Automate my life
September 15, 2018 10:43 PM   Subscribe

Assume, hypothetically, I can afford to make as much of my life as easy as possible for my burnt out, chronically ill self? What do I do?

I am a graduate student who just moved to a huge city with an existing job, new apartment without roommates, work-study internship, tiny writing career, and classes an academically overwhelming university. It's only a few weeks into the semester, which are of course always awful no matter what (or so I hear and vaguely recall from college long ago), but stuff is piling up around me and have had sort of a scary wake up call I need to take better care of myself for this to be sustainable. I don't have a ton of time, I'm overtaxing my body, I'm doing things like eating ramen standing up at 3am while doing homework and boy am I paying for it. I would like to be able to do more than work, school, and worrying about my health - to take that extra time and get involved in things and have fun. I know there's a Suffering Grad Student Lifestyle but I can't truck with that.

I have therapy, meds, doctors, friends, a great advisor. I am looking for suggestions for more practical life stuff I would not think about doing. For example, sending my laundry out wash and fold instead of doing it at the laundromat, ordering groceries online rather than going to the store were both suggestions given to me by local friends. I have fairly bad chronic pain and fatigue and general lack of spoons from mental and physical things which makes running errands or even making the bed difficult sometimes, I am really struggling with the idea of hiring a cleaning service even once a month.

I guess I sort of need people to both give me suggestions and some validation about ways in which I can and should make my life easier. I am really open to anything, just feeling ashamed at opening this avenue of possibility.

Thank you! Asking this question is scary! I like to try and be totally independent but independence is fake etc
posted by colorblock sock to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Decision fatigue is a real thing, Try to eliminate the need for making decisions as much as possible.

Get a vacuum robot and a mopping robot on a schedule (coming home to a sparkly floor every day is amazing), a meal subscription service like Hello Fresh, Amazon subscriptions for things like shampoo/dishwasher detergent/laundry detergent/trash bags/sunscreen etc., automatic retirement savings deposits and automatic investments via Betterment or similar.

Don't get a gym membership, but get a membership to yoga/kickboxing/boot camp/whatever you enjoy classes that include, say, two sessions a week, so that you won't ever have to decide whether to go to the gym or not. It's class time, you're going.

If you tend to socially isolate yourself, like many of us, join clubs with set meeting times, such as Wednesday night trivia.
posted by garabaarrgggh at 10:49 PM on September 15, 2018 [10 favorites]

If you’re struggling with the idea of hiring help for monetary reasons, call some folks on yelp about something you can get done for whatever you can afford. If it’s just like, a mental hang up, your life will get so much better if you work through it and let the nice people do their work. I have anxiety about it too even though I fully want them to be there and I think their services are invaluable. The way I beat the anxiety is by going out for breakfast after I let them in and paying them an amount we both think is fair.

Another thing I did that makes money chores less time consuming is I set up separate accounts for the big amounts that must come out of paycheck like rent, my loan payment, bills, and walking around money. Worrying about whether or not I’m going to make rent or miss an important payment isn’t something I have to even think about. You will also get a clearer picture of how much you can actually afford to spend on the things that will make this stuff easier.
posted by bleep at 11:00 PM on September 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh and as for feeling shame about wanting to make your life easier, please work through this too. Because this is one more thing you can do to make your life easier and you will thank yourself for it. Everyone wants to make their lives smoother so they can spend more time on what they like, and people who don’t have fatigue & stuff like that don’t even think about feeling bad about it. Because there’s nothing to feel bad about.
posted by bleep at 11:04 PM on September 15, 2018 [7 favorites]

Paper plates, plasticware, disposable cups.
Look into "girl friday" virtual assistant services to handle those odd tasks.
posted by Sophont at 11:07 PM on September 15, 2018

You could even delegate this. Hire someone to compile a list of practical automation options, then choose the ones you want. Have your assistant research the top providers of each service in your area and give you a report with basic information and costs. Then have them call to set up the services for you and update your calendar. Ideally this is someone you can book for an hour or two of maintenance work every so often once the initial setup is done, but a skilled virtual assistant should be able to step in just fine if you have the first person document everything.
posted by notquitemaryann at 11:10 PM on September 15, 2018

Personal assistant is great. Offer it around campus as a paid internship for a student in biz or psych? I can see paper coming out of it. (English major creative writing short story) win-win
posted by BlueHorse at 3:21 AM on September 16, 2018

You can take a leaf from the book of people who optimise workflows in factories. Every time you have to move to do something, consider whether you could rearrange the work so it doesn't require movement.
If you keep going upstairs for toenail clippers, or downstairs for bathroom cleaning products? Buy extras and keep them where you use them. Walking across the kitchen to get a spoon for your tea? Move some spoons near the tea. Spending time clearing up envelopes and junk mail? Put a bin next to the front door and chuck that stuff before it ever gets further into your house.
Dishwashers are great if you can find the space for one.
There's also a middle ground in between 3am ramen and Fully Home Cooked Three Course Meals, in which you stock up on slightly healthier stuff that you can still stuff in your face at short notice without any effort. Microwave sweet potato... sardines straight from the tin.... apples... beans on toast... hummus straight from the tub with a spoon? yoghurts?
Cutting down on stuff and clutter is another thing that can simplify and save time, as well as just reducing some of the mental overload of looking at it all.
Remember not to hold yourself up to the housekeeping standards of anyone else you know who doesn't personally have a job, study, internship, career and chronic illness to look after at the same time. Especially if by any chance you happen to be looking back at a stay at home mom whose kids are all in school, as your measure of what someone "should" be able to achieve without machines or outsourcing.
posted by quacks like a duck at 5:11 AM on September 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Question everything you're spending spoons on. I haven't made my bed in more than 5 years. One of my carers might do it now and again after they wash my bedding, but that's about it.

Delegate absolutely freaking everything. I've got a laundry list of physical and mental health crap, and my spoon collection is approximately four 1/8 tsp measuring spoons. I don't cook, clean, do dishes, do laundry, any of it. I haven't laid eyes on my debit card in a couple years now; my caregivers swap it back and forth between them depending on who's shopping for what.

Needing help isn't a sign of weakness. Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness. Getting help isn't a sign of weakness. Accepting help isn't a sign of weakness. They're all signs of strength.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 5:47 AM on September 16, 2018 [13 favorites]

I work full time, and have a bunch of chronic stuff. Things that work for me:

1) Monthly cleaning service. Best thing I do for myself.
For a small place, it's not absurdly expensive (I pay about $80 plus tip in Boston) and it gives me days of my life back (I used to spend weekends having to chip away at bigger tasks in 5-10 minute doses with long rest breaks.)

Day to day, I do dishes, wipe up spills, clean the kitchen counters and sink of stuff, tend the cat box, and if people are coming over, I'll run the vacuum and sweep before they do. I make my bed only to the extent that the cat doesn't sleep directly on my pillow during the day (hi, allergies.)

2) Keep clothing choices simple.
I do colored knit shirt and black skirt, or black shirt and blue or green skirt, 95% of the time. All of it, plus my underwear, goes in the laundry on hot (for allergy reasons) without getting sorted. I don't have to think about what I'm wearing except "Do I want to put on jewellery?" I have a few fun t-shirts, and a few dresses and special occasion outfits, and that's it.

I make sure I have enough day to day clothing to do laundry every two weeks (much easier to schedule/remember/manage). I don't send it out, but the laundry room is right across from my apartment, I have a wheeled cart, and I don't have to carry anything. If these weren't true, I'd be looking at a service.

3) Opportunity food
(Term coined by a good friend): the stuff you can eat that you don't have to think about prepping. Sometimes this is premade stuff (hummus and pita bread, yoghurt, hard boiled eggs you made a few days ago.) For me, it's a lot of "Stick this in to heat, do nothing else to it except stir when it's done, eat." Trader Joe's frozen meals are my sweet spot for this a lot of the time, and things that involve more than 2 steps are my downfall when things are bad.

I do more complex cooking (which has a lot of slow cooker stuff in the rotation) about once a week, or prep things for lunches the next week. I also pay attention to seasonal food choices.

3b) Getting the groceries
I get grocery delivery about once a month. I get them to bring me heavy stuff (seltzer water in quantity), and the stuff I can't get at Trader Joe's, which is my usual store (because I like the food options better there, and prices.) I save it for the weeks where I have a busy weekend and/or I'm sick and/or my body is complaining a lot.

Pricewise, it comes out to slightly more expensive than non-delivery, but it's usually only in the $10 or less range, because you can't impulse buy. I put the order in on Thursday for Friday or Saturday delivery, so I can add things to it that I forgot initially.

I also budget for delivery food once a week, and use it to solve the nights I can't bear to make even easy dinner and to break up the monotony of bringing lunch to work (I get something that will have leftovers or get a second sandwich for that.)

4) Set up things I have to do as routine.
I set up a week's worth of pills on Sunday night. I get groceries on either Friday night or Saturday morning, depending on my weekend plans. I go swimming on Monday and Friday before work, and I have a short list of reasons I won't. I don't have to spend any time deciding when I'm going to do these things, because those are the days I do them.

5) Tracking what I'm doing, so I can catch dips in function fast, and do something to help.
I have a massive spreadsheet, and I do both a weekly summary and a monthly. Long-term, this helps me plan, and it also helps me catch when I need to adjust my expectations.

If I do a lot of physical activity, I'll be less able to do that for a couple of days, and my ability to do intellectual work dips too. If I have more than one or two nights of poor sleep, same deal. I track productivity (small/medium/big tasks in my todo app) and if I have a run of poor days, I know I need to re-evaluate what I'm doing somewhere. Noting if I get sick, when I need to adjust expectations. This helps me not get down in a hole of overwhelm.

6) I limit what I do.
I have a 'no more than one weeknight thing more complicated than the pharmacy across the street' and 'no more than one weekend day thing' limit. I'll go over it if I have to (I've had a long run of medical appointments this summer, and there's no helping that.)

I see friends less than any of us would prefer, but my actual friends understand, they do things that make it easier for me (I have dinner with two of them once a month, where I just show up). Having the limit helps me make sure I can take care of the stuff I have to do, and if I have extra energy, then I can do things once I've gotten the necessities covered. Having some go-to ways to be social without exertion help a lot. (I do a lot of online chat.)
posted by jenettsilver at 7:11 AM on September 16, 2018 [14 favorites]

Would it be validating to hear that we, a couple with no major health problems and normal-to-slightly-long work hours, hired someone WEEKLY to clean our 800 sq ft house because we just couldn't even? It was truly life changing. We didn't have her do it, but she also offered to do laundry and/or iron. She would do dishes that we left in the sink (we tried not to do this just because we felt guilty but I really don't think she cared), take the trash out, it was awesome.

Also yes definitely get a robot vacuum cleaner. The day we got Roomba and a house cleaner was literally the last time I ever vacuumed. We moved recently and haven't gotten either set up and vacuuming SUCKS.

Aldi has some healthy, decently tasty, and cheap pre made meals if you want to do this frugally - check out the frozen quinoa bowls.
posted by raspberrE at 7:19 AM on September 16, 2018

Grad student here. Your schedule sounds EXHAUSTING. Do you need to be maintaining “a tiny writing career” while doing all these things? How about the work study internship on top of the other job (hopefully that’s not also full time; can’t tell)? Do you need all those hours filled in your life? Are you doing those things for money, for CV building reasons, or because of inertia/prior obligations? Because if I were you I’d be looking real hard at what I could take off my plate, separate and apart from the question of hiring out or automating household tasks. I don’t know what your program’s like, but you sound well above the threshold where I’ve read friends and colleagues the riot act about Saying No To Things. It’s one of the essential skills of grad school, IMO.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:29 AM on September 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

+1 on saying no to work/school things ("this will be good experience" volunteer gigs), social things (acquaintance's birthday dinners), and life things (making your bed) that are not absolutely necessary. Don't do anything you don't HAVE to do, basically.

Beyond that, I've also found routines to be very helpful. I go to sleep and wake up at exactly the same time every day. I eat the same breakfast and lunch every day, and I eat the same dinner 90% of the time. I wear a self-imposed uniform every day.

These routines make my brain/body/mind feel more settled and relaxed, and as a result my health
posted by redwaterman at 7:59 AM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

...sorry, I accidentally posted the last response too early.

My health is better with the routines. I also get a lot of practice shopping for and cooking my uniform meals, or washing and steam-pressing my uniform clothes, so I become very efficient and can do these things on autopilot.
posted by redwaterman at 8:02 AM on September 16, 2018

I'm a professor, and I totally know where you're coming from. We struggle with it too! I also have chronic pain, so I understand that unique aspect of this as well. For me, trying to optimize everything leads to chaos and distress. Actually prioritizing myself has, paradoxically, made my job a lot easier. To that end, I have a list of several things that I want to do each day. I try to hit them all. They are:
- move my body around
- eat vegetables or fruits
- sleep
- read words on a page
- write words on a page

That's it. Part of what I learned in graduate school is that not everything actually can be done. One skill you are learning, even though it's not on any syllabus, is what you can safely skip. At the beginning, that's really hard. But you can't safely skip sleeping, eating plant-based food, or moving your body around -- at least, I can't. That stuff comes before all of the learning, the thinking, the talking, the writing, etc.

I highly suggest talking to your advisor about this, especially since you mentioned that they are supportive. Depending on what kind of a graduate program you are in, you may want to talk to your advisor specifically about the skill of reading articles. Academics don't always read articles from start to finish; when I read, I mostly skim and extract the most salient points. If something is really interesting to me or really important to my work, I will read it in full, but in order to read for a class discussion? I would not, and do not, read entire articles from start to finish. I would encourage you to talk to other people about how they read. Getting to know other students in my program was also very useful for me. A lot of times we would just go to a coffee shop and work a little bit individually and then complain to one another, or share notes, etc. I took one class where my friend would read half the assigned articles and I would read the other half and we would swap our notes each week. Again, depending on your discipline, you may be able to get away with not fully engaging with all of the material all of the time. This is fine and is part of what you learn in graduate school: time management, how to focus on what really matters, and -- I'll just say it -- how to bullshit when you didn't do all the prep work.

I also turn off my phone a lot, especially before I go to bed. Having about an hour before I go to bed where I'm not thinking about work or messing around on Twitter is really useful. I have a nighttime routine that involves lighting a nice candle in my bedroom, turning all the lights in my house down to low and picking up all my clutter, and then sitting and reading for pleasure or knitting a bit. Closing out the day really helps my brain.

I know my advice is mostly to just be kind to yourself and don't pressure yourself to do all of the things, which is easy to say but not easy to do. Best of luck. The semester is 1/7 or 1/6 over already!
posted by sockermom at 8:38 AM on September 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

Check out Public Goods for things like soap, shampoo, body lotion etc. Their products are vegan-friendly and cruelty free. Several items are available in refill sizes. You purchase a membership at a nominal cost, and after that products are very reasonable (and I've been pleased with the quality) and shipping is free within the continental U.S. and about $10 to Canada.
posted by kate4914 at 8:55 AM on September 16, 2018

some validation about ways in which I can and should make my life easier
I know there's a Suffering Grad Student Lifestyle but I can't truck with that.

I can come back with practical automation ideas later, but validation: don't let people who try to tell you that the only way to do grad school is spending 24/7 in your office or eating ramen at 3am, that if you're not "working" all the time you're doing it wrong. Most of those folks are working for a bit, watching some Hulu, working a bit, going and getting coffee, working a bit, talking to me about last night's Panthers game... it's pretty exhausting for most of them, because they feel like they're working all the time, though they're not.

Once you get your routines set up, it's okay to sleep at night. It's okay to go to the gym. It's okay to eat right. I've a dear friend who grounded himself in his office last year, and he's burnt the hell out this year. Keep saying "I know there's a Suffering Grad Student Lifestyle but I can't truck with that", and don't listen to the folks who try to tell you otherwise.

(Source: full time employee, almost full time phd student. I'm almost done with coursework, angels wept.)
posted by joycehealy at 8:56 AM on September 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

...and there's ONLY one kind of shampoo, one SPF sunscreen, ONE conditioner, so eliminates decision fatigue. I'm usually averse to most scented products, but these are natural and not overwhelming.
posted by kate4914 at 9:00 AM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Groceries - if you can't have them delivered, at least have them ready for pick up. We are starting to do this when we have a big load or are going camping or to the cabin. I have to make the list anyway, why not put it in a website and have someone bag it for me? Many places will even load them into your trunk.

Auto Bill Pay - put it on a separate account if you want so you can keeping your spending money and bill money divided.

If you have guilty thoughts, think about how much time you are actually saving by paying for someone else to complete the errand. Then think about the energy you are saving, not just in doing the thing itself but in recovering from the thing. People who run errands for you in exchange for cash want your business and you are saving time and energy by having them do it.
posted by soelo at 9:18 AM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Simplify lots of things. I have short cute hair so it's easy to wash, buy clothes twice a year in basic matchable colours (capsule wardrobes if you want options or pick a uniform style otherwise), boiled my skincare and make up to minimums of exactly the same brands and eat mostly the same 4-5 healthy meals for 70% of my food. I can get out of bed and ready in ten minutes on a good day, thirty on a bad.

I hated classes for exercise because I feel guilty skipping one when I felt ill and so pushed too hard. Daily walking with my dog on bad days and the option to go hiking, swimming and do other things on better health days was better. On really bad days, someone else walks the dog, so I would only get a dog of you had a shared carer but they are awesome motivation, way better than a gym.

Totally let standards go. Pick like three things you care most about, studying and friends and your assistance and then ignore the rest - so your room is a messy nightmare, who cares? You're a warm and lovely friend with fantastic grades and dynamite eyeshadow. You cannot have all the things and whatever if people sniff about how you should be doing this or that, you pick your priorities.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 10:06 AM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Grocery delivery is our big time saver. But what actually saves on thinking is that the grocery store website keeps all of our 'favourites' on record, so I just rebuy the exact same version of everything when we run out. It will also do a repeat order with very few clicks if you want exactly what you had last week.

In your home, store things as close as possible to the location in which you will use them. If that means that you're storing things in plain sight, then that is ok.

It does not matter if you don't make the bed. I have managed for years at a time without doing so and really nothing bad happened.

Hire a cleaning service. I don't because my partner is currently not working and he enjoys cleaning. But if I were on my own I would get a cleaner because that is the only way my house is going to clean, and that's just because I work long-ish hours and can be really lazy.

Creating a uniform for yourself is also a good idea. I wear dresses to work mainly so I just pull on a dress from the wardrobe and put on tights, shoes and a cardigan if I need one. Previous uniforms I've had include plain coloured knit top and grey or black trousers; or graphic t-shirt and jeans. It doesn't matter what level of formality you need to wear, if many of your days are similar (and for most people they are) you can create a uniform for them.

Make sure all your bills are paid directly from your account without manual intervention. Saves time, and reduces the risk you will forget something.
posted by plonkee at 10:46 AM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I haven’t made my bed in the past decade. My cat likes to sleep in the unmade bed, and I have read that unmade beds are more hostile than made beds to dust mites. Nothing bad has happened because I didn’t make my bed.
posted by Anne Neville at 1:12 PM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Lots of good suggestions so far. I just want to add I went through a phase of life where I was working two jobs and either pregnant or freshly postpartum. I got myself one of these because I could still move my body even when I had reading to do. I also have a chronic condition and this allows me to move with more or less resistance based on what's happening with my health.

Also nthing grocery delivery or pick up service, automatic bill pay, robotic vacuum, and decluttering your routine.
posted by crunchy potato at 2:56 PM on September 16, 2018

This is a tiny thing, but it helps me a lot.

If I want to go out to enjoy myself at a restaurant, and I'm just completely overwhelmed? I break it down to the basics: I will select from a couple of favorite choices of place, and at that place, I know there's one or two dishes that I will enjoy - so I only order those. I save my culinary adventures for when I have more head space to process them.

For example - lately? The Veggie Platter from a local Ethiopian joint has been keeping me happy and fed, without me having to spend too much brain power on selecting a place, and then a dish. And I get to still enjoy the pleasure of dining out.

However, I don't tend to get 'food fatigue', and can happily eat the same thing all week. YMMV.
posted by spinifex23 at 5:01 PM on September 16, 2018

I found a specific dress I love and then bought 3 more of the exact same dress (different prints) and now I never have to think about what to wear for work.
posted by mostly vowels at 6:40 PM on September 16, 2018

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