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Where did all our time go? If you haven't had a second to spare since the last century, join the (very, very busy) club. "Many women have jam-packed schedules because they allow day-to-day activities to steal their time," says Laura Stack, author of Leave the Office Earlier. We asked a team of experts including Stack, Caroline Righton, author of The Life Audit, and Bay Area life coach Laura Sari Geduldig for easy, surprising ways to add one, two, or maybe as many as four hours (that's a movie plus dinner!) back into your week.
The Solution: Place must-read items in a convenient spot -- nightstand, tote bag, or next to your exercise bike -- and tackle the stack bit by bit. Put the could-reads in a basket to browse through once a week. If you haven't gotten through it all by the time the basket is full, toss the bottom half, guilt-free.The Time Stealer: Navigating the automated voice systems when you call your cable company, utility, etc.
The Solution: Visit gethuman.com to search its database of secret codes that sneak you through the system and let you speak to an actual human.The Time Stealer: Sitting down with the intention of watching "American Idol" but staying glued to the TV through "The Colbert Report" at midnight
The Solution: Set a limit on how many hours you'll watch per week -- and watch only what you've planned or recorded. "I check the TV listings and then program my TiVo accordingly," says Righton. "That way I don't waste time channel surfing and I get to fast-forward through commercials."The Time Stealer: Standing in line at the pharmacy
The Solution: Call ahead to have your prescriptions refilled and arrange an early-morning pickup. Pharmacies are busiest at the beginning of the month, when those on public assistance and Social Security typically get their checks. You'll save more than just minutes -- medication-error deaths rise as much as 25 percent during this time, according to a University of California, San Diego, study.The Time Stealer: Making unplanned trips to the store for cat food, toothpaste, and other necessities
The Solution: Buy in bulk online, says Righton. Petco.com offers a "Bottomless Bowl & More" program that allows you to schedule food deliveries every three weeks (or however long it takes your pet to devour the 20-pound bag); at drugstore.com you can create an online shopping list, so refilling your basics is quicker. They'll even e-mail you whenever an item goes on sale.
The Solution: "Instead of giving an old friend you no longer have much in common with the heave-ho, piggyback appointments to control the amount of time you spend with her," says Geduldig. Suggest meeting for lunch, but schedule a hair appointment right afterward, so you don't get trapped for hours. Or multitask: Catch up over manicures or at the gym.The Time Stealer: Getting caught in an endless e-mail and telephone chain when making plans with family
The Solution: Avoid all the back-and-forth by taking turns playing cruise director. Clearly state up front any day or time that won't work for you, then step back and let everyone else iron out the details. "Explain that you just want to spend time with them, so you'll gladly go wherever they've decided," Stack says. "If you don't like their choice, you get to pick next time."
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, October 2006.