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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 January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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