Managing Time and How it is Like Managing the Queue at Your Local Chippy

How We Can Take a Cue From the Local Chippy’s Queue When Managing Time

‘2 Saveloys, a Chicken pie, Large Haddock, Small Cod, and a Large chips please’. That is me last Thursday night. I’m queuing at our local chippy wondering how well the guys behind the counter manage their time – the queue – considering that the people are queuing out of the door and down the street (Work is never far from mind!).

The family; a man, his wife and their daughter run the chip shop. Never flustered. Calm, collected, as the down the street queue is what they expect. Of course they do, a queue means that they are making money. This is their livelihood after all. Yet, they do it day in and day out and seem pretty content with their lot. We do our jobs and get overwhelmed, stressed, can’t cope, have an inbox that never seems to do anything other than grow, and the tasks pile up with no end in sight. What can we learn from the chippy family team about managing tasks and managing our time?

‘You Can Only Do What You Can Do’

My Mum used to say this to me when work was getting on top of me. She was right. Of course, she was right. It is obvious, yet so very true. And the chippy family seem to have this ‘on lock’ (As the kids would say!). All 3 of the family weren’t flustered, or stressed, or overwhelmed. It was happening exactly as they planned it – a large queue halfway down the street and they were good with that – serving one customer at a time and with a smile. You couldn’t ask anymore and they didn’t ask any more of themselves.

A little like my favourite film, ‘A Few Good Men’. Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon and Jack Nicholson. A courtroom army drama with the famous phrase delivered so well by Jack, ‘…you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall…’. Before that fateful days begins in court Tom briefs his lawyer team:

‘Poker faces. Don’t flinch in front of the jury. Something doesn’t go our way, don’t hang your head, don’t shift in your seat, don’t scribble furiously. Whatever happens, you have to look like it’s exactly what you knew was gonna happen.’

The chip shop queue was happening exactly the Greek family had planned. Down the street, one customer at a time, smooth and calm. Is that how you approach each day with your to-do list?

Action: Be like the Chippy family and accept that you can only do what you can do.

One Customer at a Time

Imagine that the daughter is serving and asks one customer what they want, halfway through she stops and asks another customer and also starts putting some chips in the fryer whilst ‘vinegaring’ (Is that a word?) a fresh dished-up portion from the fryer. You’d say, ‘Hold on – I was halfway through telling my order’. If only our tasks could speak to us! What would they say?

One of the biggest challenges in managing time is ‘task switching’, ‘task hopping’, ‘cognitive switching’ – basically, not finishing something and moving onto the next task. Here at the MBM lab, we call it the ‘Cabbage Butterfly’ mode. The podcast on this topic is well worth a 10-minute listen. In essence, imagine a cabbage white butterfly fluttering around a cabbage patch. Sees a lovely juicy cabbage and zooms down to nibble. As the little critter is damaging one cabbage it looks up and sees another lovely juicy cabbage. Flies over and takes a nibble. As it’s chewing on this lovely juicy cabbage… And you get the idea. Cabbage butterfly mode – The art of getting absolutely zero done whilst starting a thousand fires on the way. Also known as ‘busy’.

The Harvard Business Review states that if we switch from one task to another it can take us 50% longer to complete that task. Other studies claim that the time it takes us to defocus from task #1, to focus on task #2, and then to defocus from task #2, and then re-focus on task #1, can be up to 20 minutes. For small tasks, the time would be shorter, but for tasks that take a considerable amount of our IQ, you can see how the minutes add-up switching from one task to another.

Harold Taylor makes this point in his very funny 5-minute video:

Action: Be like the Chippy daughter and serve one customer at a time, one task at a time. Start to end.

‘One Large Haddock. That will be 5-minutes love. Is that ok?’

I gave the Mum our order. She is in her 40’s, about 5’5″ – a Greek lady, and orchestrates the queue like a conductor. A large Haddock is almost a speciality order and they never have any in the hot bar thing, so it takes a few minutes. ‘If you can just wait there love, I’ll let you know when it’s ready’. I stand to the side as the guy behind me steps forward and she takes his order.

You’ll never get all your tasks done from start to end. It’s just not possible because you work in a team, rely on other departments, need sign-off, opinions, and surprisingly everyone is not there waiting for you to ask them for stuff. This should never be your excuse for not getting anything done from start to end. There are many tasks that you can do without needing any input.

Procrastination Radar – A Challenge to Managing Time

The challenge we have is that as soon as we start anything we don’t want to do, a radar appears on the top of our head. Like those, you see at airports. It’s our procrastination radar. Looking for absolutely any interaction that stops us from doing what we are doing. An email notification is the most likely cause, followed by a text, or a colleague needing help.

You haven’t spoken to, and have actively avoided Mike from Health & Safety for 4 months about the briefing you need to attend. Suddenly, as you are drudging through the most God awful task – writing a long report for the senior management team – your radar identifies Mike. He’s 30 feet away, but you can just get his attention if you wave and shout, ‘Mike. Hey Mike! We must get together to do that briefing’. Cue Mike’s surprised face. Procrastination Radar – 1, getting what you need to do, done – 0.

Radar in airport and air traffic control, Procrastination Radar, Managing Time

2 Haddock Lessons

The first part is, where we can get the task completed start to finish – Do it. Avoid procrastination – Which one of the 7 most commons reasons for not getting on with something, are you? Checkout the mnemonic: I.G.N.O.R.E.D. The second Haddock lesson is to start the task to get what you need so that when you come back to it, you can complete it.

Chippy Mum asked me to wait whilst she asked the Dad to put a large Haddock into the fryer. How often have you started a task and then realised that you need the costing data from Julie in Accounts?

You had put this task off for 3 weeks and now you are ready to get it done and you need the information now. You send an urgent email to Julie telling her that the deadline is today and you really need it. Your lack of managing time has now caused a problem for Julie because she has a presentation for tomorrow for client ABC, and has asked Andrew if he can get the graphics designed quickly. Now you have asked…And so the story continues. Everyone’s late and now pushing their deadlines onto each other. Stress. Overwhelm. All ensue.

Action: Be like the Chippy Mum – Identify what you need on a task so that when you are ready to do it, you have what you need. A client presentation in 2 weeks – what will you need for that; graphics, data? Request it now. P.s. Turn off your email notification, except the important ones.


A few weeks back I went to the chippy – ‘Closed’. It was a Monday night and they don’t open on Mondays. I’d forgotten. No cajoling, knocking on the door, or calling them was going to get them to answer the door or open the Chippy. Of course, it wasn’t. Yet, and especially working from home, we are always ‘Open for Business’. We can’t be. And you know why – mental health, burnout, etc. You don’t need me to tell you this, but you do need to understand more about this topic and how to cope with it.

Owner closing restaurant, Managing Time

Simply put, you cannot be open 24 hours. You can’t, and no company/boss should expect you to be. And the world should be moving on from measuring productivity in hours spent to results achieved. More about that soapbox here in Key Result Areas. You need to manage your time and set your hours, particularly if you work at home. Working on your laptop whilst sitting on the sofa watching TV is half working, half relaxing, but you are achieving neither. You are either working or relaxing. Never the two should twain. Set your hours of work. For example, I will work from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm every day, and one night per week I’ll have a late-night and one morning per week I’ll have an early start.

Learn to Say [a Variation of] No

Saying ‘No’, according to psychologists is the hardest word. It is also one of the toughest challenges in managing time. Especially for people pleasers. Checkout ‘Kahlers 5 Drivers in this article to find out which one you are. Our suggestion? Don’t say ‘No’. Instead, offer alternatives.

You might say:

  • ‘I could stop what I am doing now and get that done for you boss’.
  • ‘I can’t do that now but I can get it done on Thursday’.
  • ‘If you can help me with this now, then I’m sure I can get that done for you later’.

Action: Be like Chippy Dad and set your hours. And for you, you don’t need to say ‘No’, you need to offer alternatives instead. ‘If you…then I..‘ is a very effective influencing and negotiating tool that will serve you well in most situations.


Managing time doesn’t have to be a complex challenge. We can learn a lot from our local chippy. They manage huge surges of demand where people are queuing out of the door every day. Are they flustered? No – and neither should you be.

For further tips and information, you can take a look at our Ultimate Guide to Time Management Skills and our Time Management Skills YouTube Channel. Also, check out our award-winning blog to see more Time Management Skills Tips and articles.

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