Group Your Errands
This is a golden rule: Never run just one errand at a time. You’ll save time, gas, energy, and stress hormones by grouping your errands into batches. If you have to drop a kid at piano practice, you can also swing by the bank and deposit the check, pop into the market for a gallon of milk, and pick up the dry cleaning.
Run Errands In Off Hours
In other words, don’t go on weekends. Instead, make sure your dry cleaner, bank, doctor, and supermarket, are near work so you can take care of these mundane tasks on your way into or out of work, or on your lunch hour. You’ll avoid the jammed stores on the weekends, and have those two days just for you and your family. One of the best times to grocery shop? After dinner, when the kids are in bed. One parent stays home and one goes to the store. You’ll be in and out in half the time it normally takes with kids in tow.
Keep an Errand List with You At All Times
This includes both the ordinary errands that must be done (dry cleaning, library, post office), but also those little things you keep forgetting (pick up socks for the six-year-old, make vet appointment for the dog, buy underwear for husband, find organic potting soil). Use a sturdy notebook that you carry with you at all times, and make sure the rest of your family knows where it is so they can add things to the list.
Create An Errand Center At Home
This is where the library books that need to be returned, the dry cleaning that needs to be delivered, the packages that need to be mailed, all live. Everything in one place (ideally near the door you use most often) will make it easier to run “bulk” errands. Another option: Keep these things in your car, in the passenger seat. They’ll be a visual reminder of all you need to do.
Buy In Bulk
The less often you have to go shopping for mundane items like toilet paper, paper towels, dog food, cat litter, toothpaste, deodorant, and tampons, the less time you’ll spend running errands. Storage space tight? Most of these items will hide under the bed quite nicely.
Always Include a Little Fun
List all the things you find joyful. Maybe it’s reading a novel, writing in your journal, or hitting a few golf balls on a beautiful spring afternoon. Now, plan to include one of these items in any extended errand run. Stash a novel in your purse as you head to the post office; you can read in line. Keep the clubs and plastic golf balls in your car—any vacant field you pass makes a perfect driving range. Carry your journal in your glove compartment—jot a few lines as you’re waiting for the car to be washed.
Turn Waiting Time Into You Time
Anytime you’re stuck in a line, shift the negative, glass-half-empty thinking (“Darn, I don’t have time for this”) into positive, glass-half-full thinking (“Ahhh! A few minutes of peace.”). Close your eyes (yes, while you’re standing there in line) and picture yourself in the most peaceful place you can imagine. It could be a desert at sunrise, the vast ocean, or the middle of a massage in a luxurious spa. Let your mind go and take several long, deep breaths. Now how do you feel?
Use the Web
Use the Internet for as many errands as possible. These days, you can bank online, order office supplies, buy garden perennials, shop for shoes, even grocery shop online. You can buy stamps at www.stamps.com, renew your library books online at your public library’s Web site, arrange for a FedEx or UPS pickup from your house, even file your taxes electronically. The Internet, used smartly, can save you hours of time and immeasurable amounts of stress. Still worried about giving a credit card number over the Internet? If the Web site uses a secured server, then it is safer than giving your credit card over the phone and in some cases, using it at a store!
Run Your Errands Mindfully
That is, rein in your racing mind and focus solely on the task at hand. Start by walking slowly and deliberately to and from your car to the stores. As you grocery shop, focus on the colors of the produce, the rich scents from the bakery, the abundant luxury that is an American grocery store. Pay attention to each step, each movement. By living mindfully in the moment—even while picking out Brussels sprouts—you are performing what relaxation experts call walking meditation. Do errands this way and you’ll find yourself far more calm and engaged, and at the end, less exhausted and frustrated.