Fundamentals of Less Doing: Stop Running Errands

By October 4, 2010 Fundamentals 3 Comments

Fundamentals of Less Doing is a series of articles detailing how we think about productivity from a conceptual level. If you are new to Less Doing, the Fundamentals series is a great place to start.

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Running errands can easily be considered the biggest time drain that people encounter on a regular basis. In this present day of constant multi-tasking and efficiency, running errands can really gum up the works. If you’re lucky you can make a phone call or two while grocery shopping but you’re attention the call will be compromised and I guarantee you will forget that one critical item that was on your shopping list. Typically, errands are tasks which require very little thought or decision making and can be done by anyone at anytime. There are two ways that we look at making errands more efficient, having someone else do them entirely, or making the process of you doing those errands easy and more efficient by integrating some sort of assistance.

Having Someone Else Do It

Outsource everything! That’s what we always say…well not quite, but pretty much everything. Several services exist to help you in outsourcing physical tasks such as TaskRabbit and Agent Anything. Essentially you post whatever your task is and then a runner will propose a price, once you accept it the wheels are in motion. Tasks range from dog walking and housecleaning, to grocery shopping, taking your car to get inspected, picking up prescriptions, and even bigger tasks like shopping at Costco for that must have 3 gallon jar of mayonnaise. Sometimes you can get tasks done for as little as $5 dollars but the time and aggravation saved is practically priceless. This kind of service will finally allow you to be in two places at once. As a matter of fact, as I write this now, someone is at IKEA in Brooklyn buying lights for my house. I would expect them to arrive in the next half hour and I estimate I will have saved about 3 hours of my own time. 

For those repetitive errands that nobody likes to run, such as buying toothpaste, toilet paper, or even non perishables like canned dog food, we like to use Amazon.com’s Subscribe & Save service. You select an item, and they have several that qualify, from household items, office supplies, beauty products, etc…then you choose the frequency, such as once every 3 weeks (my schedule for dog food with two hungry pups). You get a 15% discount and you have the option of canceling an individual shipment before it ships so there’s no commitment. If you run out early (you’re friends thought it would be fun to wrap you in toilet paper while you were asleep?) you tell it to send the next shipment now and will give you the option of updating the schedule, totally convenient. Shoprunner offers a similar service to Amazon.com’s Prime service. For $79.99 per year you get free 2 day shipping and free returns at major retailers like GNC, Toy’s R Us, and a ton of others, one less reason to leave the house.

Having Someone Help You Do It

I have a soft spot for a service called City Valet here in New York. It’s a service that provides drivers for your own car. Rather than paying $60 per hour for a driver and a car, this company gets $24/hour which is less than the price of a taxi and you get a professional, insured driver for as long as you need. With this service and some batching you can get all of your errands done and still make calls and work on your laptop during the ride, maximizing efficiency. Last night I had a very crazy evening/afternoon. I just finished construction on an art gallery in midtown and we were on a real time crunch this last week with painters and carpenters working around the clock to get things finished. At 4pm yesterday afternoon, my driver Ronald showed up and along with my parents and a friend, we began our trip to the gallery for the grand opening. First we had to stop at Jack Rabbits on 14th street so I could pick up my race packet for a 100 mile bike race I’m doing this Sunday. Next stop was 34th street to drop off my wife’s iPhone to have a cracked screen repaired. We continued on to 57th street where we dropped off my parents and friend at the gallery. Then Ronald took me to an event I needed to go to a few blocks away. After dropping me off, he came back to the gallery and picked up my mother to bring her back home so she could prepare the after party. Finally, he returned to the gallery at the end of the evening to bring my father and I back home.

The best part, I never had to worry about parking. Quite a night, and it would have been impossible if I hadn’t outsourced the driver. 

We’re Still Learning

Not all errands are created equal. There are people who consider a “task” having someone go to Starbucks and pick them up a latte. Not that I recommend Starbucks’ lattes, but for a task like that, getting out of your office and walking to get it might give your mind a creative break that it needs and the fresh air will do you some good. With many tasks, if you start writing out the request you may realize that it’s easier for you to do it yourself and that’s fine. We want you to do it the easiest way, even if that means doing it on your own.

If You Only Walk Away With One Thing

1) Use Amazon Subscribe & Save for personal items you use and replace on a regular basis.

2) Use a service like Agent Anything to get on demand “runners” for specialty errands.

3) Use a chauffeur service to drive your car for you and take you to all of your appointments.

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  1. [...] like to be able to provide these principles to other things like email, errands (though you should never run errands), even nutrition. Don’t over complicate your life by creating so many boxes and organization [...]

  2. [...] of the Fundamentals of Less Doing is to stop running errands. I thought it might help to go into more detail about how I use three, that’s right only [...]

  3. [...] up your time, so you can do the things you want to do. People can save thousands of hours by not running errands, and they can manage their time better by choosing their own workweek but a lot of people just [...]

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