Life hacks sometimes get a bad rap.
Just do a Google search for “useless life hacks,” and you’ll see list after list of timesaving tips that range from the dubious to the downright dangerous. Still, the concept persists because there’s just something perennially appealing about finding unexpected uses for common household items or uncovering simple, overlooked tricks that save you time and money. (Who knew there were so many non-office uses for rubber bands and binder clips?) In the spirit of life hacks that are actually useful, we asked industry experts to share their best production and business tips. From drinking straws and baby powder to meditation apps and calendar services, here are 50 ways to save time, solve problems in a pinch and improve operations.
Energize Your Embroidery
1. Suck It Up
Metallic thread tends to kink, fray and break because it retains the shape of the cone as it unspools. Letting the thread spiral around a common drinking straw should help solve the issue, says Bill Garvin of BG Tech Services.
2. Make a Snow Cone
Out of straws? Try freezing metallics. Chilled thread may run more smoothly, says Laura Gomez of Ricoma.
3. Slow It Down
The other option for metallic thread, Garvin says, is to loosen your machine tension by 30% and lower the speed.
4. Don’t Get Burned
Try removing hoop burns with spray starch and a soft brush, instead of water or a steamer, Garvin says. That way, you can fold and stack without worrying about mildew. Plus, it leaves a nice laundered scent.
5. Protect Your Ports
Use a USB extension cord (not a hub) to protect the port of your embroidery machine, Garvin says. It’s easy to damage a USB port that sees heavy use. Replacing a damaged extension cord costs about $20, whereas repairing your machine’s port could cost thousands of dollars.
6. Go to the Tape
Fold backing around your hoop and tape it down. “This is a huge timesaver when you’re trying to hold backing in place but don’t have a hooping device,” says Joyce Jagger, The Embroidery Coach.
7. That’s a Wrap
If you’re out of water-soluble topping, use plastic wrap as an inexpensive alternative, Gomez says. “This clear layer will help keep the stitches raised on textured fabrics.”
8. Smooth It Out
Sewer’s Aid, also known as embroidery lubricant, is meant to be used on the needle to reduce friction between the eye and the thread. But don’t stop there, Gomez says. Try placing a thin layer on the thread spool itself. Or put a drop on a piece of thread, to help reduce friction in all areas of the thread path.
9. Time for a Touchup
Invest in permanent fabric markers in various colors. You can use them to touch up small areas of an embroidered design that have backing or bobbin showing through, Gomez says. After setting with an iron, the marker should hold up well in the wash without bleeding through.
10. A Manicure for Your Hoops
Use nail polish remover to clean residue off your embroidery hoops, Gomez says. Be sure it’s non-acetone, which is safe for use on plastics.
11. Coffee Solves Everything
Out of tearaway backing? Try ironing a large coffee filter and using it instead, Gomez says. This works best for simple designs on thicker material.
12. Stick a Needle in Your Eye
When you’re changing embroidery needles, use another needle to help with alignment, Garvin says. Stick the tip of the second needle into the eye of the one you’re installing and pivot until straight. Pushing up on the second needle will hold the first in place while you retighten the screw on your embroidery machine.
13. Color-Code Your Tools
Stock each machine with every tool needed for setup and maintenance, advises Erich Campbell of DecoNetwork. Color-code by painting the handles and the box to make sure tool sets stay in their designated place.
14. Be Prepared
Keep an extra set of bobbin cases – cleaned, pre-tensioned and ready to go – next to your machines, says Rich Medcraft of Stitchwise Embroidery Design.
Supercharge Your Screen Printing
15. Not Just for Diaper Rash
If your screen sticks to the pallet with V-necks and scoopnecks, fix the issue with a sprinkle of baby powder, says Brett Bowden of Printed Threads.
16. Don’t Spray It
Avoid spray glue. It seems quicker, but leaves a linty mess that hurts equipment. Instead, use a water-based roll adhesive, says Mark Coudray, longtime screen-printing business consultant.
17. A Sticky Situation
When your water-based glue is no longer sticky, spray the pallets with water and scrub them with a pad, Bowden says. After you run the pallets under the flash to dry, they’ll be clean and sticky again.
18. All Mixed Up
Conserve arm strength by using a drywall mud paddle on a cordless drill to mix ink, advises Taylor Landesman of Lawson Screen & Digital Products Inc.
19. A Little Dab’ll Do Ya
In addition to writing color names on your spec sheet, try dabbing the ink itself onto the paper and running it through the dryer, says Coudray. That will help ensure accuracy on future orders.
20. A Bright Idea
It’s important to keep your shop well-lit, but don’t buy just any bulb. Coudray recommends color-balanced lighting of 5,000 Kelvins (often designated as 50K or spectral 50) and a color-rendering index (CRI) of above 90 to ensure garment and ink colors aren’t skewed under tinted light. This applies to fluorescents and LEDs.
21. A Closer Look
Keep a 10- to 15-power linen test loupe by your press to help printers with registration, Coudray says.
22. Keep Tense and Carry On
Buy a reliable tension meter and measure screen tension during every reclaiming cycle, Coudray says. When a screen falls below 20 newtons, retension or relegate it to single-color runs.
23. Do You See What I See?
Have workers' vision tested for color accuracy. “It’s incredible how often you work with someone who’s color blind, and they don’t even know it,” Coudray says.
24. Trick of the Tape
When setting up multicolor print jobs, put packing tape over the first color, then print the second on top. If it’s not perfect, just wipe it off with a rag, adjust the screen and try again. Repeat as needed. “You always have a clean first-color print to go from without wasting a bunch of test shirts,” says Erin Oberhauser of T-Shirt Cloud.
25. Thin Is In
Keep your registration marks thin – no more than half a point wide, Coudray says. If they’re too thick, you’ll lay down too much ink, and it will be tougher to determine whether you’re in registration.
26. Know When to Fold ’Em
Invest in a T-shirt folding machine. Or, if that’s too pricey, learn the pinch-and-flip folding method. (Just search YouTube for a tutorial on how to fold a T-shirt in under three seconds.)
27. It’s a Scorcher
If you’ve scorched a garment, use hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar in a garden sprayer to remove the mark, writes master screen printer Douglas Grigar on Vastex International’s website. This is more likely to work on white garments.
Streamline Sales and Operations
28. Approvals on the Go
Instead of waiting for customers to sign orders personally, use digital links so they can approve artwork from anywhere, says Howard Potter of A&P Master Images (asi/102019).
29. Go the Extra Mile
When you run an order, create at least one extra and use it as a sample to show potential customers, Stitchwise’s Rich Medcraft says.
30. Monitor Your Credit
If you’re ready to buy a new piece of equipment, don’t waste time scrambling for financing, says Gerri Detweiler, education director for Nav, a business credit monitoring service. Work on building and monitoring your credit scores to streamline the application process.
31. Use a Calendar
Schedule your day in advance on an old-fashioned print calendar or use an app, says Marshall Atkinson, decorating business consultant. If you mark a meeting down, you won’t miss it.
32. Let Me Pencil You In
Try Calendly for simple scheduling, Atkinson says. Outline your availability with the app, then the person you’re meeting with picks a time slot, and it’s automatically added to your calendar.
33. Keep Your Team Connected
Download Slack for messaging between team members, Atkinson says.
34. Order Forms 2.0
Set up custom web stores for clients to make reordering easy, Atkinson says. “Why worry about a purchase order or email form when they can just go to a link, throw in their quantity and press a button? The order goes to you and drops into your system. It’s magic.”
35. Automate Everything
Increase productivity with automation apps like If This Then That (IFTTT), which connects services so they run with minimal user input, says Franco Aquino of REN Marketing. With IFTTT, for example, you can easily share an image to Instagram and Twitter at the same time.
36. Batch Your Tasks
Create time slots for regular tasks, like checking email or dealing with finances, suggests Aliaia Williams, a business operations strategist. “Once you get your rhythm with something, it’s much easier to keep going,” she says.
37. Don’t Have a (Key)stroke
Text expanders such as Type-it4Me help cut down repetitive writing tasks, like answering frequently asked questions, says Elizabeth Grace Saunders, time management coach. “By typing in a letter or two, I can have words, phrases or whole paragraphs pop up in my email,” she adds.
38. Traffic Is My Jam
Use Zapier to automatically add travel time on both sides of an in-person appointment, says Taylor Jacobson, CEO of productivity company Focusmate. If you add a trigger word to your appointment like “thirty,” the app will know to add 30-minute cushions on either side.
39. Just Say No
Analyze your customer base and “fire” the ones requiring extra effort without returns, Coudray says. Focusing on one-off orders and hard-to-please customers “keeps you from doing a good job with the people you’re making your profit with.”
40. Be a Taskmaster
Use the task list in your email program to its full advantage, says Beth Beutler of HOPE Unlimited, a professional development service. Have recurring tasks pop up on the days they need to be done, and include links to necessary info.
Keep Your Balance
41. Avoid Distractions
Minimize distractions by disabling notifications. Sam Warren, marketing director of RankPay, says this quick trick has helped him increase productivity, focus and happiness. “Instead of being pulled in a handful of directions at any given moment, I’m able to stay attentive to where I’m needed most.”
42. Serenity Now
Use an essential oil diffuser to promote calm and wellbeing, says Alison Brehme, founder of Virtual Corporate Wellness. Or dab essential oils onto pressure points when you feel stressed.
43. Tea Time
Instead of a mid-morning latte or afternoon energy drink, try peppermint tea for relaxation, Brehme says.
44. Drink Up
Having trouble fitting in your requisite eight cups of water a day? Customize a large water bottle by marking off how many ounces you should drink each hour. Or have your phone buzz regularly to remind you to get your sips in.
45. Take a Deep Breath
Alleviate stress with mini-meditation breaks, Brehme says. Apps like Headspace and Calm can guide you through breathing exercises.
46. Stay Baby Soft
Screen printing can get messy, and constant handwashing with harsh soap can dry out hands. Printed Threads’ Brett Bowden stocks the shop with baby wipes to keep his hands clean and moisturized.
47. Break It Up
Schedule a regular break for a walk in the park, light exercise, drawing, music or some other activity to clear your mind and help you solve tough problems, Jacobson says. “It turns out that putting your mind to work in another, less effortful domain enables your subconscious to get to work solving your problem faster than you would were you to keep focusing on it directly,” he adds.
48. Blackmail Yourself to Better Behavior
Use Stickk.com to set and keep goals, like losing weight, cleaning the garage or saving for retirement. The site lets you create a “commitment contract,” basically a binding agreement with yourself to complete your established goal. To keep you motivated, you can set a financial penalty – such as donating a set amount of money to a favorite cause – that you pay out if you fail to meet your intention.
49. Early to Bed, Early to Rise
Shoot for eight hours of sleep each night to ensure a productive and healthy work day. Try setting an alarm in the evening to remind you to get to bed earlier. Dim the lights and power down electronic devices an hour before bed. Bright lights trigger the brain to be awake and alert.
50. Dear Diary
Keep a journal – on paper. Caleb Backe, a wellness expert with Maple Holistics, believes it's something all business leaders should do. Spending five minutes a day on the physical act of writing will help keep your mind organized, improve your memory and develop your writing skills, he says.
THERESA HEGEL is the executive editor of Wearables. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; follow her on Twitter at @theresahegel.