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What Grocery Stores Tell Us About Productivity

What Grocery Stores Tell Us About Productivity
Grocery

    When we moved from Baltimore to north Jersey, there were several adjustments that had to be made. From a higher cost of living to the people-friendly deer population, life in Jersey is just plain different! Surprisingly, one of the biggest adjustments has been our choice of supermarkets. In Baltimore, we went to one and only one market for everything from produce to frozen goods but here we have three stores within a five minute drive. Decisions, decisions.

    Initially my wife felt that we should choose one market but after visiting all three we realized that a new approach might be needed. We decided to get the bonus cards for all three and depending on our need and location, we would be flexible and shop at the market that best matched our shopping list for that day. In a strange sort of way, I think that this vignette captures the flavor of today’s knowledge worker. Instead of one tool for productivity, a toolbox is required, comprised of different tools for use at just the right time. Let’s take a look at some essential productivity concepts related to those tools.

    What you need, when you need it. Let’s say you’re driving down the freeway and a great idea pops into your head- what do you do? You don’t want to lose the idea but stopping in the middle of the highway in order to write it down isn’t a safe idea either so what to do? A truly productive person will have a tool handy for capturing that idea. A cell phone might be just the thing or a voice recorder or you might in fact decide that pulling over to write down the thought is the best plan of action. Whatever the case, having the right tool at the right time is indeed worth its weight in gold. I find that having an old fashioned steno pad is always a good idea for a meeting, even if it’s going to be brief. There’s nothing more tragic than writing notes down on your boss’s business card because you don’t have a notepad handy.

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    Do your homework. If you’re in the market for a new productivity tool, do some homework. Check out the forums at Lifehack.org Community or do a Google search for “productivity tools”. Find out what’s working for other folks and ask questions. If you’re into paper planning, a trip to your local office superstore store might be just the thing to feel the paper and hold it up to the light.

    Spend (some) money. While a pad of paper and a pen will satisfy most needs, many find that some sexy tools are needed to take things to the next level. I’ve used PDAs for years and currently run on a Palm Treo 650. In that I sign up for a wireless two-year contract, I’m forced to stay with my device for two years, getting plenty of use from a gadget that serves as both organizer and cell phone. The gadget doesn’t make the man but it can often be an essential tool for adding some “go” to your productivity toolbox.

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    Shrug off the peer pressure. The next time you’re tempted to feel guilty or jealous over someone else’s productivity, shrug it off. Hey, they might be posers who are just as helpless as the next guy! Check your productivity temperature, evaluate your current stress levels and get back to your system. Don’t let the next guy’s gadget get in the way of doing your thing.

    Major investments deserve major time. If you’re going to put down a chunk of change for a new BlackBerry or iPhone, you’ll want to maximize return on investment. For me, the two-year cell contract ensures that I’m going to stay with my PDA for at least two years. If you purchase a new planner, don’t give it a week and then let it collect dust on the shelf- give it three or four weeks and put it to work.

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    Avoid perpetual “testing”. There are folks who are addicted to self improvement in the way that talk show junkies can’t get enough of the latest tell-all authors on the speaking circuit. Rather than running out to try and demo the latest gadget or productivity fad, be a person with great habits and routines. Work on your sleeping patterns, eat well and work smart. As with a child who is learning to play baseball, the basics are what make for a productive person. Instead of hitting, catching and throwing, the knowledge worker practices list keeping, time management and planning.

    Whether you’re running to the supermarket(s) of choice or navigating a busy schedule, get comfortable with a variety of tools for getting the job done. Your productivity will thank you for it!

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    Mike St. Pierre blogs about productivity and work-life balance at The Daily Saint.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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