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Satiety

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In Disney’s Fantasia, Mickey, the sorcerer’s apprentice, enchants brooms to magically do his tedious chore.

The problem is, Mickey is only an apprentice and although he can get things started, he is not wise enough to give the brooms an end point, an “enough”.

I’ve been thinking about this concept a lot, lately, satiety. (It rhymes with anxiety. I mean, literally, it does.)

The definition is around food, and gratification, and having all that you want, but I am also thinking of it in terms of sufficiency, plenty, and excess.

The thing about my life, you see, is that it’s abundant. In so many directions, I have richness and satisfaction. I have solid, reliable, supportive relationships. My family is safe and whole. My job is exciting and fulfilling. My career is… anything I care to make it.

And that’s also the problem. One of my ADD symptoms is that it’s very hard for me to tune out or ignore clutter. Have you ever played The Sims or some similar game where there are popups everywhere that can be interacted with and digested and acted on? Or even a Lego video game where hitting the shrubbery will get you a few studs? Now think of having that overlay on every time you look up from your computer, or even change windows.

Laundry! Sort me, wash me, dry me, fold me, put me away!

Should vacuum the floor!

Don’t forget to check that the bill autopayment worked!

Need more information to answer that email, better put it off again!

It’s 5 PM, do you know where your dinner is coming from?!

Hey! You promised yourself you’d read this fun book!

The thing is, when your brain is essentially three squirrels in a trenchcoat trying to figure out a bowl of Chicago Mix, you have hacks to make sure the bills do get paid, and those hacks involve never doing the fun things first, because if you hyperfocus on fun, like, hypothetically, staying up until 3 AM finishing a book, then that can cause your whole house of cards to collapse. I am a chronic frosting-last person, even though I love frosting.

That seems fine, on the surface. Be responsible, do your chores and then go play. But as an adult, there are always more chores. Even if you finish all the stuff that had to get done today, you should probably work ahead, because as sure as God made little green apples, some damn thing will happen and you will lose time you are counting on. So you do tomorrow’s must-be-done’s instead. And start prepping for that thing in a couple weeks, and…. now dinner is cold, or worse yet your kid wanders down to your office and feeds you what they made for dinner, which is great and all except that is not ideal communication and family prioritization.

So what does this have to do with satiety, with enough-ness?

I’m trying to understand my life not in terms of what I am afraid of screwing up, but what I am excited about accomplishing. It is, lemme tell you, gonna be a long work. But the first part of it is outlining what enough is. The minimum viable housework, or email, or preparation. What would “enough” look like? If your standard is excellence, that’s good to know, but very few of us can manage that in all the areas of our life – we have kids, or disabilities, or kids with disabilities, or obligations in other areas of our life. And how do you balance things that you need to do, things that you should do, things that you want to do, and things that nourish you?

“I have come to believe that caring for myself is not indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.” Audre Lorde

I am the easiest constituency to short, because I complain the least, or count my complaints lowest. I think a lot of us are this way – not just feminine socialization, not just GenX wry acceptance, but something about caring very deeply about what we’re doing somehow makes it easier to ignore the fact that we are humans doing it, not automata.

I’ve been home 4 days now. I did spend a lot of time catching up on sleep, because if I’m unconscious, I can’t feel guilty about not doing something. But every time I think, “I should take my bike out, the weather is lovely!”, I follow up with. “That sounds fun, as soon as I finish this stuff I need to do.”

But do I need it? Sometimes, yes. I do need to book plane tickets in a timely manner. I do need to pay my bills. I need to make sure that my kid is prepped to go to Europe (!!!) tomorrow. But maybe I didn’t need to spend an hour sorting the makerspace. Maybe I could have done that in the dark, or when it’s raining, or not at all since I’m the only one who notices. Maybe I should spend that hour on my bike, or in my hammock.

For the two weeks I had off in May, I made two lists. One was “Idle Tasks”, things that I would enjoy doing, not just “having off my list”. The other was “Home Stuff”, things that are decidedly chores.

To-Do lists on facing pages. One is labeled “Idle tasks” and the other “Home stuff”.

You can see that I was already making much more traction on the chores than the fun. And below is the list at the end of vacation. A circle in the box means I didn’t do anything like that. No long rides, no delightful cooking. I did do pretty well at spending time with the kids, and I did read some books, so it was pretty successful, but the chores side was clearly the winner.

I’m not sure I have a stunning or satisfying conclusion to this, but it’s useful to me to journal it out and think about what the data is showing me vs. what I think and feel in the moment.

  • I need to think about breaks and sabbaths and weekends and time in the human pattern when we are not doing useful things, and add more of them to my life.
  • I should figure out what my kitchen blockers are. There’s apparently something going on there.
  • I need to think about satiety not just in my personal life, but professionally. It’s probably ok if I don’t live-tweet a talk in every session, even though I enjoy it. It’s tiring. What is enough, for me, to feel like a conference has been valuable?

Let’s clear out some space for ourselves.

Heidi Waterhouse

Heidi is a mercenary technical writer and travelling salesperson of better process and product thinking. She loves writing herself out of a job and teaching people to save themselves from future pain.

Upcoming appearances

Velocity Berlin
Minneapolis DevOps Meetup
DeliveryConf

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