What little purchases or changes have you made that had an outsized impact on your overall happiness?
This is something of a sport in our house.
Bryn and I kind of joke that we have this mission to optimize everything, whether that’s the:
- limited space in our house
- hours in the day
- money in the bank
We’ve taken great joy in these incremental improvements. We often ask ourselves, “How can we make this 1% better?”
If we can make those 1% improvements consistently over time, they start to compound and we’re way better off than when we started.
I put the call out to several friends and listeners:
What little life upgrade or optimization have you made recently — with great results?
Tune in to hear 21 little life upgrades — the habits, products, or tools that don’t cost a lot of time or money, but make a big impact.
LastPass is a secure password manager that saves, stores, and organizes all of your passwords. It also enables you to share logins and access with team members remotely without giving them the password.
It’s a free Chrome Extension, and you’ll never forget and have to reset a password again. This saves a ton of time and mental bandwidth!
2. Keyboard Shortcuts
If you’re using your keyboard for most of your work, learning some keyboard shortcuts can save you a substantial amount of time in the long term.
Just simple shortcuts to replace repetitive clicks, like these for Windows:
- Ctrl+Z: Undo
- Ctrl+W: Close
- Alt+F4: Close apps
- Ctrl+C: Copy
- Ctrl+A: Select all
Or if you’re a Mac user:
- Command-X: Cut
- Command-C: Copy
- Command-V: Paste
- Command-Z: Undo
TextExpander is a tool that makes text suggestions, inserts text snippets, and enables you to make your own keyboard shortcuts to input those text snippets.
If you find yourself typing the same things several times a day; such as your email address, business name, the same greetings, and so on, TextExpander can help speed this up.
You can save seconds with a simple keystroke, which quickly adds up to minutes, and possibly hours over the course of a year.
4. Wireless Earbuds
I know I’m late to the game on this technology, but if you haven’t gone Bluetooth yet, take it from me on the other side, there’s no going back.
These things will change your life — they bring me so much joy every time I use them!
I don’t really have anything to compare them to, but I will say they deliver what they promise; they pair quickly and hold their charge for a long time.
Early on I was anti-Kindle, I think because I didn’t want to buy a device, only to then buy books to go on that device.
But I’ve come around in a big way, and I’ve come to love my Kindle for lots of reasons:
- It reduces physical clutter in the house. It can store hundreds of books, where our physical bookcases can’t (or more accurately they’re filled up with kid’s books at the moment).
- There is an instant gratification on downloads vs. ordering a physical book or placing one on hold to pick up from the library.
- It’s easy to highlight and save the passages I like, even with Kindle library books.
6. Time Blocking
Whitney said she starts by taking an entire brain dump of all the things she needs to accomplish in the upcoming week. Things like picking the kids up from school, going to the gym, replying to emails, etc.
She then puts the estimated time required next to each item and then prioritizes the list. Whitney then opens her Google calendar and blocks off time slots in her calendar for each task on her list.
She said the important thing is only put in results-based activities. This way, you know exactly what needs to be done and what the end result will be.
Whitney also said not to worry if you get your time estimates wrong — it’s a learning process. You’ll still get a lot more accomplished by going through this process and being more organized than before.
7. The Pomodoro Technique
Ashley Barnett from HitPublish.com has increased her productivity using the Pomodoro Technique.
For those unfamiliar with the Pomodoro Technique, it’s essentially a way to get more done by working in short bursts followed a small break.
Doing so helps you maintain better focus, not get distracted as easily, and when done for a long time can actually train your brain to focus harder for these short bursts of time.
At the beginning of the day, Ashley sets a goal for how many Pomodoros she’s going to do that day. She then works in 30-minute time blocks, followed by a 5-minute break.
Mike Vardy of Productivityist.com has recently replaced checking out the morning news with a morning meditation.
In fact, he said he’s “embraced meditation big time” over the last month or so, and says it’s had a huge impact on his life.
Mike meditates for as little as 5 minutes a day, to as much as 40-60 minutes. He said it’s been a real game-changer and has helped him start his days with more clarity, he’s calmer, less frazzled, and more focused.
He meditates first thing in the morning, and the last thing before going to bed. Mike said this enables him to both start the day on the right foot, and clear the cobwebs at the end of the day.
Mike uses the Muse Headband, which tracks brain waves, heart rate, and some other metrics that are altered by meditating. He said this has helped “gamify” his meditating and encouraged him to take it more seriously.
This app allows you to set reminders and goals based on habits you’re trying to form or break. You can also link up with your friends and see what habits they’re setting via the app.
For example, Amber likes a drink, but she’s decided to break that habit. So, she sets a reminder to pop up on her phone around the time she’s tempted to pour a glass of wine, reminding her she doesn’t need that drink.
Likewise, she can check in on her friends and if she sees they haven’t been working out, she can send them some words of encouragement.
Amber said it’s a great app to help you and those around you stay on track and help keep each other accountable for forming good habits.
10 & 11. “I Done This” Tracking & Gratitude Journaling
Conrad Deas called in and explained how he uses the “I done this” method and daily gratitude method to keep a record of what he’s getting done and hold himself accountable.
He said he first heard about this in the post called The “I Done This” and Daily Gratitude Challenge I published around 5 years ago.
In this post, I explain how and why I started keeping track of what I was getting done each day. It was a little mindset/productivity work hack I picked up from Ari Meisel.
To do this, you need three tools (all of which are free):
- Google Docs
I explain how to do this step-by-step in the blog post I wrote, but basically, you’re setting up a Google form to arrive in your email box daily.
This form will ask you to fill out what you’ve done today and what you’re grateful for. It will then store all of your answers in your Google Drive, and you can visit them at any time.
Nick said he reflects on his progress and gratitude entries from time-to-time. Showing him that he’s making great progress, and maintaining that electronic record of everything he’s gotten done.
If your prefer physical journaling, I’ve baked both of these habits into my Progress Journal.
12. “Waiting On” Email Folder
James Bowen writes about productivity and learning hacks on his website, which you can find at LearnCodeRetain.com.
The optimizing hack he shared is to set up a folder in your email inbox called “Waiting on”. You can then set up an email rule that creates a copy of every email you send and puts a copy in this folder.
James said he does this because whenever he sends out an email, chances are he’s waiting for someone to do something.
This way he has all of his “waiting on” emails in one place. The added benefits are that he doesn’t have to remember to make a copy of each email or go searching for them. He knows exactly where they are.
13. Embrace Outsourcing
Whitney Bonds of TriedAndTrueMomJobs.com said it only took her 3 years to get it, but she finally got it.
She needed to outsource some of the repetitive and time-consuming tasks within her business so she could focus on the tasks that will grow her business.
Whitney has been outsourcing tasks like revamping older articles for SEO and managing her Pinterest account. This gives her more time to be there for her kids, too. Which was one of the reasons why she started her blog.
Here’s some more info on making your first virtual hires.
Jimmy is a web designer and consultant, and runs RedheadMG.com. An office upgrade he made that improved his productivity was investing in a second monitor.
He used to build websites on his single monitor laptop and found it challenging at times. Jimmy said using two monitors has been a complete game-changer for him in terms of productivity and multitasking.
15. Standing Desk
(Plus a Kangaroo Mat for comfort.)
It’s no secret sitting down for long periods is bad for your health, and Steve was well aware of this. He set himself a savings goal to buy a standing desk back in 2015, and was able to buy one in 2016.
Steve alternates between sitting and standing throughout the day and says not only is it better for his health, but it gives him more energy throughout the day.
He went as far as to say his standing desk is now his “favorite thing in the world, I can’t say enough about it”, Steve said.
16. House Plants
Another little optimizing hack from me is house plants. We’ve got a Snake Plant, a Fiddle Leaf Fig, and a couple of Monsteras.
Basically, I Googled “house plants that are hard to kill” as we haven’t had the greatest luck as gardeners. I thought it would make sense to start with something that was at least advertised as easy!
Plus, having plants around supposedly improves your mood and helps naturally purify your air. After all the smoke we had this summer, I’ll take all the help I can get!
17. Home Gym
Kelan and Brittany from TheSavvyCouple.com recently moved to a new house and upgraded by adding a home gym.
With the lockdown restrictions, they’ve made sure to prioritize fitness from home and said it’s had a huge impact on them.
They’ve found they have more energy, feel better not just physically, but emotionally too, and have been able to focus more on their business and family life.
18. Feetures Socks
Not just any socks, but premium socks called Feetures. They cost around $15-$20 a pair, but Nick says they’re worth every penny.
They’ve made his feet less sore after running, he’s more comfortable whenever he’s wearing them, and they feel so good they actually make Nick want to workout and run more just so he can wear them.
19. Wrinkle Releaser Spray
Jolene Blackbourn from Legal Learning Center has a cool tip to help remove wrinkles from clothes, without having to get the iron out.
She uses a Wrinkle Releaser Spray. All she has to do is spray her clothes, the formula relaxes the fabric, so she can tug the wrinkles out and leave it to dry for a short while.
Jolene said it will remove even the worst wrinkles within a few minutes.
20. Magnetic Knife Strip
A couple of other home-related upgrades I had on my list were a magnetic knife strip that mounts on the wall. This replaced the big, bulky wooden knife block that sat on the counter.
21. Magnetic Key Hooks
And finally, a pair of magnetic key hooks on our fridge have given us a consistent place to put our keys. It’s a little thing, but keeping them off the counter and not losing them has been priceless!
I asked Side Hustle Nation for their input over email, and here were some of my favorite responses.
22. Sharpen Your Knives
“I mean, wow, what took us so long?” —Austin L. Church
Related: You can actually start a knife sharpening business to help others make this upgrade!
23. Clear Out Your Closet
Austin recommended setting up a twice yearly wardrobe clear-out, so you only have clothes you love. I like this idea from the standpoint of reducing decision fatigue and decluttering your physical space.
24. Stretchy Jeans
I can’t believe I forgot this one in my original list! Apparently stretchy jeans have been “a thing” for women forever, but I’m a new convert.
They’re much more comfortable than the plain old regular denim variety. I got a pair of these from Amazon.
25. Squatty Potty
This inexpensive bathroom addition leads to healthier #2s.
26. Natural Latex Mattress Topper
27. A Nice Mechanical Pencil
Side Hustle Show listener Tyson suggested a nice mechanical pencil like Graphgear 1000 from Pentel for taking notes in books.
“I initially bought one for my daughter so she wouldn’t have to always sharpen pencils,” he explained. “I decided to get one for myself after feeling how well made it was.”
Tyson added that buying books was his other little life upgrade. “They are by far the most knowledge dense of all media. For $20 you get someone’s life work. That is quite a bargain.”
29. The Calm App
These days, some sort of “external brain” system is essential to capture and offload all the ideas and tasks that pop up. For Gordon, Evernote is that system.
He explained why this was worth the investment:
- NO KEYS – I never need keys when I leave the house. If I’m driving, I need the car key of course. But I don’t have a bulky key ring in my pocket any more. I just use the combination to get in. This is also great when I leave to go on a run. I never have to carry a house key with me!
- KIDS CAN ALWAYS GET IN – Even better, my kids don’t need keys. They can always get in the house, even if no one is home. Or even if people are home!
- YOU CAN LET NEIGHBORS IN – Forget to feed the cat? Or going out of town and you want a neighbor to help with mail, newspaper, pets? You can just text your neighbor and give them the code to let themselves in.
- HOUSE CLEANERS / CONTRACTORS – Hate giving copies of your keys out to house cleaners or contractors? Just make them a custom code and delete them when the job is over or if you switch to a new person.
- SMART HOME CAPABLE – About to go to bed, but not sure if you locked the door? Just pull up the app on your smartphone and check it, then lock/unlock from your phone.
When “Optimization Culture” Goes Too Far
I’m all for stacking this little wins and improvements to add more joy, impact, and effectiveness to our days. But there probably comes a point of diminishing returns — where the pursuit of the next incremental gain keeps you from enjoying what you already have.
This quick video from the New York Times pokes some good-natured fun at “optimization culture” and raises the important question: what’s it all for? What will you do with the time you gain?
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If you have a little life upgrade to share, please leave it in the comments below.
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