More Productivity Lessons from Taco Bell

I blogged a few weeks ago on what Taco Bell teaches us about how to define and manage your next actions. Here’s another lesson from Taco Bell.

When you get up to the cash register (whether at Taco Bell or any fast food restaurant), it is interesting to note that the person taking your order and the person making your food are different.

Why is that relevant? Because if the same person had to do both, it would slow everything down. You would have to wait twice as long to get your food (probably longer, due to the costs of switch tasking), and the line would grow — frustrating everyone.

Here’s the problem: When it comes to productivity, most of us are both cashier and chef. We both have to receive and process the new input (cashier) and produce the results (chef). The time spent capturing and processing new input takes time away from delivering results. Sometimes, this can be substantial.

In fact, the amount of time that processing new input takes away from delivering results is larger than simply the time it takes to do the processing. The switch in mindsets from handling new stuff to focusing on delivering results creates a cost of its own. This can be minimized by making sure that you process new input in batches rather than continuously throughout the day. But it cannot be removed entirely.

What’s the solution? Unfortunately, I don’t have a complete one yet. There may not be one. Proper use of an assistant, for those fortunate enough to have one, is part of the answer but cannot solve the whole story. Batching the processing task is another, but again that is not a complete solution. Having an effective system in place and being efficient with it is a third component. But again, none of these totally solve the issue: the time (and energy — that’s huge) that you have to deliver results is decreased by the amount of time that you have to spend processing new input.

Maybe a skillful application of these three partial solutions is the best we can do. What are your thoughts?

In the meantime, if you need inspiration, just take a trip to Taco Bell.

  • Michael Brown

    This is an excellent post.

    One thing that I would add to your list of 3 steps that can be taken to alleviate this problem is this: Standardize the Form of Information to be Processed.

    For example, if every customer at Taco Bell used a Kiosk to enter their own order (and pay, even), and then just handed a standardized printout to the chef, then you could eliminate the step of processing the information, altogether.

    Similarly, if you can teach/train/force your people to standardize the way that they deliver information to you (and the timing of delivery – in batches, as you would stress), this goes a long way to reducing information processing time and making the transition to productive action easier. This step also tends to eliminate errors and the need for additional communication.

  • Brian Current

    The only thing I can add, based on my limited experience, is to also make sure that we are as efficient as possible throughout our processing new input and delivering the results when it comes to repetitive tasks.

    For me, this relates to reports. I download data from our system and create reports to summarize and analyze data in Microsoft Excel. A huge amount of time can be wasted by performing the same steps each time I analyze and summarize new sets of data. Setting up macros to automate most or all of the report can eliminate hours of wasted time each week (or day!). The problem I see with co-workers is that they do not even know what is possible when it comes to automating much of Microsoft Office programs. So, they don’t even try to save time there. My rule is, if I’m going to do it more than 2 or 3 times, I’m going to write a macro for it. The time I spent learning to write VBA code and formulas, use pivot tables and layout a spreadsheet pays off for me every singe day.

    I know a lot of jobs don’t rely on Excel like mine does, but I think the principle is that we should look for ways to save time on all the repetitive tasks associated with what we do.

  • Matt

    Great points from both of you. Standardizing the way input is received would save a ton of time. Very often I get emails that I need to “decode” into a project; if a person would just do that thinking on their end and said clearly “here is the outcome I need,” that would make things so much more efficient.

    As I think more about this, it seems like there’s yet an additional role beyond “cashier” and “chef”: consultant. “So, you want something with meat and lettuce, and some type of shell? And something to drink? Well, let’s see. That sounds like the taco combo meal. Is that right? OK. Oh, and do you want soft shell or hard shell?”

    Finding ways to save time on repeating tasks is also huge. I’ve been trying to implement that more fully with some things, and it has been paying off. Macros are a really good example — it sounds like you can make a quite remarkable efficiency improvement through them.

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