Here’s how my job in a supermarket is improving my productivity as a freelance writer.
Back in November I got a part-time job in a supermarket in an attempt to supplement my freelance income and relieve some of the financial pressure that comes with being self-employed.
Retail work is often referred to as ‘unskilled’ but I personally think it’s far from it. Working in this shop has required a decent amount of training (admittedly nowhere near as much as a job that requires a degree), it’s been physically demanding, emotionally exhausting, and it’s equipped me with skills that can benefit other aspects of my career.
Here are a few lessons working in retail has taught me about productivity, for example:
It doesn’t matter how big your to-do list is, just make a start on one thing
One of my worst habits as a freelancer is letting feelings of overwhelm prevent me from making a start. When I have five different things I need to do, I’ll often spend so long trying to decide which task is the most important and which will reap the best results that I end up doing nothing at all.
In retail, it doesn’t matter how many things you have to do that day. You just make a start on one thing and after a while, move onto the next.
Imagine if I let the feelings of overwhelm that I experience in my freelance career take control when I’m working in the shop. It’s not like I can go into work one morning and hide away in the break room because I have hundreds of customers to serve, shelves to stack, and products to reduce. I just have to pick a thing and do it! When I do one thing at a time, by the end of the day I’ve achieved plenty.
Time blocking can help to improve focus
My attention span is piss poor and even when I settle down to do a certain task when working from home, it’s usually a matter of minutes before my mind wanders or I ditch the original task to do something else. I blame social media and mobile phones.
When I’m working at the shop, however, I’m mostly distraction-free. Sure, I could be distracted by a customer asking me to show them where the eggs are, but it’s not like I can sit on a checkout scrolling through social media. Nor can I start cleaning my kitchen in an attempt to procrastinate. When I’m doing a shift at the shop, that time has been set aside for the company I work for. That time belongs to the company. Everything I do in that time frame benefits the company.
I keep a track of all my shifts in a diary and it’s sobering to see how many hours I’ve given to this supermarket and how little I get in return. I did a 9-hour shift yesterday. Imagine if I’d blocked off that time for me, instead of the shop. I could have spent 9 hours writing my book if I ignored all distractions and really focused on it.
You’ll be amazed how much faster you can work when given a tight deadline
A few weeks ago, I was working an evening shift and home time was *finally* approaching. My shift was set to finish at 10.30 but at 10.10, a manager told me to get some several cages of milk from the freezer upstairs, bring them down in the lift, and put them out onto the shelf. I was livid! Didn’t he care that I only had 20 minutes left? What was the point in giving me such a task to do? I did as I said and hurried as fast as I could, annoyed that since the milk had to be kept cold, it’s not like I could drop everything at half 10 and clock out. In hindsight, I think the manager knew that giving someone a tight deadline can be like putting a firework up their arse. I got the job done and I did it much faster than I would have done if I hadn’t been in a hurry to go home.
I work well to deadlines in my writing career too. If a magazine editor tells me they’d like a piece to be completed by noon the next day, I’ll drop everything else to get it done. Whereas if I’m giving myself work to do and there’s no urgency, I’ll procrastinate for weeks.
Even the little tasks can make a big difference
In the shop I work at, there are various small tasks that need to be completed each day that can seem unimportant and a waste of time.
One of these tasks is known as ‘facing’. Facing is when you tidy up the shelves at the end of the day so that all the labels are facing forwards, everything’s in the right place and the stock has been pushed to the front of the shelves. It’s a bloody boring task to complete and when there are bigger things that need to be done such as serving customers or unloading a delivery, I often wonder what the point in it is. Do the shelves really need to be immaculate? Does it actually matter if some tins of beans are upside down and the tomato puree has fallen onto its side? Of course, this boring process *does* matter because if we didn’t do it, the place would look a mess and customers would struggle to find what they want.
This has served as a reminder that when it comes to productivity outside of the shop, the little things I do matter. Whether I’m writing a quick blog post, replying to comments on Instagram, or researching ways to make my website faster (still struggling with this one), these tasks might not bring in instant cash but they’re important in the long run.