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Work Smart

6 Surprising Tips To Cut Household Chores In Half

It you feel like you're always doing chores, you're probably just doing them wrong. With a dash of time management and (gasp!) fun, get on the fast track to more free time and a more productive life.

Does it feel like you spend your life emptying the dishwasher?

On one hand, American households devote less time to chores than they used to. According to a survey from the Pew Research Center, in two-parent households the total number of housework hours has fallen from 36 per week in 1965 to 28 in 2011. But 28 hours per week—4 hours per day—is still a lot. With a few simple tweaks to the routine, you can buy back several of those hours for whatever else you want to do, be it work, exercise, or quality time with the kids. Some ideas:

1. Don’t grocery shop right after work.

That’s when everyone does it, so the parking lot is more packed, the lines are longer, and it’s harder to get the deli clerk’s attention. One Reader’s Digest article on grocery shopping reported that only 4% of store trips occur between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m., even though many stores are open outside these hours. Wednesday is the least busy day. So go grocery shopping on Wednesday night (maybe after the kids go to bed if your spouse can be home) and you’ll be able to get in and out in a flash—or use the aisles for bowling practice.

2. Refuse to do chores on weekends.

While this seems nuts—when else are you supposed to do them?—cutting chores out of the weekend saves you time in several ways. First, it forces you to seize small bits of time through the week to get whatever has to happen done (rather than puttering or checking email again). Second, it forces you to lower your standards. Chores expand to fill the available space. If you have less time, chores will take less time. And finally, it encourages you to hire a pro for the real time sucks like mopping or window washing—which is probably something you should be doing anyway.

3. Create less laundry.

I’m not advocating bad hygiene. But playing offense on the laundry is often more smart than smelly. Towels can be re-used, jeans and pajamas can be re-worn, kids can wear sandals (without socks) in the summer. Exercise clothes may not smell proportionally worse after two workouts than after one, but re-wearing them during a solo jog will cut your laundry burden a lot.

4. Embrace kitchen simplicity.

Not only are simple foods generally healthier, the fewer pots you get dirty, the fewer you have to clean. Salmon cooked in the oven, plus broccoli cooked on the stove, and rice microwaved in a pouch produces a good dinner for the price of two dirty pans, total. Pasta cooked in one pot and veggies and shrimp sautéed in another likewise produces two dirty dishes. If people want additional sides, they can cut up fruits or veggies. Dessert equals pieces of chocolate. All you lose is time spent scrubbing.

5. Make emptying the dishwasher a game.

My best time for emptying a full load is 3 minutes and 30 seconds—a time I keep trying to beat, and which I hope my children will someday soon get excited about beating. What’s yours?

6. Take the barn-raising approach.

While it may not actually save time to go help a friend clean his attic one night, and then have him come help with yours, humans are social creatures. Do chores with a friend and the time will seem to go faster—because you won’t mind it as much.

[Image: Flickr user Marc Falardeau]