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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!

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Haim Pekel

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

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

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

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

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.”[1]

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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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

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 6 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.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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