Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

02 Jan 2012, 12:48 p.m.

Self-Care, Sometimes On A Larger Scale

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2012 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

I think some people I know might find Sam Starbuck's experience useful. He has social anxiety but wanted to leave the house more often, so he developed methods to cause himself to do so.

The idea originally was just to get out more; not even necessarily to have more experiences, but not to spend every single night at home. There's nothing wrong with that, in and of itself, but it wasn't what I wanted for me. So I developed the Adventur Programme.

I should say that I suspect the Adventur Programme would be different for everyone, because the key to doing it is finding something that will motivate you to actually follow through. Here's how I did it; the basic theme of all of this is to arrange things in such a way that making the decision to go isn't difficult....

Sam said that his plan

worked well. I think it's because it wasn't a resolution; it was a plan. Resolutions can be broken, and thus expose you to feelings of failure and despair. Whereas plans aren't broken. Plans are rescheduled for a later date. You haven't failed. You've just changed up your calendar a little.

I admire people and organizations that thoughtfully manage their sustainability. You can see Alexandra Erin develop this theme in her behind-the-scenes blogging; as a self-employed writer, she works as hard at developing her own infrastructure as she does at making fiction. For Sam, Alexandra, and me, the structure of a successful process must avoid causing feelings of failure and despair. We know that if we feel those, we'll stop. So we find patterns that suit our strengths and work around our weaknesses, and get us to our goals -- more adventures, more good fiction, better technical skills.

Maturity requires recognizing granite walls and finding workarounds, saying no to machismo.

We know from experience that counting only on unpaid volunteer effort to work on helping women in open technology and culture leads to burnout and inconsistency. So The Ada Initiative works as a nonprofit that pays two people's salaries to work fulltime on the issue. (I volunteer on their Advisory Board.)

In Notes on Nursing, Florence Nightingale wrote of management, "How can I provide for this right thing to be always done?" Even when she's not there? Nightingale focuses on executive energy, attention, and putting the proper processes into place such that patients have the resources and quiet they need to get better.

However, there is a habit of mind that scorns all visible processes (and sees no value in formal communication containers such as meetings or performance reviews). I was talking about this with Ari yesterday, about (for example) software developers who think source control is needless overhead. I imagine some of these folks have suffered from their own personal resource curse, coasting through day-to-day tasks, the accreted cruft not yet salient, atherosclerosis not yet completely blocking the bottleneck.

Some have the useful skill of translating to them, getting across why hygiene is important in some particular case. Sometimes I can do this with analogies. Others use diagrams. But by the time I'm working with someone, it's usually too late to inculcate in them that habit of mind, a critical respect of social infrastructure.

(If you can, try never to work for someone who has this blind spot.)

Like Sam, I'm also working on sustainability and process improvement in my personal life. For me, it's cleaning and housework. What can I do to make it more likely that I'll do my fair share? I already knew that podcasts help. As of last week, I've discovered that I am way better at doing the dishes if I do them first thing in the morning. With enough tips and tricks, maybe I can adequately simulate a good flatmate.


Mel Chua
05 Jan 2012, 17:44 p.m.

...yes. Thank you. This is exactly the kind of thing I needed; I'll send some people the Adventur Programme link and see if they'd be interested in determining my social life for a week. is also a good post on energy management. It's along the lines I'm starting to think regarding structuring my spring semester.

In terms of cleaning and housework, I found the following techniques useful:

* Having an explicit listing of task triggers ("do the dishes when there are fewer than 3 clean bowls left") and externally and objectively verifiable completion states ("no dirty dishes remaining in the house, sink has been emptied and wiped out") so it's never in doubt whether something needs doing or is done (I can't go "ahhh, but I can leave the dishes for another day, right?")

* Pair chore-doing - like pair programming, but applied to dishwashing and other things. Or doing different chores in parallel with housemates while music is playing; while others are working, it's harder to slack, and it also serves a social function. I've scheduled cleaning parties with suite/house/room-mates before, though not regularly.

* Just-in-time chores; cleaning in an empty house/apartment right before company arrives for dinner. This works for me when I'm living alone; when I live with people, they don't count as "company" in my mind so it's really got to be an external visitor from some other address.

* Allowing slack, which goes along with the previous note. In my previous apartment, my bedroom was a separate room with a door that closed; I specifically made deals with myself to allow extra mess to be shoved into that room - specifically, on my bed - when company came. Therefore, the living room looked great (my bed became a pile) and my cleaning expectations were realistic and I didn't beat myself up with perfectionism. When guests left, I eventually had to sleep, so all that stuff had to go off my bed; the rule was that when I picked it up off my bed, it had to go into the right place (which was sometimes the trash). Thus, by the end of the day, I would have a clean apartment.

Now that I live in a pseudo-studio, I have two "mess drawers" that stuff sometimes gets shoved into in lieu of the top-of-bed pile. Actually, I should try putting those (or a large luggage, or something) on my bed next time so I will remember to empty them afterwards.

Also, chore arbitrage, which you're likely to already be doing with Leonard; list all the maintenance tasks that need to be done to maintain your household (not just cleaning, but stuff like accounting, picking up monthly train passes, etc) and for each task list (1) how important it is to you that it be done to your standards and (2) how much you like/hate doing it. Then look for ways to distribute tasks so that the "most important" tasks get done and both the actual workload and the work-dislike load stays about even. You can probably think of simple ways to make this an actual play-with-numbers thing.