You can surf the Web in endless circles and kill a ton of time online unless you know how to search and find what you're looking for. If you do, the time saved by moving some of the recurring errands you've traditionally done offline online can save you big-time minutes, and in some cases hours.
Granted, many of us go online intending to waste time, but, according to Regina Lewis, AOL's consumer advisor, there are a number of Web sites out there that can help us save time, too — especially when it comes to chores.
Lewis shared some of them on The Saturday Early Show.
TIME SUCK: Waiting in line at the DMV.
The last line you want to stand in is the one spilling out the door and around the block at the motor vehicle office. Instead, replace or renew your driver's license online, as well as get new tags (even check if personalized plates are available), change your address, get a copy of your driving record on the site, etc. In most states — for better or worse — they've digitized and have on file the last picture they took of you.
The site has links to DMV information in all 50 states. Some of what you can do online does vary from state to state. The average time to renew your vehicle registration online is under four minutes. (Compare that with going to the DMV!) But sometimes you still have to make the trip (if you need an eye test, for example). But even if you have to go in person, you can obtain any necessary forms online and fill them out before you get there.
TIME SUCK: Running all over town doing errands.
MapQuest has been around for years, but newer features let you cluster your stops with a free "Route Builder" which allows you to generate driving directions including up to 10 specific stops. This is a great feature when you're behind the wheel of the mini-van because it's your turn for the soccer carpool. Optimize your route to avoid highways or toll roads. You can also re-order your stops just by dragging and dropping — the route will automatically recalculate driving directions.
You may know the quickest way to your regular stops; it's only when you try to find that new place — the store that just opened or the new kid in class's birthday party. That's when you arrive and think, 'Oh man, we were just in this area earlier. We could/should have done the errands in reverse order.'
Print the directions or e-mail them to your handheld/Web-enabled cell phone with MapQuest's free "Send to Cell" service.
And while you're at it, go ahead and find the gas station with the lowest price along your route with MapQuest's Gas Prices feature. Type in an address or zip code and it will give you the lowest prices for up to a 50-mile radius (and coming this summer, the ability to get gas price info on cell phones/handheld devices, so you can check it on the fly).
TIME SUCK: Keeping up with celebrity gossip.
Be in the loop at the office water cooler!
In a 24-7 wired world, who can keep up? There's nothing worse than running into your friend or colleague and being out of the loop. Enter TMZ.com (it stands for the 30-mile zone around Hollywood). They break news online before it even hits your favorite TV show or magazine. TMZ beat all the celebrity magazine sites and blogs with a reported 8.4 million visitors to its site last month. Also, in technology terms, you can have content from TMZ "pushed" to you through "feeds" on sites like bloglines.com. You'll not only be ready for the water cooler discussion, you'll start it.
TMZ just announced it's also planning to set up shop in Washington to uncover hot political gossip, so some of the world's most powerful people will soon be under the same scrutiny as the world's most beautiful people.
(Another great source for entertainment news is TheShowbuzz.com)
TIME SUCK: Waiting for a table.
OpenTable.com is a 24-hour, real-time online reservation system. In other words, you could check right now which restaurants have a table for six available at 7 tonight and get an instant confirmation, including directions and parking info. When diners make a reservation online, they can note any dietary needs, mention that the evening is for a special occasion or include other preferences. And the site, through an OpenTable touch screen at the reservation station, allows restaurants to stroke its regulars. With a touch of a button they can tell things like where you like to sit and what your favorite cocktail is. Restaurant owners pay for the service, because it can boost business, manage their reservations more efficiently and enhance customer service.
The system also tracks no-shows. If you blow off four reservations in 12 months, you're kicked off.
TIME SUCK: Figuring out how it works & how to do it
First, you've got to find the manual, then you've got to read the darn thing. Good news: copies of most manuals — even for discontinued products — are posted online. You can search for a replacement manual for your PC, or for a peripheral or component, on the maker's Web site, but that can take time.
Instead, start at UsersManualGuide.com. The site features an impressive collection of downloadable user manuals for all kinds of PC gear and other gadgets, often in multiple languages. Because, truth is, you never really can find the manual and you don't really want to read it — you'd rather watch and get play-by-play printable directions.
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