Being Efficient: The Shopping List Technique

The last 6 months have been nothing short of incredible. I became a proud record holder of a “Fastest Known Time” record, I achieved my 20-year-old dream of taking part in the reality series “Survivor”, I was formally upskilled in my passion of being a life and business coach and all that whilst being a fulltime chemical engineer, husband and father of 1 (or more like father of 1.8 😊).

The “too busy for the fun stuff” syndrome

At some stage in our lives, we have all wished that we had a little bit more time, had a little bit less responsibility at work or home or perhaps were simply able to spend more time on the things that we love and not just our obligations. I am certain that I am referring to at least 99% of the people reading this blog. Those of us who have been battle-hardened, have come to the conclusions such as, “just work harder”, “do more”, “don’t give up” or the infamous productivity lie of “just sleep less, the day has 24 hours”. Truth is that none of those are sustainable.

In an attempt to address this inauspicious but prevailing problem, many of us (including me) have grasped at self help books on productivity to teach us the golden secrets of life and how to get more out of it. On many occasions, these books are recommended by a friend or colleague who has benefitted from it greatly and that gives us tremendous hope. The truth at the end of the day is that for some it might work, but for others it doesn’t.

Why does it seem like efficiency or productivity advice works better for others than for me?

The reason for this is simple. Some people prefer to drive their cars to work and others want to cycle, some prefer cereal in the morning whilst others prefer eggs on toast. We are all different, unique human beings and therefore it would be ludicrous to expect one single method to be the answer to all the productivity problems experienced by every single person. As I write that, I suddenly wonder why I am then even writing the rest of this, but I am reminded again that what I have discovered is open ended enough to be tailored for each and every one of the 8 billion inhabitants of mother earth and also accurate enough to have been proven successful.

In my most recent journey to becoming a Fastest Known Time record holder, I have cemented in place the fundamentals I have learnt in other facets of my life such as engineering, participating in Survivor and in coaching. If these fundamentals can work across all these diverse topics, then it can work for you as well.

The first step in the shopping list technique

Here is the first step and it might be contrary to popular belief. In all the self help books, we get a recipe which basically boils down to one thing -decide what you want to achieve, change your habits to support it and have unwavering discipline to uphold those habits (that is some pretty sound advice by the way). It all comes down to discipline and bucket loads thereof. I do support that since it is the truth, but how realistic is it to slave away at maintaining discipline in something you either hate or don’t really know how to do? An example would be pursuing 3 activities before going to work but I can barely get up for work in the first place? How about learning a new skill every day, but I am already struggling with just figuring out how I managed to fit all the odd shaped glasses in the dishwasher last time round? It just does not cut it for everyone. Discipline is great, but it can’t be the be all and end all of everything.

But if discipline is not it, then what is? I started off by saying the last 6 months have been incredible, but the truth is that it has not been much different to the past 6 years, the only difference is that none of my current successes happened outside of those 6 months. Let me explain: We often expect success to be accompanied by hard work and often it is true, but not always. What is always true though, is that your priority list determines your areas of success and speeds up the timelines thereof (now we are getting somewhere). We are often told to focus on one or two things and invest all our time on them to ensure we excel in them, but which one or two things should it be then? I started to use priorities in my everyday life much like making a grocery list with all my wants and needs before I go to the grocery store. I soon realized that I would never be able to afford everything on the list so then I started to prioritise in descending order from most important to least important. Subsequently, I start buying from top to bottom without a care in the world. When I have enough of one product, I simply scratch it off my list and go to the next item. When I come to the end of my shopping day and I have either run out of money or time, I simply stop, look back at everything I have achieved and tell myself that, although I did not get everything I ever wanted, I know I got the absolute most out of this day than I could possibly get . In addition to that, I also aquired the most important things as well. That is one effective way of ensuring that I leave none of my worthy passions hanging out to dry.

When I started exercising about 10 years ago, it was merely an activity to help me pass my SARugby fitness tests, not a priority at all. But as soon as I failed my first test and realised that this needs to become a priority, I never failed a test again and became the fittest referee for 3 years running (yes that was an intentional pun). Many people would say “I would love to do that or start a new hobby, but I just don’t have the time to do so”, when what they are actually saying is “I don’t prioritize this new endeavor of mine enough to really pursue it”. Those are hard words to hear for anyone who has unachieved goals, but true ones none the less. The massive benefit of the shopping list technique is twofold. Firstly, and most importantly, you ensure that the most important things in your life, the things you always have wanted to do but never had time for, are accomplished before the time-stealing, less important and often trivial things. Secondly, the shopping list technique does not require a cut-off point of things which can be attempted on any given day. The list can be never ending, and you can be convinced that you won’t get to everything, but by making the list unrealistically long you can bet that you will get the most done. There is no self-imposed limit to making things happen. It is exactly this approach which has allowed me to balance the harsh requirements of a full-time professional engineering career with playing Survivor, being a life and business coach and setting Fastest Known Time records all without neglecting being a father and husband to those I so dearly love.

What is the actual secret why this has proven to be so successful?

What makes the shopping list technique so rewarding for anyone from any walk of life and any part in the world, is that you decide your own priorities. I decide how long my list will be and I decide what makes the list. Therefore, this technique does not exclude anyone, no matter what your working hours, daily routine, responsibilities or personal circumstances. What I put on the list is determined by me and only me and I can therefore throw myself into it wholeheartedly.

Prioritisation is the underrated big brother of discipline and is especially effective for those individuals who have tried anything and everything to accomplish their goals and responsibilities but just can’t get to them all. It is also a great start-up tool for anyone who is entering a new challenge or even a new walk of life. Set up your list, rearrange it according to importance and chase it down day after day and see how your life changes. I am looking forward to hearing about all the success stories which will come from the shopping list technique.

If you are going to apply the shopping list technique or have any questions on it, send me a message at [email protected].

Watch this space for my next blog which includes a hands on example of me applying the shopping list technique and answering some of the questions on how to best apply it.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *