According to Perry Marshall, most people spend their days on $10 tasks, rather than $10,000 activities. He advocates assessing how you use your time, delegating the $10 tasks to $10 dollar people, and spending as much of your time as possible on extreme-value creating activities, and nothing else.
This school of thought is what I call “time milking”. Time milkers see every moment as a tit from which they have to suck as much nutrition as possible. It’s a valid premise. Our time is finite so we should be mindful how we use it. But quite often, this approach spills over into the domestic domain. For example, if in an hour of work you can create $100 of value, it makes sense to pay a cleaner $20 to clean your kitchen.
It’s a form of arbitrage. People who run lifestyle design businesses sometimes live in third or second-world regions and get paid first-world wages; time milkers substitute low yield domestic activities for high value professional ones and level up their income and productivity in the process.
I won’t deny it, it’s appealing. But whenever I consider hiring someone to do household chores so I can do X, I feel hesitant. I think about someone coming into my home, dusting my bookshelves, cleaning the kitchen counters, hoovering the living room, and I shudder. Sure, it could just be that I’m uncomfortable with the idea of a stranger coming into my house. But I think it’s more than that.
Deep down, I think there’s some benefit to these seemingly mundane tasks. There’s some value in keeping my own house in order, something psychologically soothing about being the custodian of my own living space. Looking after my own habitat is eminently human, and it strikes me as somewhat un-human to refuse to personally attend to the cleanliness and order of my own home.
The idea of outsourcing the domestic minutiae is an example of the battle between presence and productivity. But what the proponents of productivity—the time milkers—refuse to acknowledge is that worthless activities are valuable because of their apparent worthlessness.
In the Harry Potter series, Sirius Black says that you should judge a man not by how he treats his equals, but by how he treats his lessers. In the same way, we can judge someone’s quality of life by their engagement with “worthless” tasks. I mean, is it really a good life if you don’t have—or won’t give yourself—the freedom to do the washing up? Isn’t a life without the contrast of these everyday, mundane tasks a barren life?