Text reads: Unusable task list = money lost! Cartoon owl sitting and looking at a drawing tablet in front of them.

Food. It spoils.

A grocery store sells food. Their food spoils, too. Just like any other food.

When you’re a grocery store, you really, really want to sell that food before it spoils. Because you’re not allowed to sell it after that. Each and every unsold steak, sandwich or a lump of cheese is a loss of revenue.

But, whenever selling for profit seems implausible, the next best thing is to sell with break-even. Or even at a 10 % loss rather than a 100 % loss.

That’s why, when the “best before” date of the food product looms, we slap a discount sticker on it. We want it to exit through the store entrance with a little revenue, instead of the store bin with no revenue at all.

Discounting is a process – process needs a task list

Now, slapping stickers is easy. Fun, even! But a shelf life differs a lot between products; a fresh ready-made salad lasts only a couple of days, whereas a pack of sausages can sit there for a few weeks. That’s why it makes sense to check the short-lived products more frequently than the longer-lived ones.

But when there’s a dozen employees working irregular, alternating shifts, no one would ever know who had checked the food products for discounts, and when.

That’s why a weekly task list is very important. In fact, it is important to many other processes as well.

However, I want to focus on the food discounting process, since it came up at my work recently. I have some qualms about our task list, you see.

The problematic task list

A weekly task list of the food discounting tasks for the evening shift. Tasks include product types such as vegetables, confectionery, eggs, milk and sausages.
This weekly task list we use at the store has some problems. Luckily they are surprisingly easy to fix!

Here you can see a recreation (with some modifications, like adaptation into English) of what that task list just about looks like. It’s the cheat sheet for the evening shift that is meant to help us know the product types that we should discount each day.

Such a task list is not important for only the newcomers but the long-time employees as well. We don’t have to remember everything and just let the list tell us what to do! Additionally, we might change the practice in the future and it will show up in the task list for everyone to see.

However, even with this task list in their hands, I’ve seen the newer employees make mistakes with the discounts. Myself included!

For example, I have mistakenly discounted fresh salads (“saldies” in the task list) way too early: whopping three days before the “best before” date! When I should have discounted only the ones with one day left!

Why did that happen? Well, it was Thursday. If you look at the task list we work with, you can see that it says, “saldie+pies process & sausage discount till sunday”. Except I should have understood that “saldie+pies” is separate from the latter part, and I should have discounted them before next day!

The problem: tunnel vision

To be fair, if I had looked at the surrounding columns, I would have seen that “saldie+pies” are a daily thing. And that “process & sausage discount till sunday” is its own entity. I do know that there are two types of discount practices (“till next day” and “three days before”), so I would have figured it out if I had just properly looked at the whole schedule.

But, you should know that when people do stuff, especially if it demands concentration, they tend to have kind of a tunnel vision for information. That means that when a person concentrates on a task, they become blind to anything else except for the relevant information.

Let me demonstrate. When I was following the tasks on the weekly schedule, this is what I saw:

A weekly discount task list is heavily blurred, except for the column for Thursday. The tasks for the evening shift include: saldies, pies, process & sausage discounted till sunday, milk department discounted till sunday, vegetables and confectionery+buns

It was Thursday, so that’s where I focused all my attention. Not Wednesday. Not Friday. That is why I failed to figure out that saldies and pies had a different discount logic than the processed foods & sausages.

And that I think is the main source of my and other’s discounting errors. We are required to look at the whole and piece together a logical conclusion from memory and scattered information. Even then I doubt that everyone can confidently start slapping stickers on salads.

I fixed the task list

I don’t like to whine without providing a solution. In this case, the fixes were so easy that it didn’t even take that long to put together an alternative.

Weekly discount task list. The tasks are grouped under the corresponding discount logic: products with best before day until tomorrow and products with the date until three days later. Underneath are explanations what some of the terms mean.
Grouping the tasks made the list substantially more understandable. Now you can do your tasks only by looking at the corresponding weekday and you are good to go! Additional notes under the table clarify some of the terminology, making the employee more confident about what products they should discount.

I bet if I had hyper-focused on this, I would have been way more successful at discounting the right way!

The main fix I did here was to group the product types under clear labels. That way I can first concentrate on the “till next day” task and go through the products under that label. After that, I can move on to the next discounting logic.

I actually don’t understand why the different discounting logic types were so scattered in the original list. It doesn’t even reflect the optimal order for going through all the products, so that cannot be the reason.

One small, yet important fix was changing the egg discount logic into the same format as the others. The original “+7days” style might cause confusion; should I discount all the way to Sunday dates or Monday dates?

(Another way to approach the day amount dilemma would be to use a format like this: Discount this day + 3 following days.)

Third fix was adding a Notes section under the schedule. I suggested that to our boss as well, because I felt that it would help us newbies to understand some of our grocery store jargon. Like “Saldie” (a term which I made up for this adaptation) is a brand name for ready-made salads and sub sandwiches, but in our store it means all the similar products regardless of brand.

Can you take on the discounting task?

Now, if I handed you a roll of discount stickers along with this task list, would you feel confident? Would you slap a sticker on a pasta bolognese meal on Wednesday? Or on a cake box on Monday, when it has a “best before” date until Thursday? Or on a carton of skimmed milk on Saturday when it dates till Sunday?

(Of course, I would first introduce the store to you, so that you would know where everything is!)



An artist who lurks in dark places and walks on her toes – a habit from when she was a little dinosaur. If invited for a friendly jog or to play some video games, deep ponderings about life, humanity and functional design choices may occur.

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