If I could turn an everyday activity into an Olympic event so that I could compete in it (and come home with that Gold, baby) it would be Grocery Shopping.
Hear me out.
Grocery shopping is a skill. It’s not just something you should go and do all willy-nilly. It’s something you hone over time, and become masterful at with practice.
If you picture your local grocery store in your mind, do you know where they keep the Cheerios? The cucumbers? Do you know how to get in and out with ingredients for a meal your kids will actually eat in under 10 minutes?
Here’s the thing. I’ve been training for this imaginary Olympic event for about 30 years. In the early 90’s my dad would commute from the city to the suburbs, pick my brother and I up from school and bring us back to the city for our nights at his place. On our way we’d have to stop at Loblaws and grab ingredients for dinner, and get home in time to cook and do homework – you know, basically the parental grind.
With all that commuting, we didn’t have a ton of time and we were still too young to leave in the car while he nipped into the store (even by 90’s standards).
So our dad turned it into a game. “Ok kids, we’re having pasta for dinner – we need to get noodles, onions, garlic, and crushed tomatoes. Do you think we can get in and out in 5 minutes?”
Sometimes we’d divide and conquer the list, each of us responsible for a couple of items and seeing who could make it to the cash register first.
I cherish these memories now. And I can also appreciate it for what it was for my dad – a way to turn a mundane and necessary errand into a chance for connection and fun with kids he hadn’t seen in several days.
Fast forward to my University years, and I was compounding on those early training experiences. Instead of chasing a timer, now I was chasing a budget – I wasn’t willing to survive on KD but I certainly wasn’t making beef bourguignon either. It was all about getting in and getting out and staying on track so I could still keep the wifi on.
By the time I had kids of my own, I had a pretty good handle on getting through the grocery store unscathed. But I had yet to pass my final test to qualify for those Everyday Games.
It’s a fact – going through the grocery store with a hungry toddler is a special kind of hell. It will test you mentally, physically, and spiritually. But those of us built for greatness dig deep and make it through (ok, I know I’m being ridiculous now).
So what does all this grocery shopping have to do with anything, you’re asking?
Well it’s a lot like the process of learning to become more productive. You may look at someone and think “how do they get it all done?” or “how come she’s so much more efficient than me?” Maybe you think that person you’re admiring just came by it naturally – they were born with it.
Chances are that’s just not true (it is Maybelline).
Productivity is a skill. It’s learned, practiced, and polished over time.
We don’t look at babies and expect them to be productive. We know as parents that it’s our job to give our children opportunities to experience and cultivate these kinds of life skills.
And if you haven’t yet had the chance to become a productivity gold medalist, it’s not too late! (Unlike the real Olympics, these imaginary sports are far less age-dependent).
There are plenty of ways you can develop your productivity skills and become more masterful at it over time.
Let’s take the example of the grocery store, and see how it relates to developing your productivity.
Pattern recognition + Repetition
Repetition is an underestimated super power. Your brain is a super computer and anything it has to do repeatedly it will always look for opportunities for efficiency. Your brain is analyzing trillions of sensory inputs and data points and will always find any way it can to streamline and prioritize the information that is more important. Simply by doing something over and over again you’ll become more efficient.
Just like grocery shopping with a list, anything you undertake is better with a plan. Part of becoming more productive in your life and business is learning effective planning skills. It’s important to learn how to plan for both the expected and unexpected possibilities, and develop different strategies accordingly.
Similarly to repetition and pattern recognition, you brain always wants to find the path of least resistance. If you know that Self Checkout Machine #3 is the slowest one, you’ll always make sure to avoid it. Similarly, if you know you struggle with certain tasks or get overwhelmed with something, you’re better off finding a way around it rather than trying to power through. Give yourself permission to find creative shortcuts to eliminate or reduce friction.
Time + Money – it almost always boils down to those two. And that’s ok – when you know what the limits are you can play within them. As you learn to hone your productivity skills, you’ll learn to walk that line of maximizing you can while still staying within the lines.
Productivity and efficiency aren’t the be all and end all of running a business. They are often glorified to a fault. But they are useful skills that can be applied to furthering something of much higher value.
Becoming more efficient and productive at the work we do can help us give more to our clients. It can help us have more time to care for ourselves in an overwhelming world. And it can help us have more left over at the end of the day to give to the ones we love – maybe it won’t be over a game at the grocery store, but those connections are the thing that matters most, and creating more time and space for it is a worthy cause.