I got a message the other day from a reader wondering what the best way to deal with the minor hassles of life is. Things like bill paying, errands, mailing in forms, etc.
I thought this was a good question, because I can remember back to a time when a huge part of my day was filled with this sort of stuff. It creeps up on you, and eventually it can get to the point where your to do list is an unending stream of unexciting routine tasks.
The biggest way to reduce these sorts of annoyances is to go after the root causes and get rid of them. After all, if you don't have a cable TV account, you'll never have to deal with the cable company. Cars are a huge source of necessary but uninspiring tasks. Oil changes, repairs, insurance, and parking tickets all come with the territory. Owning a house is another huge source of these errands. You have to fix things, replace appliances, vacuum, organize, pay taxes, and mow the lawn.
So step one is getting rid of whatever you can. A bike is easier to maintain than a car. A train pass is easier than a bike. An apartment is easier than a house, a really small apartment is even easier, and an RV is easier still. The square footage you occupy is directly related to how much nonsense you'll have to deal with.
Some things are easy to sacrifice. If you use five credit cards, try using only one and boxing the others up for emergencies. That's 80% less credit card bill paying. Get rid of your land line and put the money towards a bigger cell phone plan.
What you can't eliminate, try delegating. Last year I got a VA, or virtual assistant. Virtual assistants are great because not only will they take tasks off your plate, they'll often do them better than you will. They don't charge much, especially when you consider that a few tasks off your plate might mean a whole day you get to spend on something productive.
If you have an American Express Platinum Card, which isn't quite as fancy as it sounds, you get a free concierge. They can't do a lot of the stuff VAs can do, but they're great for rote phone calls. When I lost my wallet a couple weeks ago they hammered the phone lines of the bus company (in Spanish) until they finally found out where my wallet was. This could have taken me hours, but instead it took just a simple e-mail to the concierge.
Batch and Procrastinate
You'll be able to take a lot off your plate, but you'll never be able to totally empty it. Some jobs are easier (or only) possible with your physical presence, like picking a package up from the post office or getting your license renewed.
The best advice I can give you is to put these tasks off until you have a few of them to do. Then dedicate a block of time to getting them done. Interruptions are like poison to productivity, so if you're doing one or two of these things every afternoon, you'll never get much done. If, on the other hand, you spend a few hours taking care of everything on Monday, you don't lose much time.
A subtle mental shift you can make is realizing that dealing with the minutia of life isn't productivity. It's treading water. For a while I felt really productive whenever I did errands, so often times I'd wake up, get a few errands done, and then take the day off because I'd "gotten so much done".
These tasks don't "produce" anything, which means they're not productive. When you treat them like the second class citizens they are, you take on less responsibilities that they come packaged with, and you become more willing to push them back a day or two in order to get real work done.
Thanks for the question, anonymous. If there's something you'd like to see me write about, go to tynan.tel and call or e-mail me with your question.