, based on your style profile. Once you get the items delivered to your door, you’ll have three days to try them on in the privacy of your home (no pushy sales associates in sight) and decide which items you’d like to keep.
Looking for some commitment-free bling? Rocksbox ($21 per month) will send you three new pieces of jewelry that you can keep for as long as you’d like. When you’re ready for a fresh look, send them back for a new set. With these subscription services acting as your personal stylists, you’ll never have to spend time sorting through racks or scrolling online.
6 PM: Make Fast Work of Meal Prep
Shorten the time it takes to get dinner on the table with these six foolproof dinner prep tips. When you marinate your meat the morning before, or chop and freeze veggies the Sunday before, you’ll save yourself valuable time during the workweek. You can often avoid the dreaded task of chopping vegetables altogether by pulsing them a couple times in the food processor. Here’s a little secret: onions can almost always be sliced rather than chopped for soups and sauces, so you’ll save time—and a few tears.
And why not go ahead and cut out one of the most time-consuming parts of meal prep: the trip to the grocery store. Instead, try a grocery delivery service, such as AmazonFresh, or Peapod, which offers delivery or lets you pick up your order at your local Stop & Shop. An attendant will deliver the bags full of pre-ordered groceries right to your car, so you’ll never waste time wandering the aisles.
7 PM: Master the 15-Minute Meal
The most important part of cutting down on cooking time is to choose recipes that were developed specifically for busy days. All of these 20 fast dinner ideas require a mere 15 minutes or less of hands-on cook time. And when your veggies are pre-chopped and meat is already marinated, these meals land on the table in record time. Trust us, these are the recipes you’ll want to bookmark, pin, and keep in your back pocket for those times when you’re two seconds away from calling for takeout.
Try the whole-grain spaghetti with kale and tomatoes, which sneaks leafy greens into your standard spaghetti dinner, or choose the southwestern beef chili with corn, which will soon become a family favorite.
8 PM: Speed Up Your Cleaning Routine
If you’re spending too much time cleaning when you’d prefer to be Netflix-ing with your family, you may just need to streamline your tidy-up routine. Start by choosing time-saving, multitasking cleaning products that can be used on many surfaces, so you won’t waste time switching between cleansers. Cleaning powders, such as the classic Bon Ami, that handle everything from defogging mirrors to polishing tile prove that you don’t need to spend a fortune on specialized products. And a hands-free toilet scrubber will make the dreaded task of toilet-cleaning as speedy and painless as possible. Once your cleaning caddy is stocked with the right tools, you’ll be able to quickly check off every item on our Daily Cleanup Checklist before your show starts.
10 PM: Fall Asleep Faster
In a culture where we aim to do everything as quickly as possible, we even scrutinize how long it takes to fall asleep. If sleep performance anxiety is preventing you from catching enough shut-eye, a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that you might be trying to hard. While you may think that forcing yourself to stay in bed is the best method, the study found that that behavior was more likely to result in chronic insomnia. The better course of action? Avoid going to bed when you’re not tired, and don’t give into the temptation to nap the following day. Sticking to a schedule is the best cure for sleepless nights.
And what if it’s your neighbors, the temperature, or the streetlight outside your window that’s keeping you up at night? These five finds could help you get the best sleep of your life.