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Oliver: Maybe it’s time to rethink devotion to efficiency

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

“You’re so competent,” my friend declared after a recent trip to the grocery store together.

Normally this would be a compliment. However, this was one of those loaded, backhanded remarks that speaks volumes. The stinging sort that lay bare one of the unhappy truths of my existence. Or one meant to poke fun at my persnickety nature.

Alas, not everyone appreciates my slavish devotion to efficiency. 

When I was the assistant news editor of the Northwest Herald, my organized, efficient nature was an asset. For instance, if the news editor was on the phone with someone taking issue with a police report, all I had to have was the name and the town of the arrest and I could find the original report in less than five minutes. Sometimes he’d even still be on the phone with the person when I handed it to him.

To me, all this streamlining of processes and creation of routines is just a way to spend as little time (or as little thought) as possible on things I don’t particularly like. In essence, it’s a manifestation of my laziness. For instance, I’d rather be doing something else with my time than looking for an item that I couldn’t bother to put in its proper place.

Never more is this theory put into practice than at the grocery store. 

When my husband used to shop for us, he’d go practically every day to pick up just a few items. Since the job now has fallen to me, there’s no way I want to spend that much time going to the store. Once a week is plenty.

A key strategy is to always go with a list. If it’s not on the list and I don’t remember we need it, then that’s tough luck until the next week. Unless, of course, it’s essential, and then I spend probably too much time trying to understand how that item failed to make the list. Usually this involves looking over at my shrugging husband.

Adding to all this is my insistence on only going through a store once. We shop at one of those huge warehouse stores, so there’s nothing worse than realizing that you’ve forgotten an item that’s eight to 10 aisles back. To combat this, I’ve tried to memorize where everything I need is located. (I did mention slavish devotion to efficiency, did I not?)

Part of the reason for all this grocery store streamlining is that I have a short window of time to shop. If I drag my husband to the store with me, someone has to be home with my mother. That’s usually one of my long-suffering friends, so it behooves me to get a move on it. Not that anyone has ever complained; I just don’t want to impose on anyone else’s time.

Unfortunately, my methods didn’t translate well when shopping with the friend mentioned at the outset. Maybe it had something to do with my not wanting to crisscross the store several times in pursuit of each item on her list. Not that it would have killed me.

Or maybe it was my exasperation that led to her handing me her list. This should have been the big clue that maybe my “helpful” tactics weren’t being appreciated.

Still, I’m glad that in the end we were able to laugh it off. Or maybe she’s just laughing at me; I really can’t be sure.

This efficiency streak is a deep one. Sometimes it’s a blessing, and other times it leads to curses. 


• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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