How to be a Better Order Selector

Pallet jack for order selecting.
Pallet jack for order selecting.

Order selecting can be a stressful job. You spend the whole shift on your feet lifting heavy items. At the same time you have to be fast and not miss items or your supervisors will be on your case and you might get punished or may even lose your job.

As an order picker, I’ve been there too. I’ve gone through the same frustrations when I was starting out. I’m writing this article to give you tips that I’ve learned along the way that have helped improve my performance as an order selector.

Arrive to Work Early

Getting to work early (e.g. a half-hour to an hour before your shift starts) gives you time to adequately prepare before you start picking.

You may want to get a drink/snack, use the bathroom, gather your equipment and catch up with friends before work starts. This way, you won’t have to take bathroom breaks while you are picking, for example.

Use Good Picking Equipment

This ties in with getting to work early.

At the start of your shift, make sure to look for good equipment like a fast and well a balanced pallet truck, a properly functioning voice terminal and a roll or two of stretch wrap. Take the time to test out each piece of equipment you will be using so you don’t get unpleasant surprises when they don’t work after your shift has already started.

You don’t want to spend time dealing with non-working equipment. Having these interruptions eats away at your allocated order time quite fast.

Wear a Watch

I always recommend getting a cheap digital watch such as a Casio. Timing yourself during your order is a good way to get an idea of how well you are performing in terms of speed. Try beating the time it took you to finish a previous similar order.

Take care NOT to run but just boost your walking speed as running might lead to accidents.

As a new selector, you may not notice if you are being slow, and a watch really helps. Even as an experienced selector, I find it helpful to have a guesstimate of how well I’m doing so I always have a watch on my wrist.

If you work in a warehouse that uses scanners for picking, you may not need a watch since most scanners also display the time, like on a smartphone. In the same vein, some pallet jacks are fitted with instrument displays that can show the time.

Always be Moving

If you are new at selecting you may be tempted to intermittently stop and think about things while you have an active order. You may not even notice at first, but don’t do it. This habit really eats up your time. A trick that’s helped me is to always be thinking about the next item I have to pick.

So every time you catch your thoughts wandering, snap out of it and try to focus on the task at hand – picking the next item, finishing your order, etc.

Avoid Chitchat

Try to keep conversations while working to a minimum. Those few moments you take to talk to a reach truck operator or fellow selector can actually be detrimental to your performance.

It also takes time to pick up your speed and flow again once the conversation is over.

The best performing order selectors at my warehouse do not speak unless necessary while on the floor.

Now, you do not need to do that but it something to keep at the back of your mind so you can try to keep your focus on the job.

Wear the Right Clothing

Don’t get heavy overalls if you don’t have to, especially if you don’t work in a warehouse freezer. You get tired faster, the heavier the clothes you are wearing. Not to mention that you will always be sweaty and thirsty.

If your warehouse is warm a pair of shorts and a light t-shirt is just fine. If you can, always prefer reflective straps over jackets.

Eat Healthy Food

Order picking is laborious work and it needs a good diet if you are going to do it long-term. Far too many times have I seen guys eating vending machine snacks during lunch break. These don’t have enough nutrients to sustain the heavy lifting and running you do in the warehouse.

Similarly, a lot of guys mostly eat junk food from places like gas stations as their dinner after work. This is terrible food for your body, especially when doing this kind of work.

If you don’t have the time to cook a decent meal every day before work, consider meal prepping on your days off. Take the time to make high energy healthy food that you will consuming during your work week. Your body will thank you for it.

Wear Light Shoes

I know you need steel toed shoes for work but make sure the ones you use are as light as possible. If your warehouse is anything like mine, you will be on your feet all day during your shift. So you don’t want to be dragging shoes heavy as bricks while you work.

Heavy steel-toed boots such as this one are a no-no.
Heavy steel-toed boots such as this one are a no-no.

These will wear you out and may also cause ankle and leg injuries due to ligament inflammation. So choose your shoes carefully and always go for the lightest ones.

Pace Yourself

Try to pick at a steady pace from start to finish, especially if you are a beginner. I have seen too many new order selectors start their shift running like Usain Bolt at the beginning of their shift only to lose their tempo mid-shift.

Running when picking as a beginner can also be dangerous or lead to building unstable pallets which won’t do you any good if your pallet falls and you have to start over.

Stay Hydrated

Have a bottle of water with you when you start picking. Sometime we exhausted while picking because of thirst.

This is why I like to sip water from time to time especially in the last half of my shift when I begin to feel worn out. I find that it helps improve my focus and picking speed considerably.

Another alternative is to bring an electrolyte drink such as Gatorade if your warehouse allows it.

Park Your Pallet Truck at the Edges

If you use an electric pallet jack/truck at your warehouse, never pack it in the middle of the isle. Doing this blocks oncoming traffic of other pickers and you will have to spend your time moving your truck instead of picking.

This is a mistake I see a lot of beginners do, which eats up their picking numbers and makes more experienced pickers frustrated.

So don’t be that guy/gal. Always park your truck on the side!

Meme via Reddit.

Stretch Regularly

Practice stretching every day before and after your shift. Stretching helps reduce chances of getting muscle cramps during and after work.

Stretching also helps increase the range of motion of your arms and legs. Order selecting involves a lot of movement when lifting and placing loads on a pallet. Consequently, improving your range of motion will also improve your overall performance.

Learn to Grab Multiples

If you need to pick up multiple items from the same slot, learn to grab a bunch of them at a time, especially if they are small and lightweight.

Many newer selectors will pick up these items one at a time even when they are not heavy. Going back and forth from the pick slot takes up a lot of time.

Learn to grab multiples, especially if it's small and lightweight items.
Learn to grab multiples, especially if it’s small and lightweight items.

Don’t feel intimidated by how heavy the items are. Of course, you need to know your limits so as not to get injured. You also need to be careful with perishable items like grapes.

As you get used to picking, progressively increase the amount of items you can pick up at a time. This will have a noticeable effect on your picking time.

Opt for Hand Wrapping Over the Wrap Machine

One helpful trick I used when I was new to selecting was to progressively wrap my pallet as it grew during an order. When I got on a section of an aisle or warehouse that wasn’t busy, I would get my hand roll of stretch wrap and wrap my pallets to the top.

This might be useful to you as a beginner if the wrap machines at your warehouse regularly experience downtime or you take a lot of time trying to use them correctly. It also decreases the risk of your pallet falling over the taller it gets.

If you get tired easily from doing this, use a picking stick/hooker if your warehouse provides them to wrap the bottom part first so you don’t have to squat when doing it.

Use a picking stick for wrapping the bottom part of the pallet.
Use a picking stick for wrapping the bottom part of the pallet. Source: Reddit.

Seek Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you don’t know something. If your supervisors are worth their salt, they will be willing to offer you assistance to get better at your job.

Help might include additional training on operating equipment effectively, better pallet building techniques, etc. Aside from supervisors, some employees are super friendly and will not hesitate to offer you guidance on how to perform better. Make friends with guys/gals. It pays off in my experience.

Conclusion

Improving your order selection selection skills is quite easy. Take these tips as a first step in your journey and you will ahead of your peers.

Just remember that it takes time and that even the pros had to start somewhere. Sometimes you might feel overwhelmed if you are new to order selecting but as I have seen over and over, everyone improves if they give it another every day.

2 Comments

  1. I thought you had a lot of useful information to give out to these new guys coming in to this field I am probably in the top 5 of sygma San Antonio selectors so I do hope these new ppl read this article. One thing I would like you to add as far as advice goes is side talk lol. That’s what I notice kills most ppl time. I have always heard if you can’t work and talk you better choose work. If you can all the better for you but I see that as the biggest time killer for rookies. Talk about that sht after work with a beer or whatever

    • You’re 100% right Wulfgang! I have noticed that my performance lowers every time I stand to talk to people in the aisles even for a short time. I will definitely be adding this piece of advice to the article. Thank you!

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