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Batching & Automation Challenge, Day 8: Tracking Your Running

[Introduction to the Challenge] [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 7]

I don’t consider myself an athlete or runner, but I like to stay in shape when it’s convenient for me.  I’ve generally never been into running (and used to despise it as a form of exercise) but in the past couple of years, it has grown on me.  Last summer, I ran a half marathon in Chicago, and it was a great (albeit incredibly tiring) experience for me.  I don’t know if I’ll ever try to build up the stamina do to a complete marathon, but I’m fine with that.  For now, I just want to stay in shape, and working toward the goal of running some kind of race keeps me motivated.

If you’re training for a race or simply run for exercise on a regular basis, you probably try to monitor and track your timing and distance.  This is fairly easy with a watch and websites like MapMyRun make it easy to plan out an outdoor route you plan to run, to calculate the distance.  After running, you can input how long the run took you, and the site will tell you your pace, calories burned, etc.

I used to do that before each run, but it became a bit cumbersome to map out each run and then remember to input my time on the website to track it as a completed run.

Now, I found something that does it all automatically for me.  I realize that this isn’t the first time I’ve made reference to an iPhone application, so I apologize to you non-iPhone users.  The application (free) is called RunKeeper.  It’s very simple – you turn it on before you go running, and you tell it to stop when you’re done.  It uses the GPS feature of your iPhone to track how far you’ve run and how long it’s taken you.  It even approximates the calories burned.  Upon completion of the run, it automatically posts your stats to its website, so you can always look back at your history of runs. 

[Note: This is not a screenshot of an actual run I was on recently.]
  
Time Savings:
I don’t anticipate that this saves me a ton of time.  The fact that I can automate my record keeping, however, is a huge convenience for me.
  • Estimated time spent tracking my runs (without RunKeeper): 30 minutes/month
  • Estimated time spent tracking my runs (with RunKeeper): 5 minutes/month
  • Monthly Time Savings: 20-25 minutes

Batching & Automation Challenge, Day 7: Checking Websites

[Introduction to the Challenge] [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6]

Today’s batching and automation idea is probably one many of you are familiar with. If you’re someone like me and you read 20 different blogs, it’s a daunting task to try and keep up with them. You might find yourself checking a website more than once per day to see if there are any updates, and once you do this for 5 or 10 websites, it starts to get a little bit time consuming.

Something I’ve found to be incredibly useful is an RSS reader. My personal favorite is Google Reader.  RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication.”  Basically, a RSS reader is a web-based tool that will automatically check websites and blogs for you, if you subscribe to those sites’ feeds.  If you look close enough on nearly any website you visit, you’ll see a link that says “Subscribe” or “RSS Feed” or maybe even just a logo similar to the one at the top of this post.

By automating your website-checking and collecting it all in one location, you can batch your website/blog reading.  On Google Reader, new posts come in the same way new e-mail does – you see the new post available, bolded as an unread item.  No more time is wasted visiting different sites and evaluating them for new content.

Using an RSS reader has allowed to me drastically increase the amount of online content I’m able to follow and process.  From sports to business, I’m able to keep up with whatever is in the news and interesting to me.  I even follow feeds such as Slickdeals.net which has allowed me to take advantage of a ton of great deals before they expire.  There’s just so much out there that I know I would never get around to viewing if it weren’t for Google Reader (or whatever your favorite RSS reader may be).

And to me, this automation/batching idea is far more appealing than doing laundry.

Time Savings

Below is the time savings for checking new content on websites, NOT reading it.  Reading an article will take you the same amount of time regardless of the format it’s in.

  • Estimated time spent checking blogs/websites without an RSS reader: 20 minutes/day (10 hours/month)
  • Estimated time spent checking blogs/websites with an RSS reader: 5 minutes/day (2.5 hours/month)
  • Monthly time savings:  7-8 hours

Batching & Automation Challenge, Day 6: Batch Cooking

[Introduction to the Challenge] [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5]

Since we’re apparently on the subject of domestic chores, I figured I would round it out with discussing how batching your cooking could save you tons of time (and probably money).

One of the biggest excuses people make for not cooking on a regular basis is that they don’t have the time to do it.  You get home from work at 6 already starving, and if no one else is cooking for you, you probably aren’t going to cook for yourself.  So, you go out to eat or you microwave a lousy frozen dinner.  It’s far from ideal for your time, your health, and your money.

The same goes for lunch.  You get bored of sandwiches and you find yourself eating out more than once or twice a week.  Sometimes you get lucky and have leftovers from when you ate out the night before.  You get the picture.

To get out of this routine, batching your cooking is a great way to save time and money while still eating good food (if you can cook, it helps).  This is really something I’ve been meaning to do for lunch, so starting in the next couple of weeks, I am going to implement this.  Right now, it’s irrelevant, because I’ve mostly had my meals for free during this busy time at work.

On Sunday nights, I will cook for the entire week.  This will allow me to have a good lunch to bring to work each day, and if I’m motivated, I’ll cook enough to last for dinner as well.  I think it makes sense to freeze anything that you can’t eat within a few days.

It’s probably easier said than done though, so let’s take a look at food/meals that are best suited for batch-cooking.  I’m taking ideas from this article, which gives some good detail about preparing meals in batches and freezing them:

  • Casseroles
  • Soups
  • Stews
  • Chili
  • Stir-fry (my personal favorite to cook in a large quantity – I wouldn’t recommend freezing this)
  • Grilled chicken

Since I am by no means an expert cook, here are some other good articles about batch cooking:

Batch cooking and freezing
The Five-Day Freeze: Batch Cooking for the Rest of Us (I really like this article)
Batch Cooking Recipes

Time Savings

  • Estimated time spent cooking dinner and making lunch during a “normal” week: 3-5 hours/week (15-20 hours/month)
  • Estimated time with batch cooking implemented: 2-3 hours/week, on a Sunday (8-12 hours/month)
  • Monthly time savings: 5-10 hours

This isn’t a food blog, but once I start doing some batch cooking, maybe I’ll share what I’ve been making (and only if it turns out tasting good).  

    Batching & Automation Challenge, Day 5: Household Chores

    [Introduction to the Challenge] [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4]

    There’s a fine line between batching your household chores and being viewed as a dirty, lazy slob.  You don’t want to repeat tasks too often, but at the same time, things get a little too dirty if you don’t do them often enough.  The household chores I have in mind specifically include:

    • Laundry
    • General cleaning (vacuuming, dusting, cleaning the bathroom, etc.)
    • Washing dishes

    I’m struggling to figure out exactly what the optimal increments of time are between each repetition of the above tasks.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

    Laundry

    I’m not terribly concerned with laundry piling up as long as it’s confined to a basket of some sort, or hidden away in a closet.  The limiting factor here is the quantity of clothes you have available, as I’m assuming you wouldn’t want to rewear dirty clothes.  Historically, I’ve done my laundry once per week, usually on a Saturday or Sunday.  I’m starting to find, however, that I can go two weeks, but probably not three, between each batch of laundry.

    Because my apartment complex has a laundry room that contains several washers and dryers, I can do two loads of laundry at the same time, thereby cutting my time spent on laundry in half.  If I had more clothes, I would absolutely try to stretch this to three weeks.  If one load of laundry per week takes about 40 minutes of my time (20 minutes of moving things to and from the washer and dryer, 20 minutes of folding clothes and putting them away), I would guess that doing two loads at once probably takes me 50 minutes.  The washer and dryer time is close to the same, and I think folding laundry and putting it away is something that takes me awhile to start, but picks up speed as I go (so a 2nd load only is only an additional 10 minutes).

    By the way – when I used to do one load of laundry, I would never separate colors from whites.  Now, I probably can.

    General Cleaning

    When I clean my apartment is more a function of how much free time I have – it’s not based on any sort of schedule.  During this time of year where I have little to no free time, the cleanliness of my apartment suffers.  Therefore, I don’t think there is any sort of measurable time savings by batching here (for me).  Granted, you can always wait longer to clean, and you will always save time.  If you clean once per week, try cleaning every once every 10-14 days.  You’ll probably find that you’re spending less time cleaning over the course of a year, and the cleanliness of your apartment or house probably won’t suffer as much as you think.  If cleaning your house takes you an hour and you do it once per week, you can easily save 52 hours per year by stretching it to once every two weeks.

    Washing Dishes

    This is something I already batch, but it deserves mention.  If you have a dish washing machine, don’t run it until the machine is full.  If you do your dishes by hand, wait until the sink is relatively full.  A full sink looks dirty, but as long as you don’t let it pile too high, I don’t think it’s all that bad.  I’m sure my girlfriend is strongly disagreeing with me if she’s reading this.  Washing dishes is an easy activity to batch.  Again, this is something I’ve done for a long time, so I won’t accumulate any time savings here.

    Time Savings

    It looks like laundry is where I’ll find my only measurable time savings.

    • Estimated time spent doing laundry once per week: 40 minutes/week (160 minutes per month)
    • Estimated time spent doing laundry once per two weeks: 50 minutes per two weeks (100 minutes per month)
    • Monthly time savings: About 1 hour

    I think batching household chores in general will save you much more than one hour per month, but that time savings is very difficult to measure given the many variables involved.  

    If you have any more suggestions for batching or automating your household chores, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

    Batching & Automation Challenge, Day 4: Automating Your Finances

    [Introduction to the Challenge] [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3]

    I’ve already discussed automating and batching the monitoring of my finances with Mint.com (Day 1), but that’s more for just keeping track of your account balances.  One thing I (surprisingly) have not done yet is automate my bills completely.  Here’s a list of my bills that require periodic (usually monthly) payments, and I’ve noted which items I’ve already set up to automatically charge my checking account:

    1. Credit card (#1)
    2. Credit card (#2)
    3. Credit card (#3)
    4. Student Loan (already automated)
    5. Cable/internet bill
    6. Electric bill
    7. Gas bill
    8. Gym membership (already automated)
    9. 401(k) (not a bill, but it’s an account that requires a periodic payment, which I’ve already automated) 
    10. Rent
    11. Cell phone bill (already automated)

    Let’s break down the steps to achieve this “day” of the challenge:

    1) Make a list of every periodic payment that you make, as I have done, and note which items are not currently automated.

    2) Batch the process of setting up automatic payments (i.e. just sit down one afternoon and do them all at once, since I know this something for which people will procrastinate).

    3) Use Mint.com to monitor your account balances to insure that no payments will cause your checking account to be overdrafted.  If possible, see if your checking account has overdraft protection available.  Wherever possible, set your automatic payments to be paid for via credit card, to avoid the issue of overdrafts.   

    4) Eliminate paper statements.  Nothing is a bigger waste of time than having more mail to sift through, only to find envelopes that you generally open to file away or throw away.  Maybe you glance through your credit card statement briefly, but you probably never look at it again unless you run into problems.  Wherever possible, elect to receive your statements online.  Storing them electronically allows you to keep them indefinitely without taking up physical space.  Also, you never need to worry about losing statements.  Overall, it’s less clutter, which is better for your life.

    Most bills that allow you to pay electronically should give you the option to set up automatic payments.  For certain recurring expenses, like rent, you may not have that option.  For expenses where you can’t easily set up automatic payments, you can use something called “bill pay” offered by most banks and credit card companies.  I would first check to see if your bank allows for free bill pay, and if not, find a bank that does.  In reality, you shouldn’t need to switch banks – most banks have accounts available that offer free bill pay.  They don’t want to lose you as a customer, so be sure to let your bank representative know that this is an important feature for you.

    Time Savings:

    • Estimated time spent paying bills manually: 1.5 hours/month
    • Estimated time spent paying bills automatically, after initial setup: 0 hours/month
    • Monthly time savings: 1-2 hours

    Think of the initial setup as an investment in your future free time.  Spend an hour or two today to save you a lot more time each month in the future.  Time savings aside, automatic payments will allow you to NEVER have a late payment and incur late payment fees ever again.

    Have any other tips to automate your finances?  Please share them in the comments!

    Batching & Automation Challenge, Day 3: The DVR

    [Introduction to the Challenge] [Day 1] [Day 2]

    Day 3 is going to be fairly simple, because if you own a DVR (digital video recorder), you are probably already using it.  I’d like to go through a vey specific way that I use it, which encompasses some batching and automation.

    Watching TV is enjoyable, but it’s never a top priority.  The introduction of the DVR (although we had VHS tapes years ago) has allowed us to move “watching TV” further down on our list of priorities while still allowing us to never miss a show.  In my opinion, if you own a DVR, you should NEVER watch live TV except for sports and news (or any other live event that only makes sense to watch live).

    The fact of the matter is, commercials take up roughly 30% of your viewing time, and unless it’s during the Super Bowl, you probably aren’t really focused on the commercials.  If we’re going to batch things in order to save us time, TV should be added to the list.

    Every show you enjoy watching should be set to record on your DVR, and you should be watching your shows in batches.  For example – I enjoy watching the show 24 and The Office.  Even if I have free time, I prefer to watch these shows without commercial interruption.  In one hour, I’m able to watch 90 minutes of TV.

    The more you watch TV, the greater effect this has on your life and free time (although I’m betting that if you watch a lot of TV, you have a fair amount of free time).  According to a recent Nielson report covering the last three months of 2008, TV viewing is at an all time high.  The average American viewer watches 151 hours of TV per month!  If we assume that all of it is live TV (and excludes sports, which is probably not a realistic assumption),  that’s 45 hours of wasted time EVERY month! 540 hours per year.  That number floors me, especially because I don’t see how people have enough free time to get through 151 hours of TV per month and I don’t think I even like enough TV shows to cover that amount time. 

    Time Savings

    • Estimate of current time spent watching TV (including commercials): 10 hours/week (40 hours/month)
    • Estimated time spent using DVR: 7 hours/week (28 hours/month)
    • Monthly time savings: 10-15 hours

    The big flaw here is that once baseball season begins, I’ll be watching a lot of live TV.  



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