Get the App

Why this everyday household chore could be the secret to keeping Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos calm.

by Katherine Clover

  • Share

How do billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates relax? Turns out, the same way I do.

According to a CNBC article, both Bezos and Gates do the dishes every night. Why would guys who are that busy, who could hire all the help in the world, stand at the sink with a sponge in hand? We have a guess, and the science supports it: being mindful during mundane tasks like dishwashing can keep us calm. When I was 21, I took a minimum wage job at a university textbook store. A large chunk of my job involved getting books ready for sale, which meant doing the same thing—opening identical boxes, putting on identical stickers—over and over, for hours. As a creative person, I expected to loathe this kind of work, to find it boring and stifling.

Instead, I loved it.

Repetitive tasks can often be viewed negatively—they’re boring and tedious; we could instead spend time on more interesting endeavors. A quick google of the phrase “repetitive tasks” provides endless articles on how to bypass the boringness of them. “How do you deal with repetitive tasks” is a common interview question, because many people don’t deal with them well over time. Yet, when I found myself in that bookstore basement, performing the same simple tasks, I didn’t feel bored or frustrated. Instead, I felt totally calm, and I was able to feel more in tune with myself than usual. Why was that? What if seemingly mindless tasks were the secret key to living my best life?

There is some science to the idea of repetitive tasks as a stress reliever. During more intense work, it might be a good idea to take a break and do something repetitive (and enjoyable), like this:

  1. Shooting hoops
  2. Baking
  3. Washing the dishes
  4. Coloring (hence the surge of adult coloring books)
  5. Weeding
  6. Folding clothes

Of course, the point of these tasks is that, while they might be repetitive in nature, the person may already enjoy them. Was I really that into price tags? I didn’t want to believe that about myself.

Maybe my time with the textbooks wasn’t all that deep, maybe my brain had just enjoyed the excuse to space out. If that was the case, maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. It’s been argued that that zoning out can be as beneficial for psychological health as zoning in. While a mindfulness practice may sound like the opposite of allowing yourself time for mindlessness, they might not be at odds with each other at all.

I worked at the textbook store over a decade ago, yet I think about it often. Ten years is a long time to pine after one poorly paying retail job. So, I tried to wash the dishes at half speed, and honestly, I didn’t enjoy it. But maybe the specific task isn’t the important thing. I no longer work in retail, but we all have a list of seemingly mindless things we have to do to make our lives work. What was so magical about the textbook basement wasn’t the work itself, it was that I was able to take something I had to do, zoom in on it, and get something out of it.

Whether it’s doing the dishes, mowing the lawn, mopping the floors, or organizing my toddler’s thousands of toys, there has to be something I can focus in on in the same way now.

The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.

Katherine Clover

Katherine DM Clover is a freelance writer and artist, living in beautiful Detroit, Michigan, with her wife, baby, and three cats. She blogs about queer parenting and life at postnuclearera.wordpress.com.

Meditation Made Simple

Meditation Made Simple

Start Meditating