This month, readers share their best tips for streamlining hectic schedules.

By Real Simple
Updated March 12, 2012
Fridge with Food In It
Credit: Christopher Silas Neal

I separate my cutlery as I load it into the dishwasher. Forks, table knives, spoons, teaspoons, and miscellaneous items each get their own section in the basket. That way, when the cycle is done, I just grab utensils by section and put them back in the silverware drawer. It goes fast because I don’t have to do any sorting.

Denise Bate

Cornwall, Connecticut

Instead of scrambling to make dinner every night, I declared Sunday my cooking day. I spend it preparing freezer-friendly meals so that when I come home from work, I can just stick a premade dish into the oven. Now I have time to hang out with my daughters or my pets or relax with a cup of tea.

Angel Kendrick

Rochester, New York

For 10 years, I commuted to work during rush hour, suffering through a 90-minute traffic-choked drive. Then, early last year, my boss gave me permission to work from home for three hours each morning and leave for the office after rush hour, around 10 a.m. Now the trip takes half as long. As a result, I logged 150 (!) fewer hours on the road in 2011 than I did the previous year.

Darlene Bergantzel

Santa Clarita, California

I love to read, and I discovered how to do it during my busy days—by swapping my paperbacks for audiobooks. This has allowed me to be productive while I enjoy my hobby. Now I clean the house, do the laundry, and weed the flower beds as I listen to best sellers. In fact, I welcome chores. They’re a good excuse to play my latest download.

Melody Barrett-Rojas

Pasco, Washington

When the price of gas started to rise a few years back, I decided to run all my errands in one weekly trip. I make a list of where I need to go (the bank, the library, and the gas station, for example) and hit the road. I usually get everything done in a few hours, leaving myself more time to enjoy at home.

Lesley Haynes

Buffalo, New York

For years I’ve followed this rule: Don’t put it down; put it away. Even if I’m in a hurry to change my clothes, I automatically hang up the old outfit before I put on another. And when I’m cooking, all the ingredients go right back into the cabinet as soon as I’m done with them. This habit saves me tons of time, because I never have to look for things or clean up clutter.

Mimi Scribner

Minnetonka, Minnesota

By having my daughters choose what they’re going to wear the next day before they go to bed, I’ve restored about 15 minutes of peace, quiet, and sleep to our mornings. Plus, this tweak has helped us start the day in much better spirits. My seven-year-old used to dissolve into tears because she couldn’t find anything that she wanted to wear. Now she’s calm and cool, which means that I am, too.

Anna Taylor

Jacksonville, Florida

I stopped using up precious minutes drying my hair after a shower. Instead, I put my wet hair into an easy updo, like a twist or a braid. My hair stays out of my face, and I get to work sooner.

Elizabeth Terry

Fort Collins, Colorado

I’m not a morning person, but I must admit that working out right when I wake up has been great. By getting this onerous task over with, I don’t interrupt my flow of productivity later on. Plus, I have free time in the evenings, when there are so many more fun things to do than exercise.

Diana M. Smith

Heath, Ohio

Making my kids take off their shoes as soon as they enter the house. We no longer spend 10 minutes searching for a missing sneaker every time we want to go out.

Jen Troutman

Brookhaven, Pennsylvania

Laundry dominated my weekends until I decided to wash one load every weeknight. I start the washer before dinner, switch the clothes to the dryer before I do the dishes, and fold everything while I watch TV. The routine leaves Saturday and Sunday totally open.

Rhonda Hackworth

North Brunswick, New Jersey

Leaving my computer off until I’ve sent the kids to school has made my mornings so much more efficient. I used to check my e-mail as soon as I woke up, and before I knew it, I would waste a half hour online and need to rush the kids (and myself) out the door. With the computer off, I have time to eat breakfast and get other things done.

Julia Garstecki

Bemus Point, New York

Four years ago, my granddaughter asked me to quit smoking, and I’m proud to say that I obliged. Quitting gave me back so much time—not only minutes in the day but also, hopefully, years of life. It’s the best thing I ever did.

Patricia Van Dam

Claremont, California