By Kimberly Fusaro
There are some errands (say, a visit to the DMV) that everyone dreads-and rightfully so. As anyone who's spent a lunch hour at the post office knows, it's easy to lose an afternoon trying to cross the simplest things off your to-do list. And even enjoyable tasks, like a trip to the movie theater or hair salon, often take two or three times the amount of energy they should. But you don't have to waste countless hours sitting in a waiting room or standing in line. Follow our expert tips for streamlining your days-and you might even find you have time to spare.
Request the first appointment of the morning. Since phone calls and last-minute visits will throw off a doctor's day from the get-go, you should try to see her before she's fallen too far behind. Bear in mind that you may still spend some time in the waiting room, though, and plan ahead: Pack thank-you cards that you've fallen behind on, suggests lifestyle expert Christine Louise Hohlbaum, author of The Power of Slow. All caught up on your correspondence? Bring a folder with torn-out magazine articles that you've been meaning to read. Photo by Shutterstock.
Do your homework before you make the trip: Visit the DMV's website in advance. In some states, you can take care of simple tasks, such as renewing your license, online. Even if you have to go in person, you may be able to download forms ahead of time. While you're on the site, click the "locations" link; smaller facilities may have faster-moving lines than those that handle every municipal task. Skip any office during peak hours, like lunchtime. Before you go, download an audio book or job-related podcast to help pass the time, suggests Hohlbaum. Photo by Shutterstock.
Skip the theater on a movie's opening weekend, says Stephanie Vozza, author of Five Minute Mom's Club. You'll spend more time in line and may still wind up with a crummy seat-even if you arrive well in advance. If your local theater allows it, buy tickets a few hours (or days) ahead of time. Or check a site like Fandango; in many cities you can purchase and print tickets over the Internet and avoid the ticketing line altogether. Also consider bringing your own snacks, which will save you time and money. Photo by Stockbyte.
Start by choosing a non-busy time to shop. According to the Time Use Institute, the least busy days for most grocery stores are Monday and Tuesday. (Saturday is the busiest, followed by Friday and Sunday.) The busiest hour during the week is between 4 and 5 p.m., so plan your trip accordingly. Other timesaving tips from Vozza: Leave your kids at home, if possible. Bag your own groceries, so you can put items that go in the same cabinet together. If you run out of nonperishables, such as toothpaste, buy three or four times the amount you need and you won't have to restock for months. Photo by Shutterstock.
Most households have Internet access, but only 40 percent take advantage of online bill pay, which is easier than ever, says Hohlbaum. Take half an hour to set up your accounts-the site will walk you through, step by step-and you can pay all your bills in one monthly sitting. For monthly payments that don't fluctuate (mortgage and insurance payments and the like), set up an automatic withdrawal plan. If you must go into a brick-and-mortar bank, spend your time in line practicing deep breathing: Breathe in for five counts and out for six; repeat often to calm frazzled nerves. Photo by Comstock Images.
Don't be intimidated by the Automated Postal Machines, urges Vozza. These often stand unused while people wait in line, but they can handle most of the jobs you'd go to the counter for. Use them to send letters and packages (Parcel Post, Priority and Express) as well as certified mail. Many will also print standard and specialty stamps. If you're just shipping packages and you know their weight, you can print postage on your home printer and arrange for home pickup on the postal service's website, USPS.com. Photo by Fuse.
Decide what time works best for you-if you go first thing in the morning, you'll likely have a shorter wait time-then make a standing appointment at that hour every three months, suggests Hohlbaum. This is one visit you shouldn't try to rush through. If your stylist feels like you're in a hurry to leave, she won't spend the time she needs and you'll wind up with a subpar cut. You also shouldn't try to multitask in your hairdresser's chair; taking phone calls or trying to sneak in a meal will slow her down. Photo by Shutterstock.
If you want to be in and out-and don't want to battle crowds-Hohlbaum suggests hitting up outlet stores on a weekday afternoon. "Avoid long holiday weekends at all costs," she urges. Grab as much merchandise as you can without exceeding the dressing room limits; the fewer back-and-forth trips you make, the faster you'll be out of there. Bring along a girlfriend so she can fetch different sizes for you, then return the favor. Photo by Shutterstock.
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