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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 August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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