Life Hacks: 12 Easy Ways to Master Your To-Do List, Find Time and Simplify Your Life

From simplifying your inbox to making your nightly routine as efficient as possible, here are a dozen life hacks that will add time back to your day.

I am sitting on a flight home right now, writing this article, and I can’t help but wonder what my fellow passengers are doing. Some are sleeping, others are watching TV and a few are typing away on their computers like me. I just noticed the guy working on his laptop across the aisle from me has about 32,000 emails in his inbox. At least he’s working on the flight, I’ll give him credit for that, but I could really help him get control of his overflowing inbox. 

In this article, I’ll talk about ways to keep yourself organized, so you can find more hours in the day and leave more time in your life for what truly matters most to you. I’ll show you how I use Outlook to master my to-do list, how I have created daily routines that open up more “found time” in my busy days, and finally ways I keep things simple in a complicated world.    

I consider travel time to be found time and airplanes are the last bastion of peace on our planet. On flights, my phone doesn’t work, so I’m not constantly getting pinged. I like to put on my headphones and do my “thinking work.” It’s a few uninterrupted hours where I can really focus. During the week, I’m hopelessly trying to multi-task, return phone calls, and running between meetings. Planes are my only time for writing articles and crafting thoughtful responses to complex emails. 

Travel time allows me to complete tasks so I can enjoy other times in my week. I’m busy just like everyone else. I own two businesses, travel at least twice a month, my wife is a full-time professional, and we have two young girls (Caroline and Anne Penney, six and four years old). If I get my work done while I’m flying then when I get home I can be present for my kids. If you ever happen to see me on a flight, you’ll know exactly what I’m doing because I’m about to tell you. 

Let’s talk about my to-do list first.


Become one with your email

I use Outlook as my to-do list and I have spent years perfecting my systems. Some people use handwritten lists, or day-planners, or other email programs, but Outlook works well for me. I am self-diagnosed as having a condition known as E.A.D. (email anxiety disorder). This disease is marked by the relentless pursuit of “inbox zero”; the highly sought after condition where one’s email inbox is completely clear. 

Let’s turn our attention to some real world apps that I use to amplify Outlook’s natural abilities:

1. is a Web-based service (works with any email program) and it filters your email before it arrives in your inbox. It uses artificial intelligence to move your receipts and newsletters into a separate folder called “SaneLater” which gathers all your unimportant emails so you can focus on the most important emails. Once a week, you can open up your SaneLater folder and review the emails, which almost never need follow-up. Sanebox prevents me from being pinged constantly by unimportant emails and thusly returns sanity to my inbox. 

2. is a great email plug-in because with one click in Outlook, I can defer an email until a later date. ClearContext removes deferred email from my inbox and then returns them on the chosen date.  There are several reasons this is helpful:

  • Remembering important stuff. If I need to remember to get something done this weekend, I defer the email to Saturday. I know I could use reminders and to do’s but nothing gets my attention more than a fresh email at the top of my inbox.
  • Holding people accountable. If you email me and promise you’ll get something done by Aug. 22, I simply take your email and defer it until Aug. 22 and it automatically reminds me to check in on the project.  People I work with always wonder how I seem to remember everything. Hopefully none of those people ever read this article and learn my secret!

3.  MailMyself is an app that I keep on the home screen of my phone. When I touch it, it opens up a blank text field, and whatever I type becomes the subject line of an email to me. Whenever I have a thought or an item to get done that I don’t want to forget, it makes it very easy for me to quickly create a “to-do.”

4.  YouMail is another app that I love because it listens to all of my voicemails, transcribes the audio (humans do the transcribing, which is why I prefer YouMail to using the iPhone’s built in voicemail transcriber; it’s more accurate), and the text is emailed to me. I no longer have to waste time listening to voicemails and I never forget to call people back because there is an email reminder in my inbox.     

As long as I run through my inbox at the beginning and end of each day, I know all of the really important to-do’s in my life will get done. I have one place that I store all of my tasks, calls, and notes, which means nothing falls thru the cracks.

Play hide and seek with time and win

Now, let’s discuss practical tips I’ve implemented to simplify my life and find more time every day. These ideas might not work for you, but I am hoping you can try to adapt some of them to your own life.

1.  Create routines. When I get home each day, I have a routine. There is a specific place for my keys and wallet (hook and bowl by the door). Then, I always open up the mail and packages, take the papers out of my bag (notes I’ve reviewed, bills I’ve paid) and I file them away. 

2.  Go Paperless. I mercilessly throw away any paper I don’t need.  The goal is to keep as little paper as possible. Often, I will scan it (buy a Fujitsu Scansnap and it will change your scanning life. I know it’s $400 for something that your multifunction printer probably does, but it does it so much better it’s worth the investment). 

3.  Get Organized at Night. Each evening, I spend a few minutes making sure my bag has everything in it I need for the next day so I can “shut it down” for the night, enjoy my family, and wake up the next morning ready to work without spending time in the morning getting organized. For more on creating your own routine and getting organized, I highly recommend reading: “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. 

4.  Get up an Hour Earlier. I wake up at 5 a.m. as often as I can during the week and get my day started early. I use that precious extra hour in the morning for thinking work because research shows the peak time for our brains is shortly after we wake up.

5.  Shopping Ninjas. The only stores my wife and I enjoy going to in person are home improvement stores (Home Depot just smells so good), clothing stores (it’s too hard to buy clothes that fit well online), and toy stores (it’s worth it to see the looks on our kid’s faces when they get a new toy in person).  For everything else, we use Amazon to automate our purchasing. Amazon makes it possible to set up all the recurring items we need (i.e., paper towels and coffee) for automatic monthly delivery.

6.  Grocery Shopping. Growing up, we went to the grocery store once (sometimes twice) a day. I’ve now gotten it down to once every two weeks! I know this shopping behavior is unusual because we always get comments at the register about the large size of our orders.  (Note: I tried stretching it to one grocery visit a month, but we ran out of fresh fruits, vegetables and milk by mid-month and got tired of eating dry cereal and frozen vegetables!)

7.  Simplify Your Wardrobe. In the mornings, I used to spend a lot of time picking out my clothes for the day. Then I discovered pants by Bonobos called “Weekday Warriors.” With the days of the week stitched into the waistband, I no longer have to spend time deciding which pants to put on in the mornings! 

Plan Your Life or Life Will Be Planned For You

My wife and I decided a long time ago it’s important to enjoy our downtime, so we’ve worked hard to craft our lives accordingly. The decisions we’ve made in planning our life together are really enough to fill another entire article (foreshadowing?), but I want to share one of the most impactful ideas in our life plan with you while we’re on the subject of creating more hours every day. 

Live Smaller. We’re not sold on the tiny house movement, but my wife and I have chosen to live in a moderately sized house (2,500 square feet) so we can afford luxuries such as a housekeeper and a lawn service once a week. We used to spend at least two to four hours a week cutting the grass and cleaning the house (neither are favorite chores of ours) and now we spend those hours exercising (can’t hire somebody to do workout for you), getting to know our kids better, and drinking good wine.

Hopefully, you’ve picked up an idea that will allow you to enjoy more time with your family or to spend more time perfecting your preferred hobby. Send me an email with your best life hacks and maybe I can share them in a future article or speaking engagement. I’m always looking for ways to improve my skills and find more time in my days. After all, the more efficient that I can be with work by leveraging technology and better organizational habits, the more time I can spend enjoying the fruits of my labor and isn’t that what this article is really all about!

Jonathan Slain works with business owners and their executive teams to get control of their lives. For a FREE meeting to discuss your business, he can be reached at or 216-870-4219.

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  • Next up: Lost that Loving Feeling? Bring the Joy Back to Your Business

    Lost that Loving Feeling? Bring the Joy Back to Your Business

    This might be the most important business advice you ever get: Learn to rekindle the love affair with your business.

    As kids, one word described most of our childhood daydreams: adventure. We’d spend hours hunting treasure and fighting baddies like Indiana Jones or solving neighborhood mysteries like Nancy Drew. We’d let our imaginations run wild and free as we satisfied that inexplicable craving for excitement.

    As we grew older, our fantasies began to align with reality as we sought our thrills elsewhere: swimming with sharks or diving from planes, traveling the world or riding Harleys … maybe even signing up for Tinder. We didn’t necessarily need to do something dangerous or risky; we just needed to do something that quickened our pulses—something that made us feel alive.

    Starting your own business was probably one of your most captivating adventures. Think back about your company’s birth, how you stoked that fire within until the blaze burned so brightly that it couldn’t be extinguished. Remember waking in the middle of the night, heart a-flutter about what the next day would hold, creeping from your bed, and frantically scribbling down notes underneath the bathroom night light.

    As you built your business, the endeavor rarely left your mind—you were connected to it; you were passionate about it; you nurtured it and wondered if you could ever be happier than you are right now.

    But, life got even better when your business started to succeed. Sales rolled in, confirming that what you were doing was right and true. Months turned into years; you hired more people and your company was doing better than you even envisioned. 

    Success does not always equal happiness

    As time progressed, however, something bizarre occurred. The dreaded “Paradox of Progress” arrived: Although you were experiencing more “success,” you found yourself entangled with more responsibility and more work. For the first time, unease, instead of adrenaline, started to pulse through your veins.

    You began making decisions that didn’t quite align with what you really wanted to do or thought was best for your business. You justified the choices because you wanted your employees to be happy. After all, you now had people depending on you to feed their families—and you’re fiercely loyal when it comes to helping others. You became more involved with the day-to-day workload and operations, convincing yourself this was part of the baggage that comes with owning a successful business and that your spouse and children appreciated your sacrifice—even though you were no longer seeing them as often as you wanted.

    A few more weeks passed and embarrassment started haunting your private thoughts: “I’m working more than ever before. Did I make a mistake?” You’re ashamed that you’re even entertaining such ideas. “Pff. I own my own company. I make lots of money. Of course I’m happy,” you repeated, over and over, hoping the words would provide some type of salve. But, you can’t ignore the fear that your business has become more of a burden than blessing. 

    Now here you are: Your 3 a.m. wake-ups are no longer instigated by joy but dread. You know that you need to make a change, but you don’t even know where to begin because you don’t want to upset anybody and you’re worried about what might happen to the company. So, you forge ahead on a journey toward your new destination: mediocrity. 

    This narrative might seem melodramatic to some, but many successful business owners feel this way during some point of the organization’s life cycle. Sometimes, we don’t even recognize it happening until we’re right in the middle of our descent. 

    You are the solution

    Thankfully, this challenge doesn’t need to cripple our movements, and the solution is found in one word: you.

    If you want to reclaim (or increase) joy in your business endeavor, you need to realize that your business is all about you. No, it’s not selfish, hubristic or narcissistic to acknowledge that truth. You deserve to get what you want out of your business. Perhaps this following analogy will help illustrate what I mean.

    I used to be a high school English teacher. When I was going through my student teaching experience at Lincoln West High School, let’s just say the environment provided a cornucopia of growth opportunities for a young teacher. 

    I was really struggling with certain aspects of teaching and found myself trying to cater to the individual needs of 100-plus people across all different ages. After all, I wanted to serve and I thought true service meant sacrificing what I truly wanted to accomplish. That ideology carried a hefty price tag—most notably throwing up every morning before school because of stress and a misguided notion that I just wasn’t doing enough.

    At just the right time, I had a conversation with my university supervisor that proved to be my deliverance. Realizing I was in the middle of a tailspin, she asked me this question: “Chris, who’s the most important person in that room?” I remember the boyish arrogance dripping from my voice as I retorted, “Come on, how can you even ask me that?  Everybody’s equally important.” 

    She smiled, patted me on the shoulder, and said, “You’re wrong. You are number one. I don’t care what you hear in any educational philosophy classroom—you are the most important person in that room.”

    I scrunched my face in disgust as she continued: “Think about it. Yes, while all the lives are valuable, your role is, by far, the most important. You’re like an airline pilot or a ship captain. This classroom is your vehicle. You know where you want to go. You know how to get there. You know what needs to be done. Get there. Students will follow you. People will align with you and will feed off your vision. Just make it clear and go. You cannot compromise with what you want to do. Otherwise, you’ll be miserable, and your students will suffer, too.”  

    I remember shedding instant tears of gratitude for her priceless insight and advice. To this day, those words constitute some of the best leadership advice I’ve ever received, and they’re absolutely applicable to your role as a business owner. Your ship is your ship. You just have to be brave enough to guide it where you want to go.

    The sooner you can identify and clarify what it is you truly want from your business on a personal and professional level, the faster you’ll be able to escape the swamp of stagnation and move forward with your adventure. And today is as good a day as any to embark on that journey.

    Christopher Leo is the President and CEO of Flash Three Consultants. A former English teacher, newspaper editor and football coach, Chris is committed to helping business owners get what they truly want from their personal and professional lives. Visit or email him ( for additional information. 

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  • Next up: Month in Review: April 2018

    Month in Review: April 2018

    From watching out for the latest email scam to a recap of the #NerdOscars winners, here are our five favorite articles from April.

    Spring has finally sprung in the CLE as we wind down April on MYB. Take a look at some of our favorite articles from this month.

    Creating digital relationships
    Before Facebook, people actually met face-to-face with their customers. We’re bringing you back to the tried and true method to grow your small business—relationship building. Check out these six easy ways to create relationships with your digital fans

    “Microsoft” email scam
    Are you aware of the latest email scam and do you know what to do if you are targeted? Emails appearing to come from Microsoft could potentially harm your computer and your data. Don’t be a victim. Know what to look out for and how to handle the situation.

    10 networking mistakes
    The self-proclaimed godfather of networking in COSE land is here to rescue you from torturous, unproductive networking experiences. Make your next networking event as effective as possible by avoiding these 10 mistakes.

    2018 Best of Tech Awards
    Did you miss OHTech's 2018 Best of Tech Awards this month? We're bringing you a list of the winners from the big #NerdOscars night and the reaction to the event on Twitter. 

    Ins and Outs of Business Insurance
    In this month’s WebEd Series, we heard from two experts in the business insurance industry. Check out highlights of this webinar tailored to small business owners, and scroll to the bottom of the article to view the full presentation. And, make sure you register for our next WebEd Series - Ask a video producer: Pro-Tips for great productions.

    What was your favorite Mind Your Business article from April? Let us know on Twitter!

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  • Next up: Month in Review: August 2018

    Month in Review: August 2018

    From a new initiative sure to transform our regional economy, to advice on getting on the next season of Shark Tank (well, sort of), we are highlighting some of the standout articles from August on Mind Your Business.

    Our contributors are experts in their fields and we love showcasing their sharpness. Here are some of the most memorable moments from August.

    Ins and outs of drug testing

    Here’s a detailed look at the three common employee drug-testing policies, what you need to know about them and how they might impact your workplace. Read on and get it all straight before finding yourself in a tricky situation.

    Marketing R&R

    Forget “rest and relaxation”—we’re talking repeat and referral business in this marketing article geared toward helping your small business grow after making that initial sale. Get working on your game plan to earning repeat and referral business.

    Blockchain in Blockland

    You may have never heard about it before this month, but we talked a lot in August about blockchain technology. The governor recently signed cybersecurity legislation that included language regarding blockchain technology. Additionally, Cleveland leaders are organizing around a new initiative to transform and enhance our regional economy through blockchain technology. This effort, known as Blockland, is focused on how to re-position Cleveland on the cutting edge of technological advancement.

    Using intellectual property to grow your business

    You've seen others do it on Shark Tank, but now learn the specifics on using intellectual property to grow and protect your own small business. Check out the types of IP and 3 specific action steps you can take in this recap of a recent COSE webinar

    What was your favorite Mind Your Business article from August? Let us know on Twitter!

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  • Next up: Month in Review: February 2018

    Month in Review: February 2018

    A shorter month doesn’t mean less good stuff from Mind Your Business. Our staff is back at it, showcasing some of our stand-out articles in February.

    What happened in Mind Your Business this month? Here are a few of our favorite things from February!

    Don’t just set it and forget it

    You spend a lot of time planning and creating your marketing efforts. Don’t have one-and-done content; instead, repurpose it. Rejuvenate your blogs, videos, testimonials, social posts, webinars and more! Check out these six ways to give new life to great content.

    What you need to know about firearms in the workplace

    It’s not a topic we like to think about, but with workplace violence and shootings on the rise, it’s crucial for business owners to outline firearm policies for their employees. In order to do so, employers must know the laws regarding employee possession of firearms. Take a look as we unpack these laws and detail potential scenarios that could trigger this type of violence.

    Get ready to roll out the red carpet

    Buyers have a lot of choices these days and they’re doing their research. Stand out in a crowd of mediocre customer service by giving your potential and current customers the red carpet treatment. Thanks to our WebEd Series on how to provide top-notch customer service, we’re bringing you two dozen ways to optimize your customer impact.

    How to hire

    Hiring is an exciting time for your business, but making sure all of your employment forms are in order can be decidedly less fun. Here are five must-have items to include in your staffing toolkit so that you’re prepared the next time your business is in hiring mode.

    Compete in an Amazon world

    Approaches to buying are evolving as technology advances. Selling tactics must adapt if companies are to remain relevant. As the rules of business continue to change, learn how to keep up. Take a look at two industry examples, as well as steps to take to ensure your selling process best fits the customer’s buying process.

    What was your favorite Mind Your Business article from February? Let us know on Twitter!

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  • Next up: Month in Review: January 2018

    Month in Review: January 2018

    Each month, the Mind Your Business staff picks out their favorite articles from the past month. Enjoy the picks from January 2018!

    We kicked off the New Year with stories covering everything from ways to safeguard your intellectual property to reasons why you need to incorporate video into your marketing plans. Here we’ve highlighted our top five favorite articles from January.

    Knock it out of the park with your small business

    Just like the Indians have had success against teams from bigger markets, 2018 COSE Annual Meeting attendees discovered how small businesses can compete against bigger competition. And so can you! Check out a link to the full audio and a summary of the session, featuring Indians Manager Terry Francona, Chairman and CEO Paul Dolan and legendary play-by-play announcer Tom Hamilton. 

    Don’t phone it in

    Do you come across as too casual over the phone? Are you lazy when it comes to communicating with current or prospective customers? Give your image a facelift by implementing these five super easy tips on improved phone communication.

    Lessen anxiety by increasing preparation 

    Emergency action plans may not be anyone’s favorite topic, but they are extremely necessary and helpful to preparing your workforce should an emergency arise. From establishing a preferred method of communication to posting evacuation routes throughout the premises, check out these nine expert safety tips that you can implement in your business.

    Big recognition, little money

    We all surely know by now that millennials are the key to the future for our businesses. And we also know this younger group of workers appreciates recognition for a job well done. But how can companies provide this positive feedback without breaking the bank?

    Steer clear of employee immigration issues

    Valuable employees with in-demand skills can be found in the U.S. and abroad. But when it comes to hiring outside of the country, there is a lot you need to know. Tracking Visa expiration dates and diligently completing the I-9 form are just two of the ways to reduce headaches with immigration laws concerning current or prospective employees. Before finding yourself in a hiring predicament or spending time on an ineligible candidate, be sure to review our other eight tips.

    What was your favorite Mind Your Business article from January? Let us know on Twitter!

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