James Espie, Test Specialist

Cat food and body lotion

A story about circumventing process


We have a process for doing groceries at home.

It’s nothing spectacular - we have a list on the fridge. When we start getting low on a grocery item, that item goes on the list.

On grocery night, we take the list and buy those things.

Lots of people do this - it’s a pretty normal way of doing groceries.

Anyway, over the Christmas holidays, I broke the process. Here’s the story.

Holidays, day one.

Rewind to the first day of the holidays last year. We ran out of milk, and we were going to need some for baby in the morning.

It couldn’t really wait. I didn’t bother with the shopping list - I just drove up to Countdown and grabbed some.

It was an uneventful trip, apart from the self checkout not working, but that’s pretty normal for me.

Sorted - our child will not starve. Yay!

Holidays, day two.

The next day, we ran out of eggs, and I also noticed we were low on peanut butter.

I could have put them on the shopping list, but I wanted eggs and peanut butter - and I was on holiday!

I had plenty of time on my hands, so, another trip to Countdown for some eggs and some peanut butter.

Holidays, day three.

The third day, I decided to do some baking. In doing so, I used up most of the flour and sugar at home. Again, I had nothing else to do, so, I headed to Countdown to stock up.

You might be able to see, a pattern is starting to emerge…

Holidays, day n.

We are running low on a thing, or need some other thing, so I go to Countdown to get the thing.

Holidays, the last day.

Sure enough, the last day of my holiday followed the usual pattern. Off to Countdown, to pick up a couple of items that we were short on.

As expected, the self checkout machine started yelling at me - “Unexpected item in bagging area”.

The checkout assistant came over to reset the machine for me, like she’d done many times. By this point, she knew me as a regular. As she did so, she took a glance at the items in my basket - a box of cat food, and some budget brand body lotion.

Then she just looked at me - in this pitying kind of way, a look that said “where did your life go wrong?”

Maybe she thought I was going to go home, feed my cat, and then give it a nice lotiony massage?

Where did my life go wrong?

At that moment, it dawned on me, that something had gone awry. How did I end up, on the last day of my holiday, at the supermarket, buying just these two odd items?

In fact, I’d been to the supermarket every day. So many trips! What a waste of my time!

On reflection, it wasn’t that first trip to the supermarket that was the problem. We needed milk.

It was the second trip, and the third trip, that started to make it a habit. That was when the process (the shopping list) got dropped, and I started solving our problems ‘ad-hoc’.

Trust the process

What I learned was that when there’s a process in place (assuming it’s a good, healthy process that works), to stick to it.

There might be cases where it’s really necessary to circumvent the process. In software we would do a hotfix, or run a script to update some production data, to take care of some urgent issue.

But it’s when that ‘hotfix’ approach becomes a habit, that’s when you get in to trouble. When it becomes normal to ‘shortcut’, instead of relying on the processes you put in place.

That’s when time starts to get wasted, and poor life decisions get made.