Discreet things to do while working at the checkout
May 11, 2018 5:53 AM   Subscribe

I work in a store and a lot of the time I end up being the main cashier. I usually go a few minutes without any customers to ring up and I get bored. Any suggestions for what I could do? I can only do discreet things, so no book reading unfortunately. I have access to register paper and pens. I could get something else to supplement that if need be.

Bonus question: Any suggestions for making standing on my feet for 8 hours suck less? (I'm in the process of getting new supportive shoes.)
posted by starlybri to Grab Bag (35 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I used to do crosswords (tear one out of an old newspaper or book) or learn foreign languages with surreptitious flashcards. Composing haiku works too
posted by lollusc at 6:03 AM on May 11 [3 favorites]

Zentangle or doodling. As to the standing, try to move around as much as you're able. Bend your knees, flex your ankles, stand on one foot and alternate with the other foot, slight squats, etc. Can you ask for a fatigue mat to stand on?
posted by XtineHutch at 6:08 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]

I like to anagram friends’ names.
posted by eirias at 6:08 AM on May 11

I used to fold paper cranes with register paper.
posted by quadrilaterals at 6:09 AM on May 11 [3 favorites]

About 75% of cashiers I interact with have their phones out on the counter in front of them and are playing on them in between or sometimes actually during transactions. Given that their role in most transactions amounts to just scanning a couple barcodes and pushing a couple buttons on the register in response to my pushing a couple buttons on the pin pad (not something that seems like it requires their full attention) I as a customer am totally OK with that.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:12 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]

I used to write poetry on register paper. Or do character sketches or outlines for short story ideas.
posted by BlueJae at 6:17 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]

Logic puzzles? I like to do those while I'm walking around and proctoring exams sometimes...
posted by orangesky4 at 6:20 AM on May 11

I've gotten in trouble for being on my phone or else I'd totally do that. These are great suggestions, keep em coming!
posted by starlybri at 6:30 AM on May 11

If phones and books are forbidden but other small objects might be okay, you could make flashcards to study a foreign language or anything else you're interested in learning. You can make them on small keyring notebooks that easily stow in a pocket. Or, if you're generally at the same station all shift, maybe tape a friendship bracelet/lanyard/other small weaving project discreetly under the counter, to work on in quiet moments?

For the standing: seconding a mat. Can you get your employer to provide a shock mat / anti-fatigue mat if you don't already have one? They really help a lot, and many employers provide them for cashiers as a matter of course, to cut down on ergonomic stress (and potential medical/workman's comp issues).
posted by halation at 6:36 AM on May 11 [5 favorites]

Memorize poems. All you need is a slip of paper in your pocket to glance at. (Also a great activity for dog walks and long drives.)
posted by HotToddy at 6:38 AM on May 11 [6 favorites]

Compose limericks in your head. The structure makes it easy to recall lines previously written following the inevitable interruptions. You'll discover how much small changes can improve limericks. And people love them; if you devote your efforts to a consistent set of topics--hey, maybe the retail experience!-- you can build a twitter following.
posted by carmicha at 6:43 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]

Isometric exercise. Tighten different muscles. Hold for a specific number of seconds. Practice balancing on one foot. See if you can increase your time.
posted by FencingGal at 6:43 AM on May 11 [5 favorites]

Work on learning some sick pen twirling moves? Note: you'll probably drop the pen A LOT to start with, so if this ends up making too much of a racket/is too distracting, this may not end up working out.

I also used to sketch or write things on receipt paper or a twice-folded sheet of printer paper to keep it discreet.
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:06 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]

Learn a new language. A few flash cards in your pocket while you practice phrases. If you have customers come in that speak 2 languages or have English as a second language it might be nice to have a few phrases you could use with them & you can tell your boss this is why you are doing it if they say anything.

I used to memorize poems or parts of a book. I can still recite Jabberwocky by Louis Carroll thirty years later because of my stint in a job with downtime where I was just standing around.
posted by wwax at 7:10 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]

Learn the Steeplechase Flourish.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:17 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]

Could you get one of those super tiny discrete bluetooth earphones (something like this, no affiliation just the first search result) and listen to podcasts or music quietly? (by quietly i mean not so loud you cant hear your surroundings.) Just press pause or take it out when a customer shows up? May require some fiddling with your phone, but its not continuous engagement.
posted by cgg at 7:43 AM on May 11 [6 favorites]

Postcards to Voters. The post office sells pre-stamped postcards for $0.39.
posted by bq at 9:02 AM on May 11 [6 favorites]

In a similar situation, I wrote a lot of (somewhat disjointed) letters to a friend. It looked like I was taking notes, and I would slide the letter under another thing if I felt I was being scrutinized.

if your pens will work on the register paper, you can even use that. I actually used regular office paper cut into long strips, which were easier to hide than regular sized paper.
posted by jb at 9:21 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]

For the standing: seconding a mat. Can you get your employer to provide a shock mat / anti-fatigue mat if you don't already have one? They really help a lot, and many employers provide them for cashiers as a matter of course, to cut down on ergonomic stress (and potential medical/workman's comp issues).

Thirding this - I don't know about your jurisdiction, but I think they may even be mandatory in some. It's a serious issue - and if you do get any foot issues, you may be able to make a workers' comp claim.
posted by jb at 9:22 AM on May 11 [6 favorites]

CRYPTOQUIP!! It's pretty easy to copy it onto a scrap piece of paper, and you get a good chuckle from the shittypuns that result. win-win.
posted by blueberrypuffin at 9:36 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]

Make lists.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 9:59 AM on May 11

I make little diagrams of how I want to redecorate my house and yard when I magically come into money. The trick for me is that I always keep it inside the confines of my current house, so the limitations become challenges to solve creatively. I can spend a good chunk of time 'moving furniture' around a room on a scrap of paper to optimally fit the dream dining set without sacrificing the dream couch.
posted by DSime at 10:04 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]

posted by Dressed to Kill at 10:52 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]

I do a lot of anagrams with words in my field of vision when I'm bored. You can list them on paper, but it's kind of a fun challenge to hold the whole list of anagrams in your head as you work through all the options.
posted by snaw at 11:33 AM on May 11

Seconding newspaper crosswords. Those saved me in my retail days.
posted by Neely O'Hara at 1:22 PM on May 11

posted by peppermintfreddo at 2:25 PM on May 11 [2 favorites]

I did plenty of long boring shifts in the ice cream kiosk on Brighton Pier on bleak rainy days, so I feel your pain. This was pre-mobile phones, so I used to calculate how much I had earned so far, down to the minute. Calculate my taxes. Calculate what I was going to spend it on (long to do lists and wish lists). Calculate future expenditures and work out how many hours it would take to get there, after tax, to the minute.

Sudokus and cryptic crosswords are also good time-wasters. A sudoku ripped out of a newspaper could easily slide under the till when a customer arrives.
posted by tinkletown at 2:33 PM on May 11

Don't have anything to help pass the time, but if I didn't have Superfeet I wouldn't be able to walk. Years of standing on concrete took a toll.
posted by booooooze at 3:33 PM on May 11

Straighten out the areas around you. Put back returns. Wipe down the register. Refill any candy racks, etc. nearby. Sweep. Dust. Change the garbage bags. Make sure you have supplies handy (have new rolls of receipt paper available; fill the plastic bags). Smile and greet customers; ask if they need any help. And it helps when you take turns bending your legs up behind you; it stretches out your thigh muscles.
posted by annieb at 6:22 PM on May 11

Make up jokes. My son is obsessed with jokes, and it's entirely possible to come up with some decent pun-ny ones if you just fill in either X or Y for "Why did the X do Y..." and figure out a semi-funny answer. It's a surprisingly good brain exercise.
posted by gatorae at 7:23 PM on May 11

Thanks all for the ideas! Hopefully they'll keep me busy for a while! By the way, does anyone know about NY laws that might pertain to fatigue mats?
posted by starlybri at 7:44 PM on May 11

I used to keep a notebook under the registered with coded tales from rude, weird and interesting customers.
posted by Toddles at 9:55 PM on May 11

Bonus Answer: Bring second pair of shoes. Swap shoes at every break.
posted by Homer42 at 1:49 AM on May 12

Dr Scholl sport gel insoles are great. Also, change shoes at your break, it makes a huge difference.
posted by Enid Lareg at 7:55 AM on May 12

Ha, I came to say kegels too!
And squats.
A scrap of 2x2 or 2x4 is fantastic for stretching your calves.
A fatigue mat, but in a pinch see if you can drum up just one of those padded floor puzzle squares, cut it down if needed and stand on that. At the very least, do email a request to your boss or to HR for an anti-fatigue mat. No telling when having a record of that might be useful.

Definitely incorporate some movement, but otherwise the flashcard thing is a great idea, because it could appear to be work related. Language learning is one idea, or maybe the lyrics to a song you want to memorize.

If origami appeals, then master a fold before you move on to a new one. Say you do a crane. Fold fold fold, and quietly hand them over to the customers who seem to need one: a kid, a sad person, whatever. If folding is your thing, you’ll make a ton; you need to give them away. Also, the balloon fold is great for making strings of origami lights as gifts. You can make a ton of them and keep them flat in a ziplock until, later, you’re ready to inflate them and pop them onto the twinkly lights.

And if you’re into writing at all, I agree with others that jotting down little exchanges or observations will give you tons of material.

Finally, if you have any desire or opportunity to have more responsibility and make more money, consider if your situation has the potential for that and just do all the above-and-beyond things to get there. I met a guy who started as a cashier at a market and a year later was a manager making a ton more money and getting whatever schedule he wanted. He was baffled at how quickly he blasted up in seniority. But I get it, not everyone wants this and not every situation can go there. Just a thought.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 8:27 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]

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