From quicker banking to an easier trip through the airport, here's how to save that precious commodity -- your time.
Best new help desk in a box
Warm and fuzzy service has rarely gone hand in hand with tech support. Amazon may change that with its latest customer help line, Mayday, included with the Kindle Fire HDX ($229 for the seven-inch). At the touch of the app a distress signal connects you with your very own live service rep.
How they help. Reps pop up onscreen to answer questions on setup, where tools are located, or how to download music. They can't help you pick a good movie.
You see them... but don't worry, they can't see you. The techies can, though, get a live look at what's on your screen.
Fast answers? In Money's test, wait times typically reached 15 to 20 seconds, and the longest went over a minute.
Best new career booster
The five-minute favor
Academic Adam Grant tallies the benefits of a little generosity.
The University of Pennsylvania management professor brings some truly fresh thinking, as well as rigorous empirical science, to the often fuzzy world of career advice. Based on his own and others' research, Grant has found that people who are most giving of their time -- who do things like making introductions, sharing their expertise, and mentoring, all with no strings attached -- are more successful.
Why it works. "Givers are recognized for using their skills and talents to promote the interests of the organization," says Grant, who detailed the findings in his book Give and Take. Plus, when you've helped the people around you become more productive, you feel motivated too.
And you needn't go overboard. Focus on what Grant calls five-minute favors. For example, you might tweet about a co-worker's great new project, make a quick professional introduction, or drop a note to his boss.
Best new convenience since ATMs
Banking with your smartphone camera
Nearly two-thirds of the country's biggest banks now let customers make a deposit by taking a photo of a check. Noting the feature's popularity, banks are thinking up other ways you can snap through financial tasks. For example: U.S. Bank now allows clients to upload a picture of a bill to have it paid from a checking account.
Best new no-brainer
Foil a phone thief (finally). When your phone is stolen, so is your data, leaving you to scramble to protect yourself. The obvious solution is a remote "kill switch" that turns your phone into an unusable brick. At last, iPhones with iOS7 (downloadable on old phones and built into new ones) now have the Activation Lock feature. This keeps thieves from turning off the Find My iPhone tool, which allows you to find, lock, or erase your phone from iCloud.com. Make sure Find My iPhone is turned on by tapping your phone's Settings icon, then iCloud.
Best new tool for home shoppers
Being an educated homebuyer -- or plain old nosy neighbor -- got quicker this year. Take a photo of a house, and free app Homesnap will tell you the home's estimated value, number of rooms, recent property taxes, and more. If the place is for sale, the app can tell you who the seller's agent is and if there's an open house. Homesnap pulls data from MLS records, public documents, and recent sales. Money tests found the app to be accurate for locating houses and tapping data, though it sometimes returned lower estimates than other real estate sites.
Best new shortcut
Take (most of) the pain out of flying
Got $85? Prepare to fly like a VIP. The TSA program PreCheck shepherds approved travelers into a separate security line and allows them to bypass certain procedures, such as taking off shoes.
Until recently PreCheck was available only to some fliers, but the TSA will soon open the application process. (The $85 fee qualifies you for a five-year membership.) By the end of 2013, PreCheck lines are expected to be in 100 airports.
The program requires applicants to submit fingerprints and undergo a background check, but for many busy fliers, says Rick Seaney of travel site FareCompare, "the convenience is worth the incursion."
1. Stand in general security line.
2. Remove your shoes.
3. Remove your bag of liquids.
4. Remove your laptop from bag.
5. Take off your suit jacket, coat, and belt.
6. Pass through body-scan chamber.
Finally through! Go catch your flight. Better hurry! Pull up those pants, get those shoes on, and jam your laptop back into the bag.
1. Stand in PreCheck line.
2. Pass through metal detector.
You're done!Stroll to your gate. Have a coffee. Read the paper. Check email. Relax.
Time-saving tip: When you're at a restaurant and the server asks you "Have been here before?" just say yes.@TonyCarrillo --Tony Carrillo writes the comic strip "F Minus"