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3 Habits To Help You Beat Life’s Supermarket Line

3 Habits To Help You Beat Life’s Supermarket Line

We are a highly developed race, tried and tested through years of environmental challenges courtesy of natural selection. Through those many trials, we have developed mechanisms that help us assess our environment and react in an almost instinctive fashion.

In general, automatic reactions are great when they’re activated in the right context: they save valuable resources by removing the mental hassle associated with decisions. But while automatic reactions are useful when applied in context, the problem begins when they influence our decisions and actions out of context.

Let’s take our saliency detection mechanism, for example. It helps us prioritize relevant information and focus on one quick decision — the one that is the most salient. Unfortunately, it gets in our way and is responsible for several illusory correlations, including this frustrating fallacy:

How many times you’ve stood in line at the supermarket thinking that the other lane is progressing faster due to lack of progress in yours? I bet more than once. And how many times, after you’ve switched lanes, has the lane you previously stood in started progressing faster? Almost always, right?

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The problem with this automatic reaction is that it tries to optimize our position, while it ignores several facts like our lack of control over the line’s progression rate (thank you Tom Stafford for this example and for inspiring this post).

There are many automatic reactions that work with and against us while we complete tasks and strive to be more productive. Below are the three habits you need to master in order to get more control over your automatic responses.

1. Determine the lane you’re going to stand in and stay there!

Trying to reaffirm your choices on a regular basis leaves you exhausted.

You may think switching between tasks (or lanes) will help you progress faster, but you’re quite wrong. Your brain is just pulling a fast one on you, convincing you that you can do things better if you’ll finish them later and move on now.

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When you’re constantly switching tasks, you spend more energy on skipping then you spend on doing. Sticking to your chosen path saves a lot of energy on several levels.

First, you don’t waste energy thinking about alternatives, you focus your energy on completing one task. Second, you don’t need to invest energy on new beginnings. Third, you don’t feel guilty because you’ve left something open, resulting in better focus on the task at hand.

The solution as you probably guessed by now is quite simple: plan your tasks and execute them one task at a time.

2. Focus on yourself and don’t compare between lanes.

When you’re stuck, you have a feeling that everyone around you is moving forward. This happens because our brain is calibrated to be self-centered.

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When everything runs smoothly, you don’t pay attention to your surroundings; you focus on the actions you’re about to make. When you’re focused on doing rather than comparing, things tend to get done.

The problem begins when there’s friction, when things don’t progress as we anticipated and we begin to look around for explanations and clues as to why everyone else is moving and we are not. But this is really just a distraction. So, instead of looking at what other people are doing, have a little faith in yourself and discover your own worth.

3. All lanes are the same.

Most of the time, we are the ones who are holding ourselves back. External influences almost never prevent us from reaching our goals. Sure, they might hold us back for a while, but they can never stop us from completing a task once we set our minds on finishing it.

Since we are our own worst enemies, we need to evaluate our condition using real-world parameters, like time and effort, while ignoring interruptions that offer an easy way out. One of the most talked about interruptions that prevents us from finishing tasks is FOMO, or fear of missing out. FOMO makes it really hard to focus on one thing because, according to our perception, there’s high chance we’re missing out on something.

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Dropping everything mid-task and moving onto something else will almost always backfire. It will most likely create a backlog of incomplete tasks and increase your stress and frustration. Not giving into FOMO and staying painfully honest with yourself is a must, otherwise the only thing you will truly miss out on is your goal completion.

Until next time, be polite and wait in line!

More by this author

Haim Pekel

Haim Pekel is an entrepreneur and shares tips on productivity and entrepreneurship at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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