Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Tag: productivity (page 2 of 2)

Time Investment Mistakes

time investmentHow often do you sit in a meeting, finish a movie, or finally get to the front of a shopping line and think, “Well, that was a waste of time”?

I just read a good article from the Harvard Business Review on common time investment mistakes by Time Management Coach and Trainer, Elizabeth Saunders. Saunders has a unique job: she works with people to completely change how they spend (or rather, invest) their time. She has some good ideas on how to avoid wasting your time and has a new book out called How to Invest Your Time Like Money, which I’m looking forward to reading.

Her article contains the following list of time investment mistakes. You’ve heard them before, but they are a good reminder of what we shouldn’t be doing.

 Time Investment Mistakes

  1. Not paying attention: Know where you spend your time.
  2. Letting others steal your time: You don’t have to go to that meeting or see that acquaintance.
  3. Deprioritizing family and friends: It’s worth the effort to see those you really care about.
  4. Skipping vacations: More about this later.
  5. Neglecting your health: A no-brainer, yet this is tough for us in the United States because we don’t have a good health culture.
  6. Wasting time to save money: Sometimes it pays to pay for something.
  7. Never knowing yourself: Pay attention to what you want to do.

I’m sharing this because these reminders came at a really good time for me. I’ve been trying to plan a 10th Anniversary vacation for my husband and I this year; the first vacation without kids in nearly five years. What would have been a simple trip pre-kids, has quickly become a logistical nightmare to get the kids to Grandma’s with enough money and time left over to enjoy the trip. I was about to give up when I read this article and realized that we really do need to make this time investment in our marriage. It may cost us up front, but it will pay dividends later in memories and our health too.

How to Start Investing

My favorite time management trick is to pay yourself first. Block time first thing in the morning – before you even check emails – to do your most important thing. If you’re useless in the morning, then block time during your favorite time of day to do something you care about. Maybe that’s spending time with your kids or working on a conference submission. Maybe it’s exercising or meditating or writing. Whatever it is that day, make the time to do it. The investment will be well worth your time.

Bonus Article & Tip: As I was researching Saunders work, I came across another article on about what extraordinary time managers do, including lose the perfectionism and ruthlessly prioritize. Love it!

Have Fewer Meetings: Block Your Calendar (Quick Tip)

fewer meetingsSo much of minimalism is about choosing exactly where you want to spend your limited resources – including time. For most of us, we’d rather spend our time in fewer meetings. Even great meetings, if scheduled at the wrong times can render your day entirely useless. It takes the average person 25 minutes to get back into flow, our most productive state, after switching context, which means that if we have meetings every other hour, we’re basically spending our entire day jumping from one thing to the next without completing productive work.

There’s a simple fix that helps you regain productive work time: plan ahead and schedule it.

Look a couple months out on your calendar where it isn’t as packed and pick two solid hours of every day. Schedule a meeting with yourself, then defend that chunk of time with your life. Proactively move meetings out of that space. Proactively decline meetings that overlap your block. Explain to those that matter what you’re doing and if they don’t respect that time, show them you’re serious by not showing up.

In using this technique, I and others have discovered a few key things:

  1. If our time is blocked and we’ve explained why, most people will respect the block or come talk to us before scheduling a meeting. This allows us to work together on a solution and usually gets us a preview of the agenda. Suddenly, we’re meeting insiders.
  2. We’re better able to say no or delegate. Since we’ll open a dialogue with the meeting scheduler, we can find out ahead of time if we belong in the meeting. We start to attend fewer meetings.
  3. We’re far more productive. I like to block two hours in the morning when I have the most energy. Getting my most important task done right away gives me momentum for the rest of the day!
  4. People think twice before inviting you to useless meetings. You have to be OK with being the only one not there, but you’ll more than make up for the lack of facetime with your newfound productivity. Plus, since you’re already interested in minimalism, you’re probably not the type to blindly follow the crowd anyway.

One more thing, and this is key, you must guard this time jealously. If you start making exceptions, the whole system will spiral out of control and you’ll be back to where you started.

Be strong, schedule the time, and reap the rewards of fewer meetings and more productivity!

You Need to Shop for Groceries Online (Weekend Project)

There are a few times when I tried something and knew immediately that my life would never be the same. My local Giant was offering free grocery pick-up through Peapod over the summer and I decided to try it one day. I will never go back to regular grocery shopping again.

 How It Works (Peapod)

There are many, many places that offer similar services. I’ve done a little research and list them at the end of the post. Here, I’ll specifically talk about Peapod, which is what I use every week.

Peapod has a website where you first log-in, can link your Giant Bonus Card information and tell them to which location you live nearest. Then, you can start filling your cart.

They offer several ways to find items. There’s a search bar that works fairly well, you can browse aisles or by category, you can view all the specials, and you can view your specials (items you’ve previously bought that are on sale).

Shop for Groceries Online - Peapod

Peapod Main Screen

The items show up in your cart and you get a real-time update on how much you’re spending.

Shop for Groceries Online - Cart

Searching & Cart Updates

I do a lot of package reading and was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get that information. Not so! For every item, they post the nutrition information, ingredients, and other relevant information like preparation steps.

Peapod Nutrition

Nutrition Facts

Peapod Food Details

Preparation Details

At any time, you can select a day/time for pick-up or delivery. As long as you finish before the web session ends, that spot is reserved for you. At the end you checkout, just like any other online shopping experience. For pick-up, you sign up for a day/hour and can arrive at any time during that hour to pick-up your food. For delivery, you’re given a larger timespan (maybe 2-4 hours) when the truck might come to deliver your food. I’ve only done pick-up thus far and it works out great.

I initially didn’t trust Peapod to get my order right, but they do a remarkably good job. I still double-check it, though, because once or twice they’ve forgotten a bag and just last week, I was charged for an avocado I never received. This is the first time that’s happened.

So Many Amazing Grocery Lifehacks

Let me try to elaborate on all of the ways this makes life better.

  1. Time Savings – I no longer have to spend an hour picking out things in the grocery store. I can order my items a couple days ahead and add or subtract things up until 12-18 hours before my pick-up time.
  2. Sorting by unit price – You can sort by a variety of methods, including unit price. No more staring at a wall filled with ketchup and wondering which one’s the best value.
  3. Knowing exactly how much everything costs – There’s a real-time tally of how much you’re spending and you can review taxes and fees any time. You know exactly what you’ll be spending.
  4. Easy to boot items from the cart – If you’re spending too much, it’s easy to delete items from your cart without wandering all over the store trying to put them back in the proper spot.
  5. Less impulse purchasing – No checkout aisle means no temptation to buy an impulse Toblerone.
  6. Express shop – There’s a way to scan and upload a grocery list you’ve already created. I haven’t tried it, but that’s brilliant.
  7. Start with your last list – If you buy mostly the same things every week, you can save even MORE time by starting with a previous list or adding your frequent purchases to a list.
  8. Warehouse carries more options than local stores – Peapod grabs their items from a centralized warehouse and I’ve noticed they have some items that my local store doesn’t carry.
  9. No more searching for physical items – Most importantly, I never have to wander around the store aimlessly wondering where the bread crumbs are.


Every rose has its torn.

  1. Costs extra – It used to be free to pick-up groceries, but they started charging $2.95 in September. For deliveries, the fee is currently $7.95. To me, $3 is a nominal fee to pay for regaining so much of my time and the savings from some of the lifehacks above more than make up for the cost.
  2. Bags – You can’t use your canvas bags and Peapod seems to be trying to break the record for just how many bags they can waste in one shopping trip. Many, many items come by themselves in a bag. We try to mitigate this by giving the bags right back for reuse.
  3. Some things/sizes aren’t available (e.g. large crunchy JIF peanut butter) – There is a way to request items, though.
  4. If you shop too late, there may not be pick-up/delivery times available – If you try to shop the day-of or later the day before, the pick-up slots might be gone
  5. Out of stock items – When the exact item you ordered is out of stock, they tell you, but you don’t get it, which is a real bummer when you need that item for a recipe. When you shop yourself, you can pick out another brand.
  6. Refunds – If there is a problem with your order, you can’t just go inside the Giant and get a refund right away, you have to contact Peapod and deal with emails sometimes for days to get it right.
  7. Coupons – You can use coupons. You turn them into your truck driver or pick-up rep, but then you have to wait 1-2 weeks to see a credit on your account. One time I had my husband pick-up and the rep told him they don’t take coupons. I think that guy was new.
  8. Disorganization – In September, our Giant store got a new driver that doesn’t organize the bags properly. Since I am usually the first customer to pick-up on Saturdays, I have to wait around an extra 10-20 minutes for the poor people at Giant to sift through everything. I wish they would fix this.

 Where Else Can You Shop for Groceries Online?

I did a little research to find out who else is offering pick-up or delivery. Here’s what I found:

  1. Giant/Peapod – As detailed above, they do pick-up and delivery.  They’re running a referral program right now, so contact me via comments or at for $20 off.
  2. Safeway – Delivery within a one-hour window and your first delivery is free. The regular delivery price fluctuates based on fuel prices, but the base cost is currently $9.95 if you spend over $150.
  3. Harris Tetter Express Lane –  Harris Tetter lets you shop online and pick-up gorceries for $4.95 per trip, or you can buy a one-month or annual pass.
  4. Target – Target has free store pick-up for all of their items, including some groceries. You don’t get to choose when it’s available, though and it appears that only non-perishable items are available. They’ll contact you when your order is ready.
  5. Relay Foods – Relay Foods boasts local, organic, and everyday items.  They have a decent amount of options. You can pick-up for free the next day at a centralized location or have food delivered for a fee.  The food looks delicious, but prices are Whole Foods-worthy!
  6. Instacart – In Washington DC, some parts of Northern VA and other large cities across the country, Instacart delivers from Harris Teeter, Whole Foods, and Costco with varying fees and some items are marked up.
  7. Washington’s Green Grocer – This works like a CSA that delivers boxes of produce right to your door. You can choose strictly local or strictly organic boxes of produce that range from $27-$46. They also deliver meat, dairy, and baked goodies, but only to the Washington, DC, Maryland, Delaware, and some Virginia areas.
  8. Hello Fresh – Hello Fresh is not a full grocery shopping experience. Instead, they have a bunch of recipes you can make in 30 minutes or less. You pick the ones you want and they deliver the ingredients to you. Meals start at $9.

Coming Soon

  1. Amazon Fresh – Not yet in the DC area, but I am anxiously awaiting Amazon Fresh. If they can do for groceries what they do for everything else, I may never shop anywhere else.
  2. Google Shopping Express – Also not available in the DC area yet, but Google Shopping says they’ll pick-up items from a variety of stores and deliver them right to your door.

Weekly Menu Categories (Quick Tip)

Weekly Meal Categories

I usually draw a blank when it comes to planning dinners for the upcoming week and end up cooking the same thing far too often. At work I’m doing research on innovation and was surprised to find that adding constraints while you brainstorm actually makes you more creative.

Cue this good idea from the book Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids: come up with weekly menu categories for your meals. For example:

Monday – Meatless Monday
Tuesday – Mexican
Wednesday – Asian
Thursday – Seafood
Friday – Italian/Pizza
Saturday – Out
Sunday – Grill

This does three things well. First, it allows you to form a list of easy recipes that fit into each category and rotate them. Second, it ensures you get a variety of foods every week. Third (and perhaps best of all), it brings in some consistency. Weekly menu categories become tradition and many times each member of the family starts to anticipate certain nights and looks forward to them. Best of all, you can make up whatever categories you want or force new habits by forming categories around goals (e.g. vegetarian or new recipe nights).

Bon appetit! Meal planning made easier.

Quick Tip: Pay Yourself First — In Time

Butterfly - Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

We all know the “pay yourself first” rule when it comes to budgeting and that’s a spectacular practice to follow. Now, extend it to your time. One of the best productivity tricks in the world is to spend the first hour of your day doing your most important task.

Before you check email, pick the most important task you have today and do it.

This rule was highlighted in the book, Eat That Frog!: 21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. Block the first hour or two on your calendar every day and train yourself to knock out your highest priority item. If you’re not sure what that is, pick the thing that will best drive you toward your long-term goals. Failing that, pick the task that would make you stay at work late until you finish it.

You’ll gain momentum for the rest of your day and you’ll feel amazing once your most important task is behind you.

Try it.

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