How to Keep Errands to a Minimum

Getting things done around town takes extra planning

Last Saturday, I ran into a hitch while running errands.

After I’d left the house, I discovered I hadn’t read through the instructions completely for one of my errands. Even though you can complete the application online (which I did from my phone in a parking lot), you still have to print out the completed application and bring two forms of identification.

Fortunately, I was able to come up with both while I was out (vehicle registration counted as a form of ID) and I could complete my errands without having to go across town twice to go home. If I had been prepared, I could have gotten my errands done much more quickly.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/a-wrangler

How much time do you spend running errands? Running around town, getting kids in and out of the car, flitting from one store to the next like a hummingbird on Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs. It adds up.

Here are nine ways you can keep the overhead of running errands to a minimum and spend more time being productive.

  • Plan your week. Plan out your week (or month) ahead of time. Once you have a list of errands you’re going to need to run, you can plan them according to when you have free time, when you need things, and when you’ll be heading that direction anyway.
  • Keep a list. When you think of more errands (and you will, no matter how well you plan), don’t just run out and take care of it—write it down. (Most errands are going to take more than two minutes.) This way, you don’t interrupt what you’re doing and you won’t forget it, either. Later, if you can’t remember why you needed it, you probably never did.
  • Batch errands together. Before you head out, check to see if there are other errands you can take care of. (For more information on how to set this up in OmniFocus, see Batching Errands with OmniFocus.) You’ll save time by taking care of five things in one trip instead of running out five times for one thing.
  • Know what you have. Have you ever been putting groceries away, only to find you already had two unopened bags of Doritos in the pantry? By keeping your pantry/fridge/cupboard/desk/closet organized and uncluttered, you can save yourself the time (and money) of running out for something you already have.
  • Do things at off-peak hours. If you’re going to Costco at 2pm on a Saturday, it’s because you have to. You’re squarely in Quadrant 1. At 10am on a Tuesday, it’s a very different place. Think of ways you can run errands when everybody else isn’t. Swim against the current, and you might be able to save some serious time (and stress).
  • Buy in bulk. Speaking of Costco, if you buy in bulk , you can consolidate the number of errands you need to run. It takes the same amount of time to get one week’s worth of quarters for laundry as it does one month’s. Stock up and save yourself a couple trips.
  • Don’t be penny-wise and errand-foolish. I was at Safeway the other day and remembered we needed something from Target. Safeway had the exact same thing for a few dollars more. If I had gone to Target, I would have saved myself a few dollars, but paid for it by creating another errand for myself. I figured it was worth a few bucks (less than $5) to save myself a trip.
  • Do without. Do you you really need that navy blue Sharpie, or will the black one you have suffice? If you can get by without it, you’ve again saved yourself both time and money. Oftentimes, the things we come up with that the just have to have aren’t that critical at all, and we’re really just inveting errands as a form of procrastination.
  • Set yourself a time limit. Errands love Parkinson’s Law. They will readily balloon to take up as much time as you want to schedule for them and then some. Give yourself enough time to comfortably get everything done, but put an upper limit on it. The sense of a deadline will help you stay focused and on-target. Don’t forget to allow for traffic, parking, and crowds.

Now it’s time to head out. Grab your list, grab everything you’re going to need, and go. When you’ve crossed off all the errands on your list, you’re done! Fantastic! If you have time left, it’s up to you whether you want to knock out a few more errands or just head home and get on with your day.

And keep a second form of ID in your daily carry. You never know when you’re going to need it.

Question: How do you keep errands under control so they don’t take over your day? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

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