Find 20 Minutes: Kitchen Systems

Jul 31

What could you do with 20 free minutes?

  • Bang out 500 words of your novel
  • Strengthen your body with push-ups, squats, jumping jacks, toe touches, and maybe a bit of hoola hooping
  • Sketch your surroundings
  • Write a letter
  • Weed a flower bed
  • Nap
  • Play catch with your kids

One of my own biggest time thieves comes at me through the kitchen, but I have ways to thwart that thief! Here are some tips for creating systems in your kitchen to help you find an extra 20 minutes.

1. Everything in its place. I could probably prepare a decent meal in my kitchen blind folded (don’t fret; I’m not going to try). I’m the primary cook in the house, so I impose my logic on the kitchen. Refrigerated foods go in the same location every time I use them. Tools, canned goods, and spices have their own special spots. A little time organizing in a way that makes sense to you, not a kitchen designer, will save you time.

2. Meal plan. This simple change has saved me at least an hour a week. Once a week (I do it on Saturday evening in the summer, after I’ve picked up my CSA share), I decide on the meals for the rest of the week. I find any recipes I need, create a grocery list, and add the menus to my Google calendar. One weekly grocery trip, no dithering about what to make for dinner: these add up to free time.

3. Limit variety. I know, I know. It’s the spice of life and all that jazz. I limit the recipes I try–once I have my out-of-the-park pancakes, I don’t go looking for more recipes. During the winter, two nights a week are soup night (yay slow cookers). Every Tuesday I fix the same dinner. I’ve eaten the same breakfast (with Sunday pancakes as an exception…it really is a good recipe) with little variation since 2002. These little efficiencies equal extra time for the rest of my day.

4. Use fewer tools. Lots of people love kitchen gadgets. It’s fun to buy new tools, right? Those tools may be stealing your time, though. When Neal gutted our kitchen in 2009, I packed away all of the kitchen tools but the most basic: my French knife, a cutting board. I loved the simplicity of having less clutter. Since then, I’ve added more tools back into the kitchen, but a lot of what I packed away four years ago hasn’t returned into rotation. Less clutter makes it easier to find what I need as well as making clean up easier.

5. Clean up as you cook and immediately after eating. My grandfather used to chide my gram “don’t undress the table.” He wanted to linger and enjoy having his family around him. I get it, but I get Jennie’s method, too. The faster clean up is completed, the easier it is. Easy clean up (wet splatters are easier to clean than dried splatter) takes less time.

What are some of your kitchen systems that help you find time?

PS: Want to find out where your time is hiding like so many quarters under the sofa cushion? Registration for my micro-course You Have Time is now closed, but you can sign up to be notified about upcoming sessions!




  1. Kris /

    great tips! my favorite one is to make your kitchen a “cook’s kitchen” – like you said, set it up as you use it. what you use most is at hand, lots of prep space, thinkgs are positioned in way that minimizes extra steps. I also do a lot of meal planning. I can’t plan meals on the fly and am busy enough that I do a big shop once a week for my meals, then pick up fresh stuff at the farmer’s market or Whole Foods during the week.

  2. I totally agree, my new kitchen has less cupboard space. When we moved in, I only put the things I use all the time in the cupboards, so I have only got the stuff I actually need, how many mixing bowls do you really use? I haven’t missed having more and keeping the worktop clear makes cooking easier too.
    Also since moving house, I haven’t got lots of spare food, to go out of date either!

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