7 ways to make sure you’re not wasting time unnecessarily

A guide to saving seconds and minutes that add up

Will Houghteling
7 min readMay 21, 2014


This past year I’ve onboarded a dozen people to partnerships/ sales/ marketing teams, first at Google and now at Minerva. When the company 101, team vision/ strategy/ tactics, and role definition conversations are done, I crank the intensity and passion to 11 for the final session: productivity tools.

We spend so much time communicating, calendaring, and collaborating that efficient processes not only save time, but they create a culture of mastery and attention to detail. Here are the seven tips I share with every new hire to ensure they’re not wasting time (and $$) unnecessarily.

  1. Don’t waste time scheduling meetings

The most effective way to not waste time with meetings is to not have unnecessary meetings (“nothing is more efficient than saying no”), but when you can’t avoid them, at least make the planning process as quick as possible. Avoid eight thread “I’m free during this random window Tuesday, but not in your random window Wednesday, what about a tiny window Friday?” dance by using Boomerang Calendar.

Boomerang Calendar is a chrome extension / gmail add-on that allows you to add a screenshot of a public-safe version of your calendar without leaving your inbox (you can either select the next five days view or next week).

Hi Joe — I’ve pasted a screenshot of my calendar below. Is there a time in that window that works for you?

Boomerang calendar image automatically pasted into a compose window.

You can also offer specific times by clicking the Boomerang button in the compose window — an image of your calendar pops up in your inbox, select your ideal time slots and it auto populates your composed message suggesting those times, also inserting a graphical display that allows the recipient to click-to-select a time. The text boomerang inserts is as follows (along with another graphical view of your calendar):

Do any of these times work for you?

  • Thursday, May 15, 1:30 PM — 2:30 PM
  • Friday, May 16, 11:00 AM — 12:00 PM
  • Friday, May 16, 1:00 PM — 2:00 PM

Boomerang Calendar is a free tool.

2. Don’t waste time remembering passwords, particularly shared ones

Within a company there are inevitably accounts (social media, analytics dashboards, etc) shared across employees where you can’t apply a variation of your personal password. In the past I’ve used privately-shared google docs with common passwords listed, which is both insecure and requires opening new docs every time you want to log into a service.

To share passwords easily and securely I use mitro.co, a password management tool built for teams. It’s a chrome extension that prompts you to save a password every time you log into a new site and then allows you to share that password with teammates without them seeing the alphanumeric code so when they leave your company you can delete their access fully).

I also use Mitro as my personal password management solution and it works perfectly, saving me moments every time I log into a site. There are password management tools with more bells and whistles (auto-generating random alphanumeric strings and re-setting passwords at regular intervals) but this works well, has two-factor authentication, and trust its security measures.

Mitro.co is free for both individuals and teams (at the moment).

3. Don’t waste time remembering who to follow up with and when

Boomerang for Gmail is a must-use tool for any sales/BD person who needs to nudge deals along, follow-up on leads, or generally be reminded of ongoing communications (particularly helpful for inbox zero folks). Boomerang allows you to schedule emails to return to your inbox at a pre set-time. You can boomerang emails only when the recipient hasn’t responded and you need to nudge them, or regardless of past communication because you know you’ll need to follow up.

Boomerang add-on in the compose view

You can also use Boomerang to send emails at a later date, so if you’re working over a weekend you can set emails to hit your contact’s inbox on Tuesday AM rather than have them join the weekend pile.

I’ve heard that RelateIQ.com solves many of these problems, but haven’t used it extensively enough to endorse it yet.

Boomerang is free for a basic account and then costs $5-$15/month based on volume of emails sent and whether you’re using an individual or Google Apps account.

4. Don’t waste time using your mouse

Keyboard shortcut keys should be used across nearly every program, but this comment applies specifically to Gmail, both because of how much time we spend in our inboxes and surprisingly how few people use them. Keyboard shortcuts in gmail allow you to navigate your gmail inbox without using your mouse, so you can compose, select, archive, send and more all with a combination of basic keystrokes. This is the quintessential “seconds add up” efficiency tool — it may seem like a burden to memorize what combination of c, x, y, g+i, [, ], to use, but there’s not a person who uses them who doesn’t love them (in fact, one of my major accomplishments at Google was working with a teammate to lobby the gmail PM to add a few new shortcuts — still waiting on the “add an attachment” shortcut though).

(Email management is worthy of its own entire post, as are many of these topics, but I’ll hold for now and instead guide you to my friend Derek’s great post about mastering your inbox.)

Keyboard shortcuts are a free setting within gmail.

5. Don’t waste time emailing endlessly to coordinate projects

Regardless of position or department, nearly everyone has some project management challenges in their work: everyone breaks a large problem into component parts and tasks, assigns people to own these task and then coordinates completion to hit a set deadline. At Minerva we use Asana as project management software to efficiently manage this process. Asana pushes teams to clearly define owners, next steps and deadlines and then lets everyone follow the project as it moves to completion without need for constant email and meeting updates.

Asana is free for teams with fewer than 15 people and is useful for individuals organizing projects as well.

6. Don’t waste time repeating yourself

Sales and BD people inevitably type the same messages — updates, intros, product features, etc — many times a month. I used to use Google’s canned responses tool built into gmail but found the interface clunky and slow. I recently switched to aText and love it: aText allows you to define short phrases that will auto-expand into full emails. For example, when I type “abullets” it automatically pastes my pre-set bullet points into any text window (email, doc, form, etc). Creating new matched phrases is quick and easy, just use a common naming scheme so it’s easy to remember them (I use a+TERM).

More broadly speaking, any topic you expect to share with an audience multiple times you should document clearly the first time so you can easily send to a new group (in fact, I wrote this blog post at the encouragement of a new hire who asked if I had this documented anywhere).

aTEXT is free for the first 15 days and then costs $5/year.

7. Don’t waste time completing annoying internet/phone errands

I’ve been on the hunt for an outsourced personal assistant to complete low-level internet and phone errands for awhile, testing TimeSVR, TaskRabbit and even hiring an aspiring actress / nanny with free time, and FancyHands is hands down the best solution I’ve found.

FancyHands is a community of US-based outsourced virtual assistants who can complete remote tasks such as calling Comcast to settle a bill dispute, researching good restaurants in a new city and making a reservation for a large group, or calling your dentist to understand a recent bill (all tasks FancyHands has completed with ease recently). You can submit tasks using the mobile app, email or by leaving a voicemail, and because there are many of them working simultaneously your tasks usually are completed within 24 hours. If you have private information you’re not comfortable sharing with a stranger, your FancyHands assistant will dial you into the call at a time you’re free (link your Google calendar).

A nice added bonus is that they track how many phone calls and emails they make on your behalf, and how much time they saved you, so you can easily calculate if the service is worth the $$

FancyHands report on time saved this month

FancyHands costs $25/month for 5 tasks, $45/month for 15 tasks, and $65/month for 25 tasks (and ~20% discounts if you buy yearly rather than monthly).

This is by no means an exhaustive list so please add your tips and tricks as comments on this post. I’ll test new ideas and update this list over time. Hope I’ve saved you some time..



Will Houghteling

Bridging school and work @ Strive, x-Minerva, Google/YouTube, Harvard