Updated on 07.10.09

480 Ways to Make More Money Today

Trent Hamm

Cubicle farm.  Picture by st3ve.If you’re like a lot of Simple Dollar readers, you’re reading this article at the start of your work day (and if you’re not, imagine you are, at the start of your next work day). You’ve got a pile of things to do today, some of them urgent, but many of them not so urgent. You’ll probably find some big holes where you can sit around idle, browsing the web or reading a magazine.

I’m going to suggest a challenge to you for today, one that might just be a revelation to you.

Your eight hour workday has 480 minutes in it. Spend every single one of those minutes doing something to make your work life easier. Let me walk you through it.

First, take care of the work you need to do today. There are likely some pressing matters around you that need to be dealt with and some projects you need to work on. This will take some portion of the day.

But, obviously, there will be some downtime in there – the time that you would ordinarily use to daydream, chat with others, click on links, and so on. Use that time differently today. Here’s how.

One, clean your workspace. Get rid of the junk sitting on your desk. Go through it and either file it or trash it, since that’s where most of it should be. Throw away any garbage you have lying around.

Two, think of your regular routine tasks at work and ask yourself how they could be done faster. Perhaps you have a really poor way of managing and handing in expense reports. Maybe (like me in the past), you have a really poor way of handling time sheets. Perhaps your days are interrupted by lots of meetings that aren’t beneficial.

Then develop ways to make these things more efficient. Find out if you can get some of those meetings rescheduled into a solid block of meetings instead of spread out throughout the day – or maybe try to get out of a few of them. Come up with your own efficient template for time sheets or expense reports that can shave a few minutes off the time – and share those templates.

Still got time? Look at your daily work. Are there any pieces of work you find yourself wasting time on again and again? Maybe you’re a technical writer and you use many of the same elements over and over again in your writing. Maybe you’re a programmer and you keep using some of the same elements in your code.

Spend some time creating a library for your own use. Make a clear framework for those documents you write all the time so you can easily just fill in blanks and change a few pieces instead of writing a ton again or heavily editing an old document. Add some new programming functions to a shared library that you can access yourself.

It should be easy to fill up every minute of a focused day with these tasks.

All of these things have one big central thing in common: they don’t help you right now at all, but they shave off minutes of work almost every day in the future. You can write faster. You can find things faster. You can program faster. You can get your expense reports turned in faster.

That shaved time gives you more time to devote to the things that will make you stand out. If you save fifteen minutes each day where you’re not searching around for things, filling out paperwork, hopping from meeting to meeting, or rewriting things you’ve already essentially written before, you now have fifteen more minutes each day to turn an average project into an impressive one, to build your relationships with other people on your field, or do something else to genuinely stand out.

And it’s those who stand out who get the raises, the promotions, and the opportunities.

You have 480 minutes. What are you going to do with them?

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  1. Tony says:

    I use my downtime to read internet blogs like this one. Should I stop?

  2. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “I use my downtime to read internet blogs like this one. Should I stop?”

    Is it adding genuine value to your career and life? Or is it just for a laugh and to pass time?

  3. Momma says:

    :) I love common sense articles like this. Thanks for the reminder to get this junk off my desk and streamline. It’s been on my To Do list for a while.

  4. J says:

    A computer is absolutely wonderful at doing the same thing over and over. Spending time learning how to automate things using scripts, macros, keyboard shortcuts or whatever else might exist with the tool you use saves enormous amounts of time.

    Even better, you can take these tools and techniques and share them with your co-workers so you all can be more productive, and you can gain some serious credibility with them and management. I’ve found that once you become proficient with a tool, the ROI can be pretty immediate — say you spend 4 hours figuring out how to do something in Excel with a macro that usually took you 1 hour automatically — if you have to do that task once a week, you start to see payback in a month.

    Even if you can automate some part of something, you often can realize significant gains and greatly reduce errors and re-work since the computer will do exactly what you want it to do every time, without fail.

  5. Joan says:

    This was a great way to start my day today. I’m just back from vacation and it’s easy to get into the “I’m so overwhelmed and don’t know where to start” mentality – and accomplish nothing.

    And since I often work 12-hour days, I’ve got many extra minutes to accomplish something, so accomplish I shall!

  6. Luke Grand says:

    Here lately I’ve had 600 minutes a day at work, and I’m still falling behind! The tip to create a library for my personal use is a great one, as I have a stack of trade magazines, books and other resources I’ve printed strewn all about my office with so organization. Problem is I have little time to take a breath and organize, but after reading this I’ll make the time.

  7. Jon says:

    The other thing to do, while you’re making all these improvements, is to document them all, and make sure your supervisor is aware of what you’ve done to improve your efficiency and that of your department, for your next performance review.

  8. Tony says:

    “Is it adding genuine value to your career and life? Or is it just for a laugh and to pass time?”

    Comment was tongue in cheek. I enjoy your blog and get good things from it. Except that damn Ortiz article. (also tongue in cheek)

  9. Here’s a thought on what to do with the extra time brought about by harnessing Trent’s efficencies on the job. Use some of the extra time to take on additional work. It might not earn you extra money in the short run, but in the economy such that it is, it just might save your job in a layoff. Or even prepare you for your next job.

    Nearly any job in an organization can be subbed out today, if need be, but the person who can handle multiple responsibilities is a real asset and might also have a deeper understanding of what it takes to run the business apart from his own job.

  10. Brittany says:

    I work in an office, and oftentimes I’ll be given a porject that takes up a lot of time. We mail out over 2000 pieces every month or so, and in between we have smaller projects that require some focus. Finding maximum efficiency for these projects is key if you want to earn more money or just have some extra time to yourself!

    My office also relies a lot on paper and written documents, but in my spare time, I’ve tried to type them all up in one main directory on the computer so I’m not flipping through dozens of pages.

    Efficiency works! (And should be taught at any workplace.)

    I also use my extra time to focus on my blog and read other blogs so it all works out!

  11. onaclov says:

    GREAT ideas, I have been doing alot on adding scripts to automate as much of my menial tasks so I can focus on more important tasks, as well as ask for more work.

    I just keep forgetting to mention that I did something to make my job easier/quicker so I can focus on more important things to my boss…

  12. Johanna says:

    This post, to me, is a perfect illustration of what Jenzer was talking about in the David Ortiz thread about “I” statements versus “you” statements. When I read all the “you” statements here, the impression I get is not of someone who is interested in me, but someone who is trying to is trying to define me, pigeonhole me, make all kinds of assumptions about me. Someone who thinks he knows me better than I know myself.

    For example: “One, clean your workspace. Get rid of the junk sitting on your desk. Go through it and either file it or trash it, since that’s where most of it should be. Throw away any garbage you have lying around.”

    Trent does not know what my workspace looks like or whether it needs cleaning. He does not know how much stuff is on my desk, or how much of that is junk that belongs in the trash. (In fact, my desk does not need cleaning today because I just cleaned it yesterday, as I do every month when I finish a big project. I don’t need the stuff from last month’s project anymore, so I filed it away.)

    My criticism here is not that this particular piece of advice does not apply to me – obviously, not every piece of advice is going to apply to every reader – but that it is phrased as though it does. It gives me the impression that it’s never occurred to Trent that there might be someone out there whose desk does not need cleaning. But he could have given the same advice, phrased differently, without giving that impression. Something like, “Look around your workspace. Does it need cleaning? Maybe you have piles of junk on your desk, like I used to have, that slow you down every time you need to find something. Could some of that stuff be filed away, or thrown in the trash?”

  13. thefamilynomics says:

    The more time you save the more money you can make. I too have an article regarding making more money.

  14. Dan says:

    There is a whole world dedicated to this type of thinking (and it’s how I make my career). It’s called Lean…something from the old Toyota Production System. I won’t divulge, but if you google it, you could “earn” several more months on the computer.

    I love it, by the way…though I’m striving to actually practice what I preach.

  15. BreeInVT says:

    I swear you wrote this post just for me. I definitely need to work on my daily scheduling and I think evaluating it in minutes instead of hours might just help.

    “One, clean your workspace.” I
    loath my (dis)ability for procrastination…

  16. John says:

    First of all, I love your blog, a good majority of the articles are interesting, well written and have useful information. Something that I think about a lot though is how your posts about work, and many other posts I read about improving job performance, finding a job, really anything about work, tends to pertain to office jobs. What about the person who is an assistant manager at a fast food place, or someone who works in logistics. How about all the people who hold grunt level labor jobs and probably will do so for their entire lives. I would like to see some career advice for those people. I suppose the general assumption is that they are not in careers, but for some people, middle management in a resteraunt is the best they will ever know.

  17. Sean says:

    I already do a few of these, but appreciate the reminder to clean things up. I suddenly feel like I have a much larger desk!

  18. Really, after reading this article, I only have 478 minutes in my day…and posting a reply will knock off another minute. Hmmm…

    Good post! ;-)

  19. Jenzer says:

    @Johanna … I had a similar reaction to yours while reading this post over lunch just now. We’re in the middle of peak season with one of our businesses, and when I read the line, “You’ll probably find some big holes where you can sit around idle, browsing the web or reading a magazine,” my first thought was, “Oh, I WISH …” :p I think you gave some excellent examples of how the same advice can be conveyed to sound encouraging rather than presumptive or didactic.

    That said, this topic has been in the back of my mind all day, even before I read Trent’s post. While I’m swamped with work now, I’m making notes on organizing projects I want to do, forms I want to revamp, and software tricks I want to learn when I *will* have downtime in another month or two. I consider these tasks to be gifts to my future self.

    Very timely post, Trent — thank you!

  20. Everything in the post won’t apply to everyone, but if one or two do apply then there’s a benefit. If nothing else, if it calls on you to review your work situation and look for efficiencies, it was worth the time spent reading.

    Heck, I’ll read a 400 page ‘how to’ book and be happy if there are three or four (out of dozens) of points that will be of benefit to my situation. It only takes a few to make the book pay for itself many times over. (The rest is entertainment).

  21. Damester says:

    Some of y’all are so busy criticizing the writing style that you miss the point of the article, it seems.

    It doesn’t matter what I read, or where, I never assume that a writer is necessarily singling me out when he advocates/cautions/advises, etc with his words. Any work, in general, but especially a web blog, is about a point of view. Inherently going to be subjective.

    Trent’s work never strikes me as being about pigeonholing people. If the advice applies, use it. If not, ignore it. That’s pretty much how Trent presents all his work, for those who may have missed that obvious positioning.

    Unlike a lot of the self-styled gurus out there, he is not preaching the “word” and does not believe that his thoughts/ideas are the “law.” He’s not dictating, he’s suggesting. Perhaps some of you don’t recognize the difference.

    If you don’t like his writing style, so be it. But unless you’re a professional editor he’s hired to work for him, how he writes something is not the issue. Focus on his ideas and thoughts. DOn’t worry about rewriting copy for him so it’s more palatable for you! Please.

    And if you have something to say beyond comments, write your own blog articles.

  22. jc says:

    he laid it out upfront as a challenge. some people respond well to that, others don’t. but it makes no sense to criticize the tone of a challenge as too confrontational!

  23. Johanna says:

    @Damester: I’m guessing that Trent considers it to be in his best interest to make his writing as appealing as possible to as many people as possible. My comment above was intended as a constructive suggestion along those lines. The text below the little box where I’m typing this tells me that constructive comments of all kinds are welcome.

    And I *am* a professional editor.

  24. Jenzer says:

    @Damester – I’ve been following Trent blog for over a year now. I have a great amount of respect for the work he’s doing and the courage he had (and continues to have) to make the leap from full-time employment to full-time blogging. My comments were offered in the spirit of being constructive, so that he might fulfill his goals of reaching a wider audience. If he doesn’t agree with my comments, that’s OK with me. And if I don’t agree with all his ideas, that’s OK with me, too. I’ll continue to be read his posts and share them with friends.

  25. Wren says:

    I agree with Damester here… while the idea could be entertaining, I seriously doubt Trent sat down and wrote this particular post thinking… ‘I know Wren or (insert YOUR name here) can really use this info, because his/her desk is cluttered and he/she could be making more money with some simple, effective, efficiency upgrades.’ To me, as a random reader, the fact he uses ‘you’ can be more of a challenge for me to look around and see if he might be *gasp* right.

    Good to know that you are a professional editor, Johanna, but honestly, to me, his style of writing doesn’t need to be more warm and fuzzy. Many folks need a decent nudge now and again to get them moving. I find most of Trent’s writing to be soft and non-confrontational enough, no need to make it squishier. I feel his writing appeals to the types of people looking for personal reflections as well as concrete ideas for making difficult changes in their lives. This post offers concrete ideas that everyone can implement, in some form or another, to do just that. If they don’t apply to you personally, then I applaud you. What’s your secret?

  26. Denis says:

    I’m interested to find out more about those mythical 8-hour days. Mine are a minimum 10, so I guess I should be grateful for the extra 120 minutes per day.

  27. Stephan F- says:

    I can attest to the fact that automation makes a huge difference to your work but won’t necessarily help you long term if the company runs into problems.
    First I was at a battery manufacturer. I saved my boss two+ days of work by writing a little C program (in the same time) to sort anode plates into battery configurations. It now took a few seconds to do the sort. The company was bought and I was let go.
    Then at my last job at a training company I automated a system that allowed us to go from processing 50 companies a day to 400 with a combination of macros, text expanders and some templates. Then the economy tanked and the training industry shut down.
    I highly recommend spending some time figuring out how to automate as much of the work you do as possible. No matter where you are you can use that knowledge over and over.

  28. slccom says:

    There was a column where a programmer asked the ethics guy if he should point out to employees who ask for software to do menial, repetitive tasks at that company get promptly fired since they are now no longer needed.

    The answer was “yes.”

    Automate what you do. Just don’t tell your boss that that is why you are so productive.

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