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Why I love doing the dishes

Nov 27, 2020
~ 7 Mins

When I started my first full-time job in September 2019, I had a very specific morning routine. I would wake up, take a shower, get dressed, have my cereal bowl, walk to the train, take the train to work, walk to my desk, and then start my workday.

From the moment I stepped out of the shower to the moment I arrived at my desk, I used to pop out my favorite audiobook listening app—Libby—and listen to whatever audiobook I was borrowing from my local library at the time.

This took about 1 hour of real-time book listening, but since I would usually listen to audiobooks at 2x, I had two hours of audiobook listening time every single workday. An average non-fiction book ranges from 6-10 hours of listening time. This meant that by listening to an audiobook just on my daily commute (one-way), I could comfortably finish an average non-fiction book in 3-5 days; 2-3 days if I also listened on my way back.

This was an incredible realization.

Now I can utilize the time that was "useless" to consume so many books and develop myself while commuting to work. After my morning routine became fixed, the highlight of my day was the train ride to work. That was not only because I got to watch Utah's beautiful Wasatch mountain range, but also because I had ample time to learn more about the world and work on developing myself.

View from the Front Runner Train

But then 🥁🥁🥁... COVID hit.

I cannot tell you how disappointed I was when I learned that I had to work from home for an unforeseen period. One of the most invaluable parts of my day was taken away from me and I needed to find an alternative.

But as those of you who'd ever tried listening to podcasts or audiobooks during your free time would know, this often ends up failing.

I don't know about you, but it's very hard for me to just sit down and start listening to an audiobook while staring at the ceiling for an extended period of time. I have to be doing some kind of an activity that is not quite cognitively taxing, but one that engages my mind just enough to keep me from daydreaming while listening to an audiobook. It also doesn't help when "free-time" is such a loosely-defined term and is very inconsistent from one day to another.

Enters dish-washing.

I cannot tell you how many people I've spoken with who just dread the thought of doing the dishes. Every time I tell someone that I love doing the dishes, they look at me with the utmost bewilderment. Yet, when I begin explaining why that is the case, they start viewing it from a lens that makes the idea more palatable.

So here are some reasons why I love washing the dishes.

It's a great way to start off my day

I know. I'm pushing it. Who in their right mind has the motivation or even the time to start their day off by washing dishes?!

But just hear me out.

Now that I no longer have a morning commute, I needed a different morning routine. So I decided I should do the dishes (I can hear my mom's voice in the back of my head scolding me for leaving them in the sink overnight, but let's ignore that for now. Sorry mama!).

I'm sure many of you have heard of the (at this point, very cliché) benefits of making your bed every morning. This idea was extolled and popularized by Naval Admiral William McRaven, when, in his 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas Austin he said:

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.

I'm not sure whether there's any scientific evidence to back this up, but from personal experience, the simple act of doing my bed every day in the morning does make me feel like I made my first, albeit small, accomplishment of my day.

It's silly, but it works.

Doing the dishes is exactly the same for me. Just as making your bed in the morning can make you feel a sense of accomplishment and starts your day off on a positive note, so too will washing the dishes. There are a few things more satisfying than walking into a kitchen with a dirty cluttered sink in the morning and walking away with a pristine looking sink.

Setting the tone for your day every morning with these little "accomplishments" can seem pointless at the beginning. But trust me, when you start making these small changes to your day, it can make you feel a great sense of control over your life. This is especially important when on your worst days, these small actions that you made a habit of doing could be some of the few things that make you feel some control over and order in your life.

It helps me "read" books (faster)!

Doing the dishes has always been one of those irritating tasks that just take time without much ROI.

So I thought: how can make the process of doing the dishes more productive and less vexing?

The idea of listening to audiobooks just popped into my mind, so I thought I'd give it a try. I know that doing the dishes does not take as much time as my morning commute, but some reading is always better than no reading. And frankly, sometimes I intentionally pile them to get more reading time. Don't judge me.

It turned out to be a great decision. I now have something to do while listening to audiobooks not to wander off, and doing the dishes became so much more enjoyable a task.

I sort of have undergone some version of Pavlovian (classical) conditioning with the task of doing the dishes!

  1. Before conditioning: I love listening to audiobooks. Audiobooks = excitement
  2. Before conditioning: I don't like doing the dishes. Doing the dishes = no excitement
  3. During conditioning: Doing the dishes + listening to audiobooks = excitement
  4. After conditioning: Doing the dishes = excitement

It's ridiculous that I'm putting it that way, but if you think about it, that's pretty much how I came to like doing the dishes!

Even if listening to audiobooks is not your cup of tea

We live in a world that constantly strips us away from one of our most valuable assets: our attention.

Think about the last few days and how you spent them.

Did you allow yourself any time to get bored and do absolutely nothing?

If you were forced into boredom because you had some free time in your day, were you itching to do something to end this boredom as quickly as possible (like watching a Netflix Show or texting a friend)?

Do you ever allow yourself to just sit down and do nothing?

People now more than ever struggle with having no mental clarity or feeling "mental fog". And this is not surprising!

If every time we feel some sort of boredom, our impulse reaction is to try to fill our time with just about anything to escape that feeling, we miss out on golden opportunities.

Think about the times of your day when you feel most creative. A ton of people report getting some of their brilliant ideas while in the shower; others report feeling creative or inspired while commuting; others even while praying or meditating!

If we take a closer look at what's common between all of these experiences we'll find that they all have one element in common: they require very little cognitive effort, leaving our minds with enough capacity to wander off and take us to places where we can find ourselves with heightened creative capacities.

Doing the dishes is no different!

It is one of the few times of the day when you can allow your mind to wander, let the creative juices flow, and let your mind do its magic. You'll be pleasantly surprised to see how this helps you in your creative endeavors or in problem-solving.

Your family and friends will LOVE you!

Since I live alone, I don't really get to experience the satisfaction of seeing people I love happy because of doing this small act of service.

But I can guarantee you whether you live with your family, your spouse, or even roommates, they will appreciate you for doing their dishes.

Whenever I visit Egypt during holidays and wash the dishes for my mum, the look on her face after I've done such a simple thing is enough for me to wash them every day. When I washed the dishes, I didn't really think much of it, but after my mom came to me in surprise and expressed appreciation, I knew how much it meant to her.

If you live with your spouse, doing such a simple thing will 100% improve your relationship with them, especially if your partner is the one who usually takes on the task of doing the dishes. This is especially true for those of you whose parter's love language is acts of service.

Even if you live with friends or roommates, doing their dishes every now and then will only earn you brownie points with them and might even serve you when you need something and they happily step in to help you.

If we all just knew how much these little things mean to our loved ones, we wouldn't think twice about doing them.