Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Get More Done: Easy Tools for Greater Efficiency

Longtime readers of the blog know that I'm a tad obsessed with efficiency - anything that can save me time is something I can get behind. You may do all of this already, but I have a few easy tools that I completely swear by, and I thought I'd put some of them together in a single post.

Google Reader (or any feed reader like Bloglines, etc.)

Do you have a lot of blogs you like to follow but never remember to check them? Or do you keep going back to the same old sites to see if something's new only everything is the same?

This is why they invented Google Reader. Here's how it works. You copy the URL of the blog you're following, then click "Add a subscription" in your Google Reader, and voila, you're subscribed to that blog. Whenever there's a new blog post it will update in your reader and you can read it from there (and easily click through if you want to read a comment).

I follow over a hundred blogs, and this is the only time-effective way I've found to keep track of them.

Using Your Calendar Effectively

You have an online calendar, right?


Whether you're using Outlook, iCal or Google Calendar, the best thing about having a calendar online is that you can access it (and update it) from anywhere. If you have a phone with a web browser, even better. No double-booking!

But don't stop there. Most calendars have a Task function - any time you do something that has a deadline or that you need a reminder for (like sending out a manuscript), create a Task, type in what you did, and set a reminder for when you need to act on it.

Between contracts and books and payments and submissions, I have between fifty and a hundred different things I need to keep track of at any given time, which is way more than I could remember without help. But with my Tasks set for reminders, every day I look at what's due that day, start there, send out an e-mail or make a call, and then set a time to follow-up.

Google Docs

Yes, I'm a walking advertisement for Google. While I still don't like the Google Docs interface enough to do my actual writing there, I use them for basically everything else.

The advantage? You can access your documents from anywhere. Especially when you want to easily sync between working at work and at home and on the road, this way you don't need to have your computer to get the documents you need.

Canned Responses

Any time you have to respond with a similar response, canned responses are the only way to go. In Outlook I actually have about 20 different signatures, everything from Form Rejections to responses to common questions, that I can insert with two clicks. It's much better than copying and pasting.

If you're using Gmail, check out the Labs section for their Canned Responses option.


Yes, I know, I know. Not everyone is on board with paperless books. However, for the busy literary agent who needs to immediately start reading a similar title or move quickly from one thing to the next, you can't beat the speed and ease of e-books.

Better yet, with a multi-functional e-reader editing manuscripts is a snap.

Grocery Delivery

The greatest reason to live in a big city since alligators in the sewer, many big cities now have online grocery delivery, either free or for a small fee. I couldn't be more excited about this!!

Out in San Francisco, Safeway will save your past orders so all of your recurring stuff is easy to order. Just add the new stuff you need and set a window for delivery. Saves an incredible amount of time.

And of course I'm always on the lookout for more!! What are some of your favorite time-saving techniques?


Tahereh said...

this is such an awesome list. i'm all about maximum output and maximizing efficiency, but my problems are my human limitations.

i'm still waiting for the iPhone to invent an App that creates time. the commercials make so many promises! maybe the iPhone 4??

Tahereh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ryan field said...

I did not know about Google docs. I'm going over there right now.

But I have known about online grocery shopping. has been coming here for a long time.

Mesmerix said...

Google owns my soul as well.

Outside of Google, I like anything that lets me automate my life. I use Dropbox and Syncback for automated PC backup tools. And for automated task reminders, especially those that repeat.

If it's a tech thing, I can generally automate it. It's the non-tech things that cause me so much trouble!

Julie Weathers said...

Wow, I'm impressed. I couldn't do the grocery shopping thing because I haunt the sales and clearance items. However, the rest of the suggestions are great. I'm going to check them out.

I'm much more efficient when I schedule tasks. I've gotten out of the habit, but I need to get back in.

Probably the only other thing I would add is for writers to back up daily work with an off site program or email so they don't have to hunt for things if a disaster occurs.

Thanks for posting these.

JohnO said...

Delicious. - Bookmark at work, at home, when traveling ... it matters not. Also, want to find good links on a subject you're interested in? Search the tags other people use to describe their bookmarks.

I second what you say about RSS and Google Docs. Dude -- RSS is like Tivo for the Web! How people function without them mystifies me.

bridgetcarle said...

Thanks for the list!

The best part (to me) about Google Reader is the Next button. If you haven't installed it as a bookmark, try it. You don't even have to look at your list. Just click Next on your bookmark bar, and it takes you to the next item in the blog queue. Love it!

Mi said...

iCal is my life. Literally. Everything I need is on it. I just have to remember to update it during the summer, because I usually only use it during the school year.

I know that once iPhone 4 comes out that that's going to help me save time too.

Funnily enough, I find laundry is a good time saver. Why? Because while you're waiting for stuff to go through, you can work on whatever you want for an hour. And then you fold things quickly, and then you have maybe 40 minutes to work on something else while you wait for the next load. It takes multi-tasking to a new level!!!!

Josin L. McQuein said...

Wow. I do ... none... of... these... things... at... all.

(I think I may have the "follow blog" thing down, but you still have to click the link.)

Francis said...

I could never buy groceries online, this is crazy!!!

I want to be able to pick my vegetables, fruits, meat and whatever else I need myself. All major grocery chains offer delivery here for a small fee. The service is mostly used by the elderly, but does who shop for them aren't on the lookout for the most fresh... they pick the first item in the shelf, and barely check if the packaging is intact.

Casey Lybrand said...

Great list. Of these items, I use Google Reader and iCal with Google Calendar. I don't use tasks, but when something must be done on a deadline, I just put it on the calendar.

I don't have a grocery service right now. I used online grocery shopping in, what, 2002? Maybe 2003. And I wasn't impressed with either service I tried way back then. Maybe I'll give it another try. Presumably the services have gotten better since then.

I do use a CSA service, though, and I love it! Fresh produce at my door every week.

I'm a little leery of trusting my documents to the cloud, but clearly that's the direction we're moving in. I'm not there yet.

And an e-reader is high on my wishlist!

Joseph L. Selby said...

I have a much smaller list of blogs than you, so I use my Google homepage rather than reader. I have no blog content on there as well, so it's a pleasant mix.

I use Google Chrome so I can maximize my tabbed-based browsing and browsing speed.

I do not use Google docs, though. I know they're just covering their asses, but the fact that they can claim ownership to any Google document means I'll never put a record on there that includes personal information or any creative endeavor (like my writing).

I love me some ebooks. I switched from a Blackberry to a Palm Pre and there's no B&N reader app. I'll have to steal my wife's nook soon.

Tags. I don't use paper notes any more. If there is an idea for my writing I have to remember, I write it in a blog post. There are specific tags I use (e.g., "Eureka!") that I can click on to see what my previous ideas were to make sure I haven't forgotten them. Privacy settings allow me to keep these comments private if I don't want to share them with the world at large.

Smart Phone. I don't even need my phone for calling. I use less than 50 minutes a month. If I didn't get unlimited bandwidth, I'd be screwed! :)

February Grace said...

*sigh* the only thing that we can get delivered around here is pizza.

Which reminds me- time savers?

My personal favorite is *gasp* take out. Seriously.

Depending on how you do it, dinner especially for two or three people can be more expensive and time consuming to cook at home than to pick up from a local, family run place. Less time in the kitchen, more time writing, and you're supporting the local economy. I don't think you can go wrong.


MJR said...

good tips...going to check out google docs and the calendar thing..

I like is ordering interlibrary books online. Most people don't realize that your local (possibly crappy) library is connected to lots of other libraries across the state. You don't get immediate gratification like you do when ordering e-books, but it doesn't take much longer than ordering a book from Amazon, and it's *FREE*! I get an email when the books arrive, and pop over to the library and pick them up.

Mesmerix said...

The idea that Google claims ownership of any content you post on Google Docs is a fallicy. (See:

Unless Big Brother takes over, you can be 99.9% sure that your creative works will remain your own. Really, it's more likely that your hard drive is stolen and the thief publishes your novel under the pen name of Al Capone.

Milo James Fowler said...

For now, following blogs on my Blogger dashboard is fine--easy to skim over posts that don't interest me; but I've tried Google Reader and it works nicely. My only concern is that I don't want my readers to use it. I'd rather they visit my actual blog and see all the cool stuff on the margins...

K.L. Brady said...

Great ideas. I used to check the web daily to see if there was anything new out there about my book that I might not be aware of (reviews, comments, etc.), so now I use Google Alerts. Google scours the web for me and sends me a report when there is something to report - usually every other day or so. Great time saver if you have something you search regularly.

April Wendy Hollands said...

Google Alerts is pretty useful too. Stick in the keywords and news involving those keywords pops into your inbox once a day.

This is kind of handy since there is definitely no chance of supermarket delivery in the French Alps. And no chance of any shops being open after 7pm or on a Sunday!

Ishta Mercurio said...

E-billing and automated payments. Any bills that are the same amount every time (like our cable bill and our property tax, for example) get debited automatically.

And online shopping... I haven't had that luxury since I moved to Canada from the UK in 2005. Ahhh, those were the days. Tesco, how I loved you.

Melissa Gill said...

google docs, I've got to check that out.

Katherine said...

Without a doubt Google Chrome is amazing. I keep about twenty tabs open depending on the novel I'm working on. There's a tab for, another for the Thesaurus, your blog, The Writer's Studio, research tabs,, Google. If my computer crashes, Chrome will ask me if I want to restore open tabs and all the stuff I'm working with comes back up.

Uh-huh; Google is awesome.

iPhone for music(Pandora), quick email, maps, quick search, quick Google news if I absolutely have to know what the stock market is doing or the latest on the oil spill, but mostly, I take a break from knowing all that stuff and guess what? I'm good.

Word for everything including docs for cut scenes and extra scenes which for some reason gives me the freedom to write something new or different.

My World Book which backs up all our laptops and computers all the time, so if something crashes; the work lives on.

Katherine said...

Oh, delivers and I love them because there are some days I don't leave the house. Ha!

Kia Abdullah said...

I love Google.

Another useful timesaving app is Google Desktop. When you need to locate an email or document, you can search for it using Google Desktop instead of the inbuilt search function on your PC (or Mac, God forbid). It's much faster and easier, and often more effective that the inbuilt search functions. I love it!

Mark Terry said...

Okay, but... Kindle versus iPad??

RosieC said...

Oh, if only to live in a big city! I hate grocery shopping. I would love to be able to have the groceries come to me.

Another time saver for the Mac user is the Dashboard. It has instant access to anything I want, like weather, a calendar interface, calculator, dictionary/thesaurus, and sports scores. That way I don't HAVE to watch the Lakers get creamed tonight (knock on wood) if I don't want to, but can keep up on the score any time I want to use my thesaurus.

James said...

Oddly enough, I save time so that I can spent it grocery shopping - because I like grocery shopping.

I am on board with e-books, except for the fact that they are not paginated. This probably isn't a problem for most people, but I'm in university; so, it's hard to reference passages when there is no consistent pagination. If you have the ear of people in publishing, please ask them to incorporate pagination into future e-book specifications.

k10wnsta said...

Holy type-A personalities, Batman.

Here's what I use to organize my time:
iNothing - its interface is about the most intuitive thing in the world because it requires no input, offers no output, and is, in fact, completely invisible. It's great because you don't even need a PC or smartphone to access it. You just make a mental note about any pressing meeting or obligation and then conveniently forget about it. Typically, the phone will ring to remind you that you had an important appointment minutes, hours, or even days earlier and if it doesn't, well, it must not have been that important after all.

But I wonder about that google reader it only useful if you follow several blogs regularly? I ask because I basically follow one and the frequency I check up on it is spotty, at best (congratulations, Nathan, on being one of the few anchors of semi-regularity in my life! I've made a mental note to send you a cookie).

Nathan Bransford said...

mark terry-

Actually I've been using the Kindle app on the iPad. So both.

swampfox said...

In the immortal words of Marge Simpson, "So that's what it means to google yourself. I always thought it meant something else!"

Anonymous said...

I brush my teeth while I'm going potty.

Oh... wait. Maybe that's not the kind of time saver you're looking for.

Kathryn said...

Maybe I'm using Google Reader incorrectly, but I find it to be more complicated than helpful. The same way with some other Google apps. I am, however, a fan of Google Docs, but I sometimes forget to use it...

Otherwise, I'm a big fan of getting everything done from my laptop. It's the best!

*hugs laptop*

Carol Riggs said...

Here's my 10-step time-saving list:
1. Use a crock pot. Dinner cooks while you write; cheaper than take-out.
2. Narrow your online blogsites to a half-dozen, especially if you're the kind to be tempted to make lengthy comments on them.
3. Don't have many friends. Kidding. Sort of.
4. Make a plot outline for novels so you aren't writing 50k of extra scenes that you end up dumping.
5. Make a character description list, pasting the phrases or details of each character into a document for quick reference (WHAT kind of nose did that guy have?)
6. Watch less TV. No, really.
7. Combine your errands and trips--saves gas, too.
8. Plot or imagine your next scene in the shower, on your commute home, mowing the lawn, etc, so your fingers are ready to fly by the time you reach your desk.
9. Get enough sleep at night. Doing stuff when you're only half-there is counterproductive.
10. Eat a healthy diet so your regular pastimes don't include visiting your doctor or local hospital.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Okay, I'm feeling sort of slothful now.

Molly O'Neill said... for travel planning. Iphone or Droid apps available. It has CHANGED MY LIFE.

Jen J. Danna said...

Thank you for a great list of time saving ideas! I'm with you on the efficiency ideal -- my time is extremely precious so anything that will streamline an activity is gold in my mind.

I currently use FeedBlitz to organize my blog postings, but I'm beginning to think that your suggestion of Google Reader might definitely be the way to go. I've recently been building my Blogger profile and I put in a number of the blogs I follow and wonder of wonders... there they are in Google Reader. I suspect I'll need to tweak settings a bit but it looks like a great way of keeping on top of things. Over 100 blogs? Wow... you win!

I'm also with you on the canned responses, but doing it as a signature rather than copy and paste is brilliant. I use Thunderbird, not Outlook, but I'll need to look into it. I'm sure there an add-on for that.

Thank you again... this post was extremely helpful!

Kelly Wittmann said...

Thank you so much, Nathan. Very helpful post.

Reena Jacobs said...

A twitter buddy recommended google docs when I asked about an easy way to do contests. I absolutely loved it! Since then, I've found the forms useful for inputting data into the spreadsheet. Later, I use those spreadsheet in a few mail merge directories in MS Word.

I cannot tell you how much time it saves me to run the mail merge and just copy and paste the preformatted html lists for the widgets and pages on my blog.

Mira said...

K10wnsta - that was funny. Anon 1:23, that made me laugh.

This is a great topic (!!) and a cool techie thread. Abit over my head, though. I feel wistful. I bet if I only understood half this stuff, it would save me time.

I will think about Google reader though!

I never really 'got' how wonderful it was to have technology at your fingertips (literally) until I got an I-phone.

So - I will say one thing, and please don't laugh at me because it's elementary.

I really like the alarm clock on my I-phone. I can set it to beep.
This helps me not be late for things, which is VERY helpful.

I also use my I-phone to keep lists and notes.

I have prescriptions mailed to me instead of picking them up...

I have a very organized system at work. I have five piles in a wide circle around me. I start with one pile and do one thing. Then I move to the next pile and do one thing. And so on. When I've gone through each pile once, I get to check my e-mail and look at blogs as a reward. This system of equal opportunity makes me feel very organized.

Okay, that's all I got. I'm interested in reading more on this thread though. Great idea for a topic, Nathan!

Marjorie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marjorie said...

(above deleted because a word was incorrect)

Anon, 1:23? I woke up so bleary eyed one morning, instead of toothpaste I brushed my teeth with the product to relieve rectal itch! I even cartoooned the experience:

Nathan, where do you have enough time in the day for all your activities? As a reader pointed out in another entry, you blog and reply here, you greatly participate in the forum, and have a full time job. I admire your ability to manage your time.

Question: Do you ever chill and watch a reality TV show?

Kasey said...

One of the single greatest things I have come across as a writer is Evernote. And no, I have no affiliation to them other than my undying devotion. Years ago there was this bit of software called the LitMachine that was a type of relational database that organized clips, pics, audio files, and the like based on relevance and tags. Evernote has this beaten by a mile. Not only do they make a flavor for every phone out there (iPhone, Windows, and Android) they also have a desktop version as well as a web based app so you can sync these notes everywhere, anywhere. If I’m on the road and have a thought, I record a voice note and it uploads from my smartphone automatically. Then when I’m at my desk, *poof* there it is. It also acts as the best bookmarking tool out there, as you can save a webpage as a url or as the whole page, coding intact, and view it across all platforms.

Handwritten notes/drawings are also supported. Which is great for diagrams, etc… snapshots from your phone’s cam too. There is a free account that has a throttle on uploading bandwidth, then another account for $5/month for increased usage and a few more perks, but I’ve been using the free version since April with no issues. I can assign tags to every note I upload, and can search them accordingly.

The single greatest organizational tool I’ve found for the writer. Plus it is great for grocery lists and the like (in the non-writing world).

[ /rant]

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

First, did you know Magic Tree House is now available as an e-book? Holy trickle down, batman, the e-conversion is coming even quicker than I thought.

Second, I find sorting the blogs I follow (also Twitter lists) are hugely helpful in not having these delights use up all of the time I should be writing.

Last, I use Goodreads to keep track of all those great recs (also sorted by genre) that I pick up along the way.

Yay for efficiency! ;)

p.s. Bryan, you're not a three-toed animal, merely encumbered with ankle biters. :)

Mira said...

Oh! I forgot the most important thing - sheer heaven.

My roommate and I chip in and hire someone in to clean every couple of weeks.

I can not believe how wonderful this is. They take care of all the big stuff, and I just need to do the little stuff.

It's surprisingly inexpensive. I used to feel guilty about it, until I saw how much our house cleaner needs and appreciates the work.

I can not recommend this strongly enough - the best thing I ever did for myself.

Okay - I did think of a few more, and then I'll give it a rest.

I subscribe to an on-line greeting card place (jacquie larson, although there are others.) This is fun, and it saves time having to go out to get cards. People also enjoy watching animated cards. It's very inexpensive.

I don't cook anything major during the week - easy meals in the evening.

Okay, that's it. :)

Anita Saxena said...

I thought I was the queen of efficiency, but I must bow to some of your ideas. I didn't know about the "canned response." I'm definitely going to utilize that one ASAP. Thank you for sharing.

Debbie Maxwell Allen said...

GoogleReader. Check.
GoogleDocs. Check.
GoogleCalendar. Check.

I'd also like to recommend GoogleNotebook. I can keep track of all my bookmarks, sort them into separate "notebooks", and label each note to find them easily.

Where would I be without Google?

Claudie said...

This is awesome. Also... online grocery delivery? Nifty nifty!

For the record, I do none of these things yet. I could, but then I'd get more time to procrastinate, and I do that enough already. ;)

Casey Lybrand said...

k10wnsta - Haha! iNothing is my organizational system in default mode. (As in, I would never remember anything without all the little pushes from the technology I set up!)

Mira - I use the alarm on my phone the same way. I use it so much that I put it on the phone's Go To menu so I can get to it quickly. It's also my morning alarm clock. (That's efficiency-related, right? Getting up in the morning?)

Dawn Maria said...

Thanks for these tips Nathan. I'm a bit embarrassed that I didn't exactly know what Google reader was and did before. I'm going to set it up now.

Dawn Maria said...

Thanks for these tips Nathan. I'm a bit embarrassed that I didn't exactly know what Google reader was and did before. I'm going to set it up now.

Jude Hardin said...

What are some of your favorite time-saving techniques?

Click on the little red square with the X in it on the top right corner of the screen.

Magdalena Munro said...

Since the birth of my son in 2009 I have become an efficiency machine. I can mop the floor, cook dinner, fold clothes, help Johann (my son) with his stacking skills, dictate lines into a micro cassette recorder for my book, check resumes on my laptop sitting in the kitchen (and sending out canned rejection emails), and drink a glass of wine all at once! Now go kick rumpus meine Liebchen Lakers!

Clara Rose said...

Nathan you are a man after my own heart! If there is a short cut or faster way, I am all over it.

I can't imagine a writer who doesn't use outlook or a similar system. Not only is it free but so simple to use.

My favorite email short cut is my stationery in windows mail (the new win7 mail system). You can make as many as you like and they are preprinted, so to speak.

Click, click and I have sent out a message with the desired verbiage.

Clara Rose

Kristin Laughtin said...

I'm reading from Google Reader right now! (OK, not right now, since I'm commenting, and you have to click to go into the blog to comment.) Haven't tried the canned response thing in Gmail either, but I'll keep it in mind.

I've never ordered my groceries to be delivered because I like to pick out my own produce. I worry I'll get produce I'd have passed over in the store. I take it nobody has had a problem with that?

Linda Adams said...

Not everyone plays well with the standard efficiency techniques. I'm one of them. Instead of saving me time, they often cause me to WASTE time because I lose things or accidentally double book appointments. A tickler file, for me, is a black hole. So over the last six months or so I've been learning what works for me, and what doesn't. Here's what I use to organize my time:

Calendar: Paper calendar, 8x10, spiral bound. It has to be visually appealing to me and have the month displayed over two pages. Any important appointments are color coded, like pink for a doctor's appointment. I use Post Its for anything that might move around. The single most helpful thing is being able to put a Post-It with address information or directions in there so I don't have to remember to bring that with me. If I have a referral slip for a doctor, it gets stuck inside, too, so I don't have wandering papers that I might forget -- something I can't do with an electronic calendar. I also like being able to write anything in it anywhere.

Tasks: If it's something that I need to remember to do, a keyword goes on a Post-It. I stick it on a piece of AstroBright paper on the wall of my desk. Sometimes I draw a picture on the Post-It. Once the task is done, Post-It goes into the trash. I do not prioritize because if I had to do it in the first place, it was important. I did try Outlook's tasks, and the thing darn near drove me crazy. It'd pop up with a reminder every hour, and I couldn't get to the task because something hot had come up. I might end up with a week where I couldn't get to it, and it would be a constant nag, even when I set it to the next day.

To help me remember subplots (which suffer from the same fate as anything in a tickler file), I use Post-Its with keywords in a place where I can see them. I also do the same thing with character names.

Grocery stores: Be nice if I could use the service, but it actually would, like other efficiency techniques, make me waste time--and money. I'd have to do meal plan and do a list to order online. That's at least eight hours of prep work and frustration for me (I'm single, so I have to change everything to one or two servings--a horrendous task for someone who isn't a great cook to start with), and then I would overspend. Instead, I just go in and get what's on sale, what looks good, and anything I've run out of. An hour versus eight? No contest.

Emily Casey said...

Wow. Awesome post. I always wondered about the canned responses thing.

About the grocery thing: when I was pregnant with my first child, I couldn't push a cart around. Sam's Club has a complimentary service that lets you order stuff on their website, they pull it, and then you just scan a piece of paper, pay, and you're on your way.

Deb said...

Magdalena, I'm with you ... as counter-intuitive as this sounds, have a child (or three). Because only then will you be forced to cut out everything but the absolute essentials. And parenthood is the ultimate on-the-job efficiency training. When you can't even go to the bathroom on your own schedule, you learn to do EVERYTHING real quick.

Scott said...

It's not about efficiency, but I really, really love listening to audio books on my iPhone. It makes my hour of commuting time a lot easier to take.

Maryann Miller said...

Great tips. Thanks. I'm not great with gadgets so I need all the help I can get.

Carrie said...

One person already mentioned it, but ONLY one, which surprises me: Evernote! It bears repeating: Evernote! Evernote! The place to throw all of those little informational tidbits you receive all day long: The model number for your constantly-needing-repair furnace. The books people suggest you read. The brand name of the tea you just fell in love with. Slam it into Evernote right where you stand, and have it at your fingertips the moment you next need it.

Buffy Andrews said...

A couple examples of how I save time:
Confessions of an obsessaholic No. 1:
OK. I admit it. I obsess just a teeny-tiny bit about things. But I wouldn’t be my crazy self if I didn’t. And I sort of like who I am. Anyway, the other day I was looking at my closet, feeling pretty good about it. It’s organized and neat. Then I opened my husband’s closet to put some shirts away and let me tell you folks, his closet is nothing like mine. Made me itch just looking at it.

In my closet, everything is arranged first by item (sweaters, pants, shirts, etc.) and then by color (or prints) followed by sleeve length. For example, suppose it’s really hot and I want to wear a short-sleeve white shirt. I know just where to find it. Ditto for a long-sleeve black shirt or a stripped sweater or a pair of black pants or a brown mock turtleneck or a red regular turtleneck (Yes, even turtlenecks are arranged by mock and regular) or a summer dress or a winter dress – well, you get the picture. Pure bliss.

To me, it makes perfect sense and is efficient. To my husband, it’s just another example of my quirkiness that he has come to accept (and I think love).

Confessions of an obsessaholic No. 5: Grocery cart
When I go to the supermarket I strategically park near the cart return. Why? you ask. (Or maybe you’re secretly hoping that I will just go away.) It’s about being efficient. I park near the rack so I don’t have too far to walk after loading the groceries into my car. I’ve thought a great deal about this (like 2 seconds) and it makes complete sense to me.

My husband, on the other hand, parks about 200 miles away. “You say you need to get more exercise,” he says. “Well, here you go.” I tell him that trekking hundreds of miles to the store door from the wilderness of the parking lot (making sure that I don’t step on sticky gum or yellow lines or pebbles big enough to twist my ankle) doesn’t count. Running seven miles uphill (winks) counts. He just looks at me and shakes his head and I’m like, well, you married me you fool. Now you have to put up with my crazy self. LOL

I could go on but I think you get the idea.

Chuck H. said...

Not really all that into efficiency. Of course if I were to become a world famous best selling author, that might have to change. Then I could come back to this post and implement some changes. Thanks, Mr. Bransford.

Brian Crawford said...

I agree with Kia about Google Desktop. It changed my life. Now, if Trader Joe's ever starts delivering groceries in San Francisco so I can avoid that ridiculous car line, that would really change my life!

Elizabeth said...

My biggest time saver: the "Mark all as read" button in Google Reader. Also, ignoring my email.

Oh, and always having my current projects synced to my iPod Touch, so I can write in random spare bits of time.

Susan said...

Love the Google Doc info!


-Loving the Google Reader too!

-Putting a bucket of cleaning supplies and a basket of toilet paper in each bathroom so that I don't have to lug the stuff from room to room.

-Instead of spending time worrying about the price of organic fruit and vegetables, I just buy the veggie spray in the produce section and buy whatever non-organic stuff I want.

-Putting whites and colors together and washing on cold. (Research and the Energy Efficiency Police say the garments get just as clean as on hot.)

-Taking the Google Search tutorial to figure out how to use the Internet better. It'll cut down on your search time!

-A word about Mac's Dashboard--it'll make your computer run slower since it takes up working memory. It all but stopped my computer at one point. I took the apps off (calendar, calculator, post-its) and all was good again.

With La Toddler and teaching and writing, I'm all about efficiency!

Jordan McCollum said...

A third vote for Evernote—great for organizing research, ideas, inspirations, etc.

I also use Firefox bookmark keywords extensively. For example, I have Firefox programmed so I can type in "mw firefighter" into the location bar and get back the Merriam-Webster page for firefighter. (Bookmark an entry page in Merriam-Webster, then edit that bookmark. Change the word [firefighter or whatever] to %s and put mw in the keyword box.) I have shortcuts for sites I visit a lot, for several reference sites, etc.

Oh, and for free automatic file backups.

(And another vote for having kids. I had my third less than two weeks ago, and each one further refines your priorities.)

Trading Plan Template said...

The buttons which say unread, starred and all before deleting...and food delivery express and laundry pick-up and delivery. Can't live without them.

Nancy said...

Evernote has been mentioned to me before, and after hearing the testimonials here I'm going to try it. Also on the list is hiring a cleaner. I don't know if we can afford it, but it would definitely make me happy.

I use the alarm on my iPod to keep myself on track. It's too easy to slip into writing and forget that the rest of the world--like work, perhaps--requires my attention as well. This is an exercise in efficiency, because if I got fired because I never came to work, I'd need to spend time looking for a new job instead of writing.

Hillsy said...

Wahoo!! firewall at work is down - I can post a reply before tomorrow(?)

I actually look for all sorts of corners to cut, not because I'm obsessed by efficieny, but because I'm astonishingly lazy.

"If necessity is the Mother of invention, Apathy is the Absent Father" - me

ADHD you see - work is dull and boring, get it all done before your attention buggers off elsewhere. If people were lazier the word would run a lot better; don't work hard, work smart!

Rather than vomit up anecdotes, some ideas that might help you Nathan (Though the majority of the minutiae of your life are unknown to me - at least until I pass Stalking 101. Even then, no offence, your below Olivia Wilde on my list - sorry dude!)

Mailmerge: I dont' know how advanced your signature system is - but I always thought this would be the ideal way to manage a slush pile while giving a bit of personalised feedback. As you go through the queries, Copy the email address into the first sell, mark it with a rejection type (e.g. 1 = loved it but couldn't sell it, 2 = Plot/stakes unclear, 3 = lack of character info) then depending on your numerical selection you can pre program paragraphs to build the response letter automatically. At the end of the day send out the mailmerge. et voila.

Databases: My other half keeps loads of her work in outlook, drives me nuts. Access can link together files, tables, stats and spew out the information in nice, tailored formats. Great for cross-referenceing too, like seeing all contract statusus for contracts out on submission perhaps? Cos it's totally customizable surely it makes a lot more sense than, say, opening the contract folder in outlook and scrolling through 11000 e-mails for an e-rights offer from Penguin, right?

Project management software: I can do this in excel but I'm told stuff like MS project is awesome. I can imagine for a busy agent being able to plot timelines and deadlines for multiple projects on the same sheet would be useful - I'm sure it has colour coding structures too, so at a glance you can see what you need to chase up, really chase up or apologise for missing. Though again I dunno how good your google calender system is.

OK I'll leave it at that - I'd need to do an internship to see how your place operates to think of any more....and the commute from the UK would be a BIATCH!

April said...

Well, I must say the Google Reader sounds great. As for calendars, I only keep a planner, and I prefer to physically write in it. I've never been able to get into electronic organizers or anything.

The grocery shopping we can't do. We go to Costco every month or so, and I end up running to the store for little things before the next Costco run. I like being able to see my choices in front of me.

I guess you could say I'm a hands-on gal. Probably why I also don't have an e-reader.

GFH said...

Regarding Google Reader, you can setup 2 apps to sync automatically with your Google Reader acct.

I use FeedDemon for my PC - it runs in the taskbar and automatically notifies me when an author posts a new item to any of the blogs I follow through Google Reader. So you register the blogs in Google Reader, and then run FeedDemon and it will pull down your blogs from Google. ALSO, you can register new blogs with FeedDemon and it will UPDATE Google Reader! Awesome.

The other app is BYLINE that runs on the Iphone/Itouch - AWESOME!

Fawn Neun said...

Nathan - have you checked out submishmash for subs management yet? You can preload responses right in there, as well as keep track of the status and keep it out of your general email addy. Great stuff! We've been using it for a couple of months now, and I recommend it highly.

Bron said...

I use Google Reader and it's great. No more wasting time checking blogs that haven't been updated. Although, in a bid to further my efficiency, I had a blog cull a few weeks ago and now only follow a handful of blogs. I'm at the point where I feel I know the basics, and my time would be better spent writing.

One thing my husband and I do is cook meals for four people instead of two. Most recipes seem to have ingredients for four, so we follow the recipe, eat half the meal on one night and then half the next night. It means we only have to cook every second night, and because we take turns cooking, each of us is really only cooking once or twice a week.

Honestly though, I think the best way for me to increase my efficiency is to increase my self-discipline and not, eg., spend an hour on flight control trying to improve my score :-)

Aaron Pogue said...

Gah! I wish I had access to grocery delivery....

I love your list of Google suggestions, though. And I've taken it a step forward and incorporated my Google Docs use into the e-Books item you mentioned.

I do all my writing in Google Docs, and I've recently been working with some other writers, giving them markup and feedback on their manuscripts in Google Docs. Now I've spent the last couple weeks developing a tool that lets me automatically export a Google Doc to ePub format, so I can throw it on my e-Book reader for easy reading on the go.

That has been amazingly helpful. So I guess as far as suggestions for other tools for greater efficiency, I'd say "programming." Every writer should learn a little programming. (I recommend Python, since it's got an English-like syntax.)

Ishta Mercurio said...

Bron: I am on board with that! I do all the cooking at our house, and I always make enough for at least two (if not three) meals. Leftovers rule!

The Red Angel said...

Very helpful post!!

Google Docs is awesome! :)

Not so much a fan of E-Books. :/ I can understand their helpfulness and efficiency, though.


Rowenna said...

I get deluged by email and paper at work, so I try very hard to follow the "only touch it once" rule. It gets replied to, filed, deleted, shredded--whatever--the first time I open it in my inbox or it crosses my desk. This keeps me from mindlessly scrolling through email or piling up papers. Plus, I then save them up and buzz through them all at once.

Mira said...

Casey - me too! I use the alarm clock on my I-phone to wake me in the morning, too. I like that it's dark until it goes off, and then it's backlit. I also like that you can use a variety of ringtones.

Now I just need a ringtone that will say something like:

Time to wake up, Mira, dear. I know you don't want to and you're tired, but, the sun is up! It's a brand new and exciting day! Besides, if you'd stop playing computer games until all hours of the night, you wouldn't be tired now, so stop complaining. It's your own fault. Discipline, Mira. Think about it.

That would get me up fast, because I'd want to smash it against the wall.

Nancy - you won't regret a cleaner. We went through a reputable agency at first to find someone we could trust.

RK said...

Hey, great list...for the most part.

I've to disagree about the grocery tip b/c I love grocery shopping. Standing in the produce aisle, surrounded by all the different colors, shapes, textures -- just relaxes me.
The scent of fresh peaches definitely beats out the convenience of the mouse click. :)

Anonymous said...

Had to laugh at the online grocery thing, Nathan. When hubby informed me that we had to move out to the county, I told him that it had to be in "ice-cream distance". That means that I had to be able to get ice-cream home from the store before it melts. :o) Yes, we do live in the boonies, but it is in ice-cream distance.

I save time by making lists - grocery, menu, errands, etc. When I go to town, I try to accomplish as much as possible.

Now writing, that's a whole 'nother ballgame.

Somerville, AL

word verification: cultwori -- the worry that some cult member will knock on my door?

KFran said...

I would highly recommend getting a Mobile Me account rather than using google docs. The mobile me interface is great and you have storage, email, calendaring, iPhone interfaces and more. You don't need to have an iphone or mac to use it. The coolest thing is that you get an email address. It is a service and they do charge $200/year, but i think its worth it!

Barbara's Spot on the Blog said...

What I want is someone to prepare meals and clean my house! I'm even tempted to offer free rent in exchange.

I teach software so here's a gold nuggets that client's love: To increase font size, select the text then hold the Shift and > (greater than) key. To shrink, repeat and use < (lesser than) key.

lrcutter said...

Yes to all things Google. I have four calendars that I share with specific other people in my life, and keep them all in one place, so I never get double-booked any more! Also, yes to automatic billpay.

I use Amazon Fresh now and again, but only for really big buys. As a single person, I just don't cook (or eat) enough.

The timer function also works for me. for the PC, Dejal Timeout for the Mac. 55 minutes of focused work (sometimes shorter if I'm doing something intense) then 5 minutes of standing up, stretching, walking around the block, taking the garbage out, cleaning the cat box, etc. Then delve back into the work. I know it sounds crazy, but taking a 5 minute break every hour makes me incredibly productive!

Two Flights Down said...

Haha...I use all the google stuff, as well. Anything that syncs well with portable devices so I don't have to put them in three different times is awesome to me. I love that my family puts their contact info on fb, which will sync with an IPOD touch, which will sync with my contacts on google. It saves me from having to type in the information myself.

I also like those programs that allow you to see twitter, facebook, flikr, and other social networking updates in one place. Many will also allow you to type one update and it sends it out to your twitter, facebook status, blog updates, etc. Social networking is a breeze, these days. I use Broadcast because it's free and works on linux platforms.

Joan Kremer said...

As several have already said, Evernote is fabulous. I used it all the time -- UNTIL I got MS OneNote. Since I mainly work on two PCs (my laptop and desktop), I don't need to access my notes from any computer, and I find OneNote is faster, easier to organize, and has more features. Also, I use its shared folder feature so anything I update on one PC is immediately updated on the other PC.

Another timesaver I use is Instapaper for web pages I want to read later but don't want to bookmark. When I have time, I go to my Instapaper account and read the pages I've saved, and then they're gone (unless I bookmark them).

I also use XMarks (formerly FoxMarks) to keep my bookmarks in synch on both PCs and in all browsers.

T.Y. said...

Google Reader revolutionized my life in that it made it possible that I HAVE a life! I used to sit at the computer all day clicking on blogroll links and neglecting my writing. Now I click on G.Reader subscriptions and save X amount of hours out of my day so I can neglect my writing in a new way.

Joseph L. Selby said...

Thank you, Mesmerix. That was very helpful.

Anonymous said...

LOLL this is great but ... groceries??? i like the random swerve from google docs to food. am curious though, given that you live in the SloFood capital of the world, why'd you'd sacrifice the pleasure of aimlessly roaming the aisles of Safeway? (Or, Rainbow Groceries, or Whole Foods)

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm not really fan of any SF grocery stores. I get my produce from farmers markets, the rest I'm happy to have delivered.

D. G. Hudson said...

I'm all for efficiency, if it's also effective. I think one has to pick & choose which tools work & which are too much trouble.

I use calendars - online & hardcopy,some canned responses, and detailed bookmark lists/folders. I also use NewNovelist(UK) for organizing and creating novel ideas & WIPs.

As for ordering groceries online, it's a great idea for working families, but I prefer to choose what I eat myself for some of the reasons indicated (I'm picky as to freshness & condition for produce especially). So I wouldn't use that service unless I had to.

Time is precious for all of us -- but there's such a thing as too many gadgets. (especially if they're breakable, if they're frequently updated, & require connection to the grid)

Sorry, Nathan, I'd suggest you take a walk at lunch & leave the techtoys at the office.

Melissa Emerald said...

Thank you for this post! The Google Reader is EXACTLY what I need.

I'm a follower of several sites, but could never figure out how to actually follow. I spent more than two hours over the past three day researching Google Friends Connect and could only find info on getting followers, not being a follower. (talk about wasting time)

I don't have a recommendation for tools, but now and then I'll cook extra and will immediately pack away half of it in the freezer for an easy meal on a busy day. Enchiladas, lazagna, homemade spaghetti sauce, meatballs are all good freezer choices.

Tessa Quin said...

Thanks for that. I got so caught up in Google Reader that I completely forgot about time.

I hope Google has you on percentage.

Other Lisa said...

I'm not sure what it says about me that I'm just now reading this post...

And I walk to get my groceries!

(I'm not very efficient at all. It's like, the more time I have, the less efficiently I use it. Don't tell anyone)

JP said...

This is really simple, from my long years waiting tables trying to break into the animation industry. Whenever you go somewhere in the house, or running an errand, do it slowly. Real slowly, but Do Three Things at the same time. In one journey from the kid's room to the lounge, walking at a chilled pace, I've got laundry replaced, toys picked up, bills put in the 'ígnore' pile. You'll be amazed how fast you can get things done just ambling around in a multitasking style. :)

Tricia said...

I love Google reader and I'm going to try Google docs.

Here's a couple of my time savers.

I plan out meals for two weeks (a couple months later I can use the plan again) and do all the grocery shopping (except fruits and vegies which I have to do weekly) Every Sat. I put meals together. Canned stuff for each meal goes in a bag, stuff for crockpot put in a Ziploc in the freezer,measure out dry ingredients add spices, and make bread. This cuts hours off food preparation and I only spend $50 a week to feed a family of five.

2nd I set the timer when cleaning the house. We see how much we can get done in five minutes then set it again. Everyone works faster because it's only five minutes. We can get the whole house done in thirty minutes. Also at night we do a fifteen clean-up.

3rd I set the timer when I write for thirty minutes and then try to beat it the next thirty minutes.

Kristi said...

One good thing to do with Outlook or another calendar isn't just to set yourself reminders, but to actually schedule yourself "appointments" to block off time for a task. Say, 8am-10am is writing, 10am-10:30 checking email, etc. And do include that "checking email/blogs/etc" time. Its like budgeting for car repairs (or a night out on the town)--you' know you're going to spend it, may as well plan ahead of time how much to set aside for it.

That can make it easier to weed out distractions, and keep you from switching tasks so frequently that you spend twice as long re-reading your last page as you do typing in the next paragraph.

Also, turn off the taskbar popups in outlook. How many times are you really sent an emergency email anyway?

Anonymous said...

One of the things I did that saved a lot of time (and saved waste). I signed up for one of those groups that block junk mail (the real physical junk mail, not spam e-mail). I was getting a ton of junk mail, and basically I still went through it to make sure that some of it wasn't the "if you don't mail this back, we'll start charging you for a service that you don't want and didn't think you signed up for" variety. A few weeks after signing up, my junk mail is just a fraction of what it was. I think there is a way to do it for free (just google it), one pay service is Precycle
My other tips are just get rid of stuff - sell it, donate it, recycle it, whatever, just get it out of your house.

DiDi said...

I, too, love iGoogle and Google Reader-loved Google Desktop until my iGoogle reclaimed my desktop.

I love the Google Bookmarks Bar (Ctrl-B) and have and Dictionary prominently displayed. Makes finding words when writing so easy. Rhyming words, synonyms, antonyms, etc. or at my fingertypes.

Love the Google Calendar tip-didn't know about that one and needed it so much! Thanks Nathan and all posters!

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