Por Jorge Manuel Zelaya Fajardo
October 21st, 2020
“The cruel irony of housework: people only notice when you don't.”
-- Danielle Raine
This short essay is somewhat different. I would like to think of it as a distillation of deep learning from something deeply mundane and simple. The following lines talk about a sport that I already practiced before the Covid 19 pandemic on a smaller scale and dominance; but that due to confinement has escalated to another level. This sport can be described as a process of sanitizing resistant materials for domestic use commonly called: washing dishes at home.
The truth is that I never thought that I could synthesize seven (7) lessons learned or practical learnings from such an unattractive and routine activity as washing dishes at home. However, it is very likely that this activity will continue to provide me with more learning. The seven lessons learned are:
1. THE TASK SEEMS, MANY TIMES, ENDLESS. It is difficult to think that in a four-person residence, the amount of dishes to wash is sometimes outrageously large. My academic training makes me think that as a family we are somewhat inefficient in the use of plates, glasses and cutlery. However, every time I am faced with the daunting task of cleaning all the dishes (particularly more difficult on early Monday mornings) I couldn't help but remember a phrase from whom I consider a very important personal mentor: Alison Levine, an extraordinary woman, who after climbing the seven highest peaks in the world (including Everest in 2010) and going to the two poles, affirms with his genuine and contagious positive attitude the following irrefutable truth: “Do not think about the entire mountain, concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time."
2. ATTENTION TO DETAIL. A plate with some remaining food, a dirty glass or a poorly washed knife is not only a visible aesthetic problem, but a hygiene problem. At the beginning (much less happens to me now) it was very common that by doing my mundane activity as quickly as possible, the quality of the job was sacrificed. I never really thought that washing dishes would reinforce the superlative importance of attention to detail in the things we do, especially when someone will use our product or service ... even if it is the home consumer.
3. FOCUS ON THE PRESENT MOMENT. It has been extremely refreshing for me to remember that physical work of an operational and routine nature, forces you to focus on the present moment. Mindfulness in the activity where soap and water is used , has developed a little more patience in me. It is difficult to wash the plate of the future and clean the glass of the past. You can really only clean one at a time: the one in the present.
4. PRODUCTIVITY = EFFICIENCY + EFECTIVENESS. For the last fifteen years, in an almost religious manner in most of my classes, seminars or courses given for clients I have used this formula. During the pandemic, I have found that an extraordinary way to test it in real life is to wash the dishes. I never imagined that. Let us remember that efficiency is defined as the intelligent use of the resources at my disposal and effectiveness in achieving the desired goal. There is no merit in washing dishes with the speed (efficiency) of a Formula 1 vehicle at a Grand Prix, if the goal of putting something clean and crystal on the table (effectiveness) is not achieved. In the same way (this is my personal case) it is not advisable to wash them so thoroughly and slowly that, although they are impeccable, the water in the house's water reserve tank runs out. The question is whether I can be efficient and effective at the same time in doing so. On second thought, I clearly share what the father of modern management, Peter Drucker (1909-2005) thought, when he brilliantly asserted once that if he had to choose between effectiveness and efficiency, he would choose effectiveness.
5. LISTENING TO EDUCATIONAL PODCAST DURING THE TASK. Since my task of washing dishes at home due to Covid-19 extends from Monday to Saturday very early in the morning, I decided to strategically place my cell phone (with a mobile speaker nearby) so that every minute used in the day, I could listen to a podcast or educational video on a defined learning topic, to make good use of my time. This led me to confirm that the amount of FREE information that can be obtained thanks to today's technology is truly impressive. From webinars of the best universities in the world to podcasts of people who do very interesting things. From interviews with people that I will hardly know personally to complete audiobooks. Ignorance in 2020 is undoubtedly a conscious decision. Never has the world had so much easy, fast and free information at its disposal.
6. WASHING DISHES PLACES YOU WITH YOUR FEET ON THE GROUND. The sink is a democratizer or equalizer without wanting to be. Nobody cares about my master’s degree or my years of experience, my talent to communicate or the number of friends on Facebook while I practice the sport of washing the dishes. The dishes don't know who I am. The truth is, they shouldn't. I just do an important task that goes unnoticed most of the time.
7. THE HONOR AND SATISFACTION OF A JOB WELL DONE. The feeling of having reached a goal always helps me with my dopamine and serotonin. It also gives me the satisfaction of the duty accomplished and somehow pushes me towards the next activity. It does not matter that this activity is a domestic one that is not financially remunerated or publicly recognized. Now I enjoy the process so much that I almost always end it with a picture of the absolutely clean, tidy and dry sink. This photo is sent to the CEO of my house (I am pending the performance evaluation session)
For a person who works with ideas and concepts in a world of manifest intellectuality, this process of incorporating something routine, operational, mechanical, established and of very little impact in the corporate world such as washing dishes at home, has made me understand with humility, the privilege of an honest job well done… whatever that might be. Now I am convinced that each of us can find in the smallest activities, a place to learn, a space to disconnect and even a dimension to have fun.