Updated on 05.11.11

The Technique

Trent Hamm

How do you cook pasta? I’m willing to bet there are a least a couple simple things you can do to make better pasta faster with fewer dishes to clean.

How do you fold a t-shirt? It seems really straightforward and routine, but most likely, you’re folding it inefficiently and there’s a more efficient way of doing it.

How do you chop an onion? Most people don’t really think about it too much, but there’s a pretty straightforward and quick way to do it.

Think about your money management techniques, for example. I’m willing to bet that, for most of you, you’re either doing the same thing your parents taught you how to do (or you learned as a young adult) or you’re only using something different because the system you were using was part of some sort of failure.

Over and over again in life, we find one way of doing something that works and don’t bother seeking a better solution. We assume the way we’re doing it must be “good enough” and we keep repeating it until we’re either slapped in the face with a better solution or we discover that the way we were doing things is causing other problems.

When I was younger, still single and without a family, I learned a set of techniques for living that were often inefficient. They got the job done, but they often took a long time, got poor results, and sometimes had other hidden problems. I had atrocious ways of filing papers. I barely knew how to do laundry. I would make a mangled mess out of the simplest dishes. Eventually, I reached a minimal level of doing these things that worked in a very basic way.

As my family grew and the demands on my time and money grew along with it, I came to realize that many of those “good enough” tactics simply weren’t good enough. I had to learn new techniques.

At first, it was the big things. The Simple Dollar chronicles the new approaches I took to money management, for example.

Eventually, though, I came to find that there was almost as much money and time to be saved in the little techniques.

Here’s an example of what I mean. When I was single, a really slow and rudimentary technique for folding shirts was good enough. I’d do my laundry, pop in a movie, and fold clothes in the living room while it was on. Now, I’m often folding two baskets full of clothes for two adults and three children. With that old technique, I’d be folding clothes all day. By simply halving the time it takes to fold a t-shirt (say, ten seconds down to five), I can save myself quite a bit of time. When I was single, such efficiency didn’t matter. Today, it really does make a big difference, not just because of the amount to be folded, but because I have many other demands on my time.

Another example comes from making a spaghetti dinner for my family. When I first learned how to cook, I would often take up three or four pans to turn out some suboptimal pasta. Today, because I know how useful it is to make a good meal quickly and how much time I can save by minimizing dishes, I can use a single pot to make some fantastic spaghetti using a number of little tricks I learned along the way. I don’t use a colander to strain off the water – instead, I pour out as much water as I can and leave some of that pasta water right in there. I make the sauce right on top of the pasta. I trust my own sample tasting instead of the time on the package. In the end, I have a great pasta dinner for everyone with far fewer dishes and far more happy bellies.

It’s those little techniques that make the difference – and our lives are chock full of those little techniques. How we brush our teeth. How we take a shower. How we do our laundry. How we commute. How we prepare supper. Almost all of these things – and countless others – can be improved upon with a little focus.

Let’s look at that shirt folding thing again. Folding laundry was something that used to take me an hour or so a week when I was single. As my family grew, the time this took also grew (for myself and Sarah together, of course). Spending an extra couple of hours one week to learn some new techniques from the internet and practice them until they felt natural paid dividends in that it halved the laundry folding time in future weeks.

The pasta dinner? I often read cooking technique books for fun and I’m almost always pulling ideas out of the text. Sure, it might not be the most purely fun reading in the world, but it’s enjoyable, and it translates directly into time saved in the kitchen with almost every meal through better cooking and fewer dishes.

Money management? The techniques I learned from just a few books have made a gigantic difference in my money.

The point I’m trying to make here is that almost anything in your life can produce extra money, time, or quality if you invest a bit of time and energy learning how to do it better. Read a cooking technique book. Look for laundry folding tips on YouTube. Don’t be afraid to Google for hygiene tips. Read the owner’s manual in your car.

Things like this are little time investments, yes. However, they pay dividends every single day when they add a few miles per gallon to your car’s efficiency, save you from washing two extra pans each night, keep you from getting a cold, or reduce the time you spend in the laundry room. These kinds of changes save us money. They save us time. They save us energy. All of those things can instead be used by the things we value most in life, whatever they happen to be.

What sort of techniques are we going to learn today?

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  1. Jane says:

    Overall I certainly agree with you. Now that I have children, I have learned ways to be more efficient out of pure necessity. But I will say that sometimes it is okay if you are not uber-efficient. I look at my mother who spent years multi-tasking and doing everything really quickly. Now that she is in retirement, she has had to undo some of the manic quickness. At this point in my life, the stresses and pressure to be efficient are more important, but this in and of itself is stressful and always makes me feel overwhelmed. Of course I do it to ultimately LESSEN the stress. But when I have more time, I hope to leisurely chop my veggies again or not feel the need to always have a load of things in my hands to carry upstairs each time I need to go up there. I guess my point is – sometimes I wish I had the luxury of being able to be inefficient :).

  2. Gretchen says:

    I’m not sure I’ve ever had suboptimal OR fantastic pasta.

    Neither do I fold most clothes, though. Laundry line to hanger direct.

  3. Gretchen says:

    Nor do I wash the pasta colander when I’m done with it.

  4. moom says:

    We use a dishwasher. Actually, it uses less water and energy than washing by hand. I can’t imagine folding techniques save much time, but drying ones might.

  5. valleycat1 says:

    I love learning new tips & tricks, on just about any topic even remotely relevant to my day to day life; sometimes tips in one area can be applied to another. So I disagree with Trent that books or articles on cooking techniques aren’t fun reading! Some people would say that my middle name is Efficient. On the other hand, I know a surprising number of people who are completely resistant and see no possible benefit to any change to how they’ve always done things.

  6. Larabara says:

    I try to fold as few clothes as possible too, but I hang the wet clothes on a hanger to dry on the line and then just hang them in the closet when they are dry. As for underwear, hang them on the line until dry, then toss them in the drawer. Putting dry clothes away takes just a few minutes this way.

  7. Ruchika says:

    This is good.. each step even though a mini step helps in achieving the goal.. and it does take time so one has to be patient.

  8. Kate says:

    OK…the t-shirt folding is very cool. Reminds me of origami, which I, unfortunately, have not been able to master. Maybe I can do this, though!

  9. Debbie M says:

    Thanks for the video links.

    On spaghetti, I feel like the key to a rich sauce is a small can of tomato paste. I also use a lot more oregano, plus some dried basil and a little rosemary and maybe a bay leaf (which you remove when finished). If you don’t have fresh garlic, use garlic powder (not garlic salt) if you don’t want to add salt. I don’t use salt because the parmesan cheese is salty. And NEVER stir with your knife if you want your knife to stay sharp!

    Sadly, that t-shirt folding method works only on short-sleeved shirts and it works best with thin flimsy one rather than thick ones. I still like it though.

  10. tentaculistic says:

    Thanks Trent, those are good tips, and a good reminder overall to remember to keep finding better ways of doing things. I’m learning to cook, little by little, and like the tips.

    I saw a related YouTube video on pounding chicken cutlets before cooking, to make them tender and quick-cooking. Good idea, but the mess, even with Saran Wrap! Thanks to Google, I found a tip to use a heavy gallon freezer bag, which’ll contain all the juice. Cool!

    Re valleycat1 “Some people would say that my middle name is Efficient. On the other hand, I know a surprising number of people who are completely resistant and see no possible benefit to any change to how they’ve always done things.” Well, I don’t know you or how you’re doing this, so I’m going to guess based on my own experience of people trying to impose their ideas on me (may be totally unwarranted, you may have a totally different approach). So here’s my thought: maybe they are not so much resistant to change, as to being condescended to. By putting yourself in the position of The Wise One, you are putting them in the position of mentally deficient child – which nobody likes. So maybe if you tweak your delivery a bit – ask their advice first (shows that you value them and their opinions, and think them worthy of listening to), then say you saw something neat from X(anywhere other than your head) and were totally surprised when it worked, look how cool it is! Then you’re being enthusiastic rather than condescending. People like to be excited for people they like, not so much if their fur’s been rubbed the wrong way.

    Debbie M, thanks for the tip that stirring with the knife dulls it. I didn’t know that. Is it because the acidity corrodes it or something? Or the heat?

    My dh used to be a real stickler about folding t-shirts, thanks to the traumas of basic training, but his way took FOREVER and his drill instructors said that it really only worked well for men’s size medium shirts. So we’d end up with 2 stacks of t-shirts, one these neat squares, one these big floppy squares. When we moved, we only had closet shelves (no drawers) so we switched to baskets – for which the slow square folding way wasn’t really suited. I looked online and found the idea (from an article about packing for a trip without wrinkles) of rolling many articles of clothing. Then these little rolls get stacked sideways into the basketes, et voila! Looks neat, comes out wrinkle-free, and no difference between different sizes.

  11. Kathryn says:

    I’ve seen the tee shirt vid before, and with some practice, i can do it. However, for me i don’t find it the most practical way to fold my hubby’s tees. First off, it takes me more time to lay the shirt out really flat, and if it isn’t done that way, it doesn’t fold up efficiently. Second, while the final looks cool and very neat, but if you don’t pick it up like she did – at the top of the shirt with the folded under sleeve grasped tightly – the whole thing tends to fall apart.

    I did try using this for a while, and demonstrated it to friends. It takes some practice, but it didn’t work well for me because when i’d pick up a stack of shirts, the bottom one would lose the fold and i’d have a mess. Not knocking the vid or those who can use it, and it is very cool, i just didn’t find it to be a time saver myself.

  12. valleycat1 says:

    Wow, Tentaculistic, you completely missed my point. Lots of assumptions in your reply to me about my personality and approach. I have never set myself up as ‘the wise one’ and don’t try to impose my way on them. My ‘middle name’ comes from the observations made by people who actually know me, work or live with me – not by my strutting around & saying “just call me Efficient and let me help you there.”

  13. Debbie M says:

    @tentaculistic, the problem I noticed with knife stirring was that she was scraping the blade against the bottom of the pot. Yikes! (This is bad for some pots, too, though probably not cast iron.)

    When I roll up my clothes, they seem to have a lot more wrinkles. Not just the ones from the folds, but a bunch of little ones, too, from being forced into a spiral. Glad it works for you, though.

  14. Georgia says:

    I learned quickly how time and money can be wasted when you think you are doing a certain thing the correct way. Now I try to investigate different ways.

    I worked, after my f/t job) at a senior housing. I would come down the highway to a crossing highway and then go 4-5 blocks. On the way home, I would reverse this. One night my car went out and I had to get a ride from my f/t job and take a taxi home. The last time I had ridden in a taxi it had cost about $8. This time it cost $10 and the driver went a very different way. The next night the taxi driver asked how I usually drove home & I told him. That ride cost me $13.
    So, when I got my car back, I drove the lst way and I was actually driving 2-3 miles farther each night I worked there and had been for 10 years. I figured I had spent over $500 for that 10 years. It made me change quickly.

    Since reading these sites and others, I have found many wonderful hints that work very well. I do like this about the computer. And thanks, Trent.

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