Willingham describes how tasks that require you to think can become automatic with repetition. He gives the example of learning to drive a car - all the minor bits that go into it like how much pressure to put on the pedals, how far to turn the steering wheel - and how in the beginning, new drivers may not even listen to the radio, but with time they are talking, eating, and pointing out landmarks all at once.
I immediately thought of my first retail job when they started me on register. I was shy and timid and outgoing Val was my trainer. I still recall some of my first transactions with customers. Val greeted each customer while I smiled politely. Val took clothes off the hangers, hung the hangers in an organized fashion on the rack behind us (shirt hangers on the top row, pant hangers on the middle row, swan hangers and kids hangers on the bottom row), and handed me the item to be scanned with the tag upright. I scanned the item. By that point, Val had already removed the hangers from several more items of clothing, organized the hangers on the rack, and lay the clothes neatly on the counter with the tags exposed for me to scan - all while talking with the customer. I scanned the next items. When it came time to pay, Val kept an eye on me, ready to give me reminders as needed, all while maintaining her conversation with the customer. I pressed the right buttons in the right order. Phew! As the receipt printed, I realized that at some point Val had neatly folded and bagged all of the customer's items. Here's my actual journal entry about this day.
So, working the register was fun, but I was shocked how much there is to do! I mean, Val was moving my hangers out of the way, bagging for me, and talking to the customer! All I had to do was scan things in and type the discount and I was barely handling that! I'll get the hang of it soon enough though.
And I did get the hang of it. Quiet little me learned to make small talk with the customers while quickly processing their items and keeping my work space organized. I could even do all that while answering the phone, which was maybe not the best customer service practice but hey, you do what you gotta do when the store's busy, and I was a multitasking machine! I learned to do all those things without thinking about them. With repetition, they became automatic.