Now that I’m an entrepreneur, I have a condition that I call “treat-everything-as-a-business” syndrome. My business mind is composed of a complex, almost intangible system for dealing with problems and finding solutions. Decisions are driven by data. Leverage is coveted. Improvements are constantly sought after. This is true even for the most mundane tasks, like … doing laundry.
I used to live in an apartment building in New York on the 26th floor. The building was 31 floors high. There were two sets of elevators—one for floors 1 through 15, and one for floors 16 through 31. This was good because I could get from the lobby up to my apartment much quicker, but there was a problem: The laundry room was on the 4th floor. So in order to do a load of laundry, I had to carry my laundry basket from my apartment on the 26th floor down to the lobby, switch elevators, and then take the laundry up to the 4th floor.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, doing one load of laundry required multiple trips. I took two elevators to put my load in the washer, then two elevators to get back to my apartment while I waited for the 40-minute load to finish.
After my 40-minute wait, I was back in the elevator that took me to the lobby, switched to the second elevator, went to the laundry room to move my laundry from the washer to the dryer, and then two elevator trips later I was back in my apartment for a 50-minute for the dryer.
Fifty minutes later I was repeating the arduous process again: two elevators to get the laundry, and two elevators to take it back to my apartment. Once there, I spent 30+ minutes folding it and another five to ten minutes putting it away.
This was the scenario every time I had to do laundry. And because the laundry room was hot, and I had to run back and forth so much, I’d end up getting sweaty during the 2+ hours it took to complete this whole process. And I couldn’t possibly get any work done when I could only focus for 30 minutes at a time.
There simply had to be a better way.
Searching for solutions
For a while, I started using a valet service in my building. I’d pay them about $40 to do my laundry, and a few days later it was all nicely folded and ready for me to pick up. Again, I had to do an elevator round trip to scoop it and during business hours. Once I was in possession of my clean and folded laundry, I lugged the heavy bag back up to my apartment and put my clothes away—or at least, that was my intent. I found this to be the most annoying part, with all that bending down and picking up each item of clothing, figuring out where it was supposed to go, over and over.
Because of my annoyance with this task, I ended up leaving the folded laundry in the bag and just taking clothes out as I wore them. But this was far from ideal because I seemed to run out of clothes more than when I did my own laundry. (Don’t ask me why.) So in addition to the valet doing my laundry, I was also doing laundry … and back to the dreaded elevator hopping again. Not okay.
Then, being the entrepreneur I am, I thought of a brilliant idea. At the time, I routinely had my apartment cleaned by a nice cleaning lady, and I asked her if she’d be interested in helping me out with my laundry. I explained that this would involve doing the laundry, taking the necessary elevator trips, folding it, and putting it away correctly, which she cheerfully agreed to do. We worked out a fair rate for her time, I gave her my laundry card, and then I went to WeWork for the day.
That evening I came home to a most beautiful sight: an empty laundry basket. I opened my closet, and there were all my clean clothes perfectly folded and put away. It felt positively amazing. I think it’s hard to fully grasp why this felt so magical. Imagine leaving your apartment with a mess of dirty laundry and coming home to it clean and neatly folded in your closet. What’s so special about having her do my laundry? It was that extra-step of putting it away such that I was completely removed from the situation—I didn’t even have to think of it!
The architecting of this system, the brainstorming of a perfect solution to my problem, the AHA! Moment, when the system works seamlessly, is exactly what I love about entrepreneurship. Think like an entrepreneur
Whenever I tell people this story, they roll their eyes and say, “Oh, stop being lazy and just do your damned laundry.” But they’re missing the point. I think this story highlights the difference between entrepreneurs and people who don’t think like they do. Entrepreneurs, for example, will approach a problem like this ...
1) Ask yourself, how valuable is my time? This makes me think about entrepreneur/investor Naval Ravikant, who says: “Set and enforce an aspirational hourly rate. If fixing a problem will save less than your rate, ignore it. If outsourcing a task will cost less than your rate, outsource it.”
One of the worst things you can do is spend time on low-leverage tasks that can easily be outsourced. I run an app company and I’m a software engineer. My time can be spent coding a new app, writing a strategy document, optimizing our marketing expenditures, or hiring another contractor. Nobody could make the argument that doing laundry is a good use of my time … unless that time is also spent listening to a valuable podcast or getting some other type of benefit.
2) Always seek to improve systems in your life. Everything about my business is rooted in iteration—iterating on ad copy, features, app designs, people, management style, everything. Constantly seeking improvement is natural to my fellow entrepreneurs and me. We are the kind of people who see broken systems and want to create change.
This laundry exercise not only brought me a ton of joy, but also flexed my creative muscles. Creativity is very much a muscle, and using that Problem -> Solution thinking throughout your life will only make you more adept.
3) Covet peace of mind. Like a lot of people, I hate doing laundry. Some might view this as laziness, but why? It’s actually kind of ridiculous to judge someone for seeking ways to avoid doing something they don’t enjoy, and then putting those solutions to work. My definition for that is S-M-A-R-T.
Regardless of how pretentious or silly it may look for someone to outsource a basic chore like laundry, if it makes me happier then it’s a net positive. After all, entrepreneurs are mental athletes. Being calm, collected, thoughtful, and relaxed are all super important. If outsourcing my laundry can improve my base-level productivity by 5 percent, then the ROI on my business is incredible.
4) Embracing ridiculousness. Okay, maybe this whole story sounds ridiculous. But again, this kind of thinking is ingrained in my head. Doing laundry is not a good use of my time, which is better spent building another app, responding to an important email, or writing a new strategy document. I also don’t enjoy it. Why spend time doing something I don’t enjoy?
So finding a better solution? One that allows me to use my time more productively, while at the same time avoiding a chore that I hate?
That’s smart thinking. Sign me up.
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