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Processes Not Results, Or: Everything I Ever Needed To Know About Life I Learned Washing Dishes

OK not everything. But a lot. Dishes have been a perennial problem for me. Wherever I have lived, whomever I have lived with, dishes have been an issue. Some of this was simply a matter of lacking tools for the job – no warm water, not enough dishcloths, etc. But, I had dish issues even when I had a dishwasher. Certainly living with other people compounds the matter, so I looked forward to when I could live alone, or just with my womanspouse, but even then, the dishes piled up.

And so, no matter how organized(-looking) I got on the outside, I always knew: “Khatzumoto, you’re not The Man; you done ain’t got nothin’, homeboy. You can’t even keep your dishes under control.” I knew….Oh, I knew.

I knew…

In life, we are often terribly concerned with outcomes. We’re always trying to get somewhere…Sometimes that makes sense. And things like intermediate goals can be very useful. But often, if the goal is too far away, or the task is cyclical, perhaps it makes less sense to focus on where we’re going, and more sense to focus on how we’re getting there.

“Outcomeism” and “resultism” often lead to short-sightedness, stress and even ethical lapses. Result-orientedness is not a bad thing at all, many areas need more of it — Japan’s overworked adults need it injected intravenously right now — but many areas also need less of it. I submit to you that more often than not, our real concern should not be outcomes or goals or products but processes. (Bruce Schneier in the hizzouse).

In simple mathematical terms, instead of aiming for a single, grand, impressive number, a value, a point like 0, or 1, or 100, such as:

  • Number of dishes in sink = 0
  • Exam score = 100
  • P(Japanese fluency) = 1

Perhaps we should aim instead to construct a trend…a habit…a series of thousands, perhaps millions, of tiny, unimpressive points.

Rather than try to get your sink empty, try to build a livable system that ensures a net reduction over time in the number of dishes in your sink. Such that the net difference in the number of dishes between two reasonably distant points in time, t[i] and t[j], is negative.

Rather than try to ace this one exam through a caffeine-aided, Herculean feat of short-term memory, try to find a process that allows you to not only ace any exam, with just a little work every day [SRS], but also ace life in terms of actually remembering the information you are paying so much money for (in terms of books or school fees or whatever).

Rather than try to become fluent in a language, try to build a process that increases over time the quantity of language X that you can comprehend and produce. Or, put another away, build a process that decreases your ignorance of language X over time (why the negative rewording? Because this turns an uphill “mountain-climbing” style process into a downhill “sleigh ride” one — and insofar as there is a real forward momentum/inertia involved in most of the processes that matter to us, the downhill/snowballing metaphor is actually more accurate than the mountain one…too/many/slashes).

The problem with our point-centric way of achieving goals and dreams and whatever-word-is-now-most-fashionable-for-“the prize”…is just that — it’s a “point”. It’s a single moment. Ipso facto, everything other than that point, every moment not spent at that point is a moment of failure. Every moment your sink is not empty, is a moment of filth and squalor. Anything that isn’t overtly and directly connected to acing the exam becomes a waste of time. Every second you are not fluent in Japanese, you are a n00b. Every day that isn’t your birthday sucks. Every day that isn’t your wedding day isn’t happy.

These are not happy feelings to be carrying around. This is a sucky way to live. Especially since the time outside the success point constitutes the majority of your life.

There is a better way. There is a way to ace without being anal, to succeed without suffering. Why not turn your masochistic uphill struggle into a playground slide? Just like at kindergarten! Steve Pavlina talked about it on his site, and Neil Fiore said it in the Now Habit: stop trying to finish tasks, focus on starting them instead…start enough times and the finishing will all take care of itself.

When everything is a function, then life turns from a struggle into a slide…In a sense, it is a more productive interpretation of “go with the flow“: first build the flow – decide on tiny actions that put your function going in the right direction – then go with it.

So did I solve the dishes problem? I’d like to think so. I simply wash n (right now, n = 5) number of dishes, then dry and put away m number of dishes (right now, m = n) every time I’m around the sink and have a couple of minutes free. With the task of dishes, I prefer going for a number rather than going for a time as in timeboxing, because, well…the number of dishes matters more to me than the time it takes to do them; I like the feeling of controlling the speed and I don’t have to be interrupted by the end of the timebox.

I feel kind of embarrassed literally sharing my dirty household secrets like this. Housework gets no respect. And here in the Japans, most men aren’t even involved in it*; especially men with womanspouses (mine’s a feminist, so…I’m…basically…whipped, I mean, domesticated, I mean, happily involved in a relationship of equals…there’ll be all this awkward laughter when she reads this…). But…it is a real life problem that mattered to me; it required a solution, and I think I’ve solved it. It’s been said that orderly surroundings both reflect and produce orderly thinking. I wanted order; I’ve wanted it for a long time. But I didn’t want to spend or feel like I was spending all my time maintaining it. In that sense, I am happy with this process, and I think it contains lessons that can be applied elsewhere.

Random Closing Aside

So, functions and lines rather than points. Did you ever notice how people, when they’re scolding you for not doing something, often go: “would it kill you to wash one dish!?”? Or how, when you’ve been neglecting a project or a language for a long time and it’s starting to die on you, that it’s usually not the case that you were doing too little work on the project, but that you were doing zero work on the project?

I have. So…the idea of “processes over results” is deeply connected with the idea of just doing something, just moving forward.

Overall, very simple stuff, but…it was earthshaking for me in terms of the improvement in quality of life. Hopefully it will be for you, too. And if you have any other dishwashing tips, send them to me!

*One wonderful exception is my college roommate, T-star. That boy can cook! But my other guy friends who are Japanese have basically never seen the inside of their family kitchens. It’s a good life; except for the 26-hour workday with unpaid overtime part. Take one for the team, Tanaka-kun!!

  39 comments for “Processes Not Results, Or: Everything I Ever Needed To Know About Life I Learned Washing Dishes

  1. March 16, 2009 at 00:01

    Man, i have/had/have had the same problem as well, oddly. I only really cook once a week, make a bunch of food and keep the left overs in the fridge for later, and since i only really needed my dishes cleaned once a week (namely, right before I started cooking), guess when I did them? I would get hungry about 7:30 at night, and then realize I had week’s worth of dished to do, Start doing them and finish 45 minutes later… then add another 30 minutes for chopping/prep time then another 20 for cooking, plus whatever other distractions… and i’m eating dinner about 10:00 at night… an hour and a half after i got hungry. Plus all those dishes I just did, are now dirty again.

    In another post on timeboxing you mentioned doing dishes, and when I first started timeboxing, that was one of the first things I tried it out on. But as you mentioned, getting disrupted in the middle of it was annoying, and also slightly stress-inducing (dammit I need to scrub FASTER!! Why is this taking so long???) So, my solution for a while was just to start the cooking dinner process earlier in the evening, or split it into two days, one day I would do my dishes, and make something simpler to eat, and the next day I would cook. That’s one solution, but the real thing that got me thinking was my neighbor, who despite speaking no Japanese, seems to get along here in fair nippon more sanely than i do. I asked him one day about when he does dishes and he said “umm… after dinner. It’s just part of the routine.”

    Which is pretty obvious when you think about it… i mean that’s when my parents always did them thinking back, but you know, no one ever really tells you that (or well, no one ever really told me that) “you should do dishes after dinner” I guess its assumed to be commonsense, too obvious, when it happens without any fanfare night after night.

    The thing i’ve noticed most starting to live on my own is that all those little things that happened every day that were “part of the routine”-waking up, getting to school on time, showering, doing dishes, I never really learned how to do them well, and although the routine gets a lot of bad press (its boring, not spontaneous, not fun), the routine really matters. Sure doing dishes won’t make you happy or a millionaire or fluent in Japanese, but if you can’t deal with the small stuff, how can you expect to deal with the stuff that will make you happy or a millionare or fluent in japanese? Moreover, what’s to say that dealing with your dishes and dealing with your work or your hobbies are really that different?

    Anyway, although I still fall into old habits some days, (like this very moment for example) what i do now is basically I do whatever dishes i have in the sink after i finish dinner, and put away whatever is clean right before I start making dinner. So, what was once a 45 minute hunger-fueled marathon is now “boxed” into four or five ten-ish minute sessions throughout the week. In “Now Habit” thinking, I have work (cooking dinner) followed by reward (eating dinner) followed by work (dishes), which would ideally be followed by more reward, but its usually bedtime at that point. The one procrastination factor is that I could get distracted at the dinner phase by whatever i’m doing during dinner-usually watching a movie, or in today’s case, reading AJATT. Let’s just say the system works on average much better than it did before, and it’s relatively new, so it really hasn’t sunk in as a habit yet.

    “its just part of the routine.” Some days, I envy robots, who don’t have to think, and can only act.


    P.S. Procrastination log: 3/15(日)
    11:00-11:55 Distraction+compulsivity+perfectionism. After finishing dinner, i intended to do dishes, but checked ajatt (it’ll only be a second), there was a new article (oh boy) and i felt a burning desire to enlighten the world with my wisdom. Apparently i had more wisdom than i originally thought, and what began as a comment ended up turning into an essay. Man sh*t really does roll downhill. now its well over an hour after i wanted to go to bed, and i still haven’t done the dishes or gotten ready for work tomorrow.

  2. Amelia
    March 16, 2009 at 01:45

    I was going to mention Flylady to you earlier, but I assumed you knew about her already. She’s a housewife version of you and Steve Pavlina and the Now Habit: she writes about timeboxing (doesn’t call it that though–guess you guys move in different circles) to keep your house clean.

    She is also crazy: but don’t let that bother you. Like Neil Fiore, she’s also aware of the deep psychological issues involved with being a functioning adult in society and trying not to suck at it.

    Her introductory video on how to get a “shiny sink” (step one of keeping your house clean):

  3. Amelia
    March 16, 2009 at 01:52

    Oh, and thanks for the shout-out to 鏘鏘三人行–also my favorite Mandarin talk show. Did you hear the one about gay marriage in California? They invited on two CA 华侨 professor-types to talk about it…and they were scary over-the-top anti-gay marriage (it’ll make our children gay!). But the CHINESE host showed them up by making fun of all their arguments. I use that as my example for why Americans shouldn’t put the Chinese down for being repressed. They may be repressed, but that don’t make them stupid.

  4. Amelia
    March 16, 2009 at 02:10

    (Two posts in ten minutes…yes, I’m doing Japanese reps right now…I should have listened to Tommy.)

  5. Nathan
    March 16, 2009 at 04:30

    In many cases it just *moves* the stress rather than eliminates it. If d(t) = number of dishes in the sink at time t, then any time d(t’) goes above d(t) for t’ > t, you’re failing by your own definition. All of a sudden you’ve created a system that punishes eating dinner!

  6. ヒュー
    March 16, 2009 at 04:42

    mmmmm… math as life metaphor. more please.

    I think this will light a fire under my ass for a whole bunch of projects I have to get done.

    (including washing dem dishes)

  7. かつみ
    March 16, 2009 at 05:27

    The “just do it and get it over with” doesn’t work for you, huh? I grew up in a household with two younger sisters and a Mom that worked during the afternoon and evenings and divorced parents. So the dishes were always my responsibility. Everyday I had to have them done as well as dinner cooked before 6PM, sometimes earlier if the sisters had extra curricular activities. So, being forced to wash dishes for so long, I’d always just do them all at once before I cooked. This worked great through the week because I needed the clean kitchen to cook dinner in. And, usually I didn’t dirty up too many for dinner. But, this sucked on weekends because Mom was home and cooked huge meals and dirty every dish there was. And, guess who did those on Monday after school?

    So where was I going with this? — Well, my cure for the pain in doing dishes, now that I live on my own is to not own very many of them. If you think about it, by limiting the number of dishes in existence, you limit the number that can potentially become dirty. (Just like setting a limit/goal of 10,000 sentences instead of 1,000,000 or something).

    I own one set of dishes (4 bowls, 4 small plates, and 4 larger plates), and I use one tall glass and one tea cup for all my beverages. Chopsticks are the tool of choice for every meal except cereal, in which a spoon is used. On that note, I have one set of silverware, and only use the spoons. Then for cooking, I have a wok, three pans and two pots, and a cutting board with a big culinary knife.

    And, this amount of dishes could even be reduced! But, there’s no fear in getting them all dirty because it’s the same amount, all the time, and usually there’s less than the total to wash.

    I probably failed at making any logical comparison, but I hope that helps a little. 🙂

  8. かつみ
    March 16, 2009 at 05:30

    Oh, and what happens with that is that you do a little amount of dishes.. often. I think. ^^

  9. Harry
    March 16, 2009 at 06:06

    Rofl: “mine’s a feminist, so…I’m…basically…whipped, I mean, domesticated, I mean, happily involved in a relationship of equals”


    Anyway, another great post. So Basically: Go Wit the Flow Bro.

  10. vgambit
    March 16, 2009 at 23:41

    Well, the two Joel On Software ebooks I have just shot way up my “To Read” list.

  11. Konta
    March 17, 2009 at 00:32

    Nice post. This reminds me of one Ze Frank did a while back about getting from zero to one.

    Check it out:

  12. Monte Cristo
    March 17, 2009 at 08:12

    Success is not an event: it’s a journey.

  13. March 17, 2009 at 16:35


    Good posts. I use process rather than resuls to lose weight. Rather than set a goal (result) of losing a certain amount of weight or be at a certain weight, I simply focus on the process of eating three specific things a day plus anything else I want –as long as I eat those three things. With this process I succeed a little everyday rather always being short of my goal.

  14. Sam
    March 18, 2009 at 07:42

    Hi… I hope you don’t mind me changing the subject. I got (yet another) question regarding adding sentences for SRSing. When I look up a word in a dictionary, I often get a selection of usage examples… Often I’m not really sure whether these could be classified as sentences or not and more importantly whether they’re suitable for adding to my SRS. For example…

    山に登る – go up a mountain

    Whilst the above certainly illustrates the meaning of the 登る clearly, it feels somehow a little to abstract to me… Maybe cos I’m stuck in English language mode searching for the subject of the sentence.

    Just wondering if anyone has any opinion on the matter,

    Thanks very much,


  15. Solar Wind
    March 18, 2009 at 09:29


    Don’t worry too much about it. Your definition is fine and is clear enough to get the meaning across. In fact, the kanji themselves explain the meaning quite well and you could probably do without an English translation.

    It also sounds like you’re spending more time entering sentences than doing stuff in Japanese. If you get bogged down, just stop making entries and go do something else. It’s far more important to have fun than it is to add entries to the SRS.

  16. Forrest
    March 19, 2009 at 03:24

    I just have to comment on one of your tweets:

    Kanji-lish: you have simply GOT to get this Firefox plugin. No, really… Really…

    ^– That one! OMG I love this plugin! Just felt the need to call extra attention to it in case anyone here isn’t reading that side of your site… lol

  17. quendidil
    March 19, 2009 at 10:56

    It’s been a long time since I’ve commented here, but I remember someone once commenting that while he expected French to be a piece of cake after Japanese, it really is quite different and he found it difficult.

    Well, personally, despite the absence of kanji in Europe, I have to say that I think Latin roots fulfill a very similar function. Going through Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata by Hans Orberg made Romance languages very transparent to me along with some basic reading on the pronouns and verb conjugations. If you’re not interested in Latin, maybe a list of Latin roots in English would be helpful as well.

  18. Jonny
    March 20, 2009 at 01:56

    I like that you talked about process vs. outcome. I’ve always tried to focus on the process, rather than the outcome of the process. Most of life is a process. If we only get happiness from the outcomes, moments of happiness will be far and few between. So it’s only logical to try gain happiness from the process, as well as the outcome. I’m somewhat of a perfectionist, so it kind of came naturally for me. However, in some parts of my life this has hindered me far more than benefited me. A perfect example of this is programming. I have never finished a (hobby) project in all the 7 years I have been programming. There are a few reasons for this, but the main reason is that I focus more on means, rather than the end. Practically speaking, code is simply a means to an end. For me, the code is an end itself. This is a good thing, because it has motivated me to learn programming to level that I am now completely on my own. But it is also a bad thing, because I have nothing to show for it.

    But the point there is that I gained more happiness from learning how to program, than I would have from gained from finishing a project. Okay, well, that’s not entirely true, for one because I don’t know how I’d feel from finishing a project because it’s never happened, and two, I’m pretty sure it would make me very, very happy. So the _real_ point is that the reason why I got to where I am in my programming skills is because I enjoyed creating my programming skills. I enjoy gaining knowledge. I enjoyed the process _as well_ as the outcome (and perhaps you could say I enjoy the process _too_ much).

    Another example of this, perhaps less significant, but an example nonetheless, is video games. A video game is simply another skill to master. Everything in a video game is just a bunch of little skills we can get good at. Video games are supposed to be fun, but for many people, they are a huge source of frustration as well. If you can’t beat a boss, you become angry and through the controller against the wall. If that’s your reaction, then to me, it seems like you don’t want to play that video game, you want to _beat_ that video game. Playing is the process which eventually results in the completion of the game. There are, of course, bosses and sub bosses, which offer intermediate victories, but people don’t want to fight the boss, they want to _beat_ the boss. And when they don’t, they become frustrated, and they might even stop playing the game completely! This doesn’t make sense to me (not saying it hasn’t happened to me). Losing is part of the game. You aren’t supposed to succeed at first, because then the game would be too easy. But you can take it a step further, at least that’s what I try to do. When I play a video game, I like to master it, not just beat it. And even if I never do master it, what that does is shift my attention away from my progressing through the storyline, and moves it more towards actually playing the game. When you are learning a skill, you can gain so much more from failure than you can from success. Failure becomes a good thing, and because of that, you can’t really call it failure anymore, because it no longer impedes success, it actually accelerates it. If I’m fighting a boss, and I die, if I can pinpoint the reason why I died then I have learned valuable information, information that I could not have learned any other way. I might actually try to recreate the exact same situation, just so I can study it more!

    Basically what I have done is created a situation where I can’t fail unless I stop playing for a long time, or I get brain damage. Playing the game can only result in success, and thus can only bring me happiness. And recently I’ve tried to take it a step further. After I realized that most of the skills I’m learning in video games are pretty much useless outside the video game. After realizing that, I gained less happiness from building those skills. So what I decided is that I’m going to get better at getting better itself, which may or may not be possible, but I’m inclined to think it is. In fact, that’s what you have to do when you want to teach yourself a new skill. Before you can do that, you have to learn _how_ to teach yourself. And if I learn how to teach myself enough different skills, soon I become better at learning how to learn! And that, to me, is very exciting. Life becomes a bunch of different skills for me to master.

    Anyways, great article!

  19. March 20, 2009 at 06:58

    @ Forrest

    Kanji-lish: you have simply GOT to get this Firefox plugin. No, really… Really…

    Hey, thanks for flagging up this plugin – just installed it and it works great. I no longer have to feel so guilty when i’m reading stuff in English i.e on this website.

  20. Johann
    March 20, 2009 at 11:03

    So, about that Twitter message…
    >I’m thinking TV commercials have immense untapped power as a language-learning tool.
    Not sure what you mean with the “untapped” part Khatz, but this is definitely true. Commercials contain piles words you hardly encounter anywhere else when you don’t happen to live in the country where they speak the language. Movies and video games are great for learning foreign languages, but you don’t ever see anyone talk of everyday stuff like doing the laundry in them.
    Plus, commercials nowadays are usually funny, well-thought out and extremely polished pieces of entertainment rather than boring announcements. I’ve learned tons of new English words just through browsing Youtube for funny commercials.
    Too bad most TV networks still insist on ignoring the internet as an international distribution medium, DVDs and illegal rips don’t come with ads (other than that “LOL U BAWT HOUR DVD, UR A PIRATE!!!1!” crap)

  21. March 21, 2009 at 10:06

    @Forrest Thank you for putting that tweet here <3

  22. beneficii
    March 23, 2009 at 04:31

    Another good resource for input is, which is like YouTube, but more suited to the Japanese audience. They do not discriminate against people outside of Japan, and you can register a username for free anywhere in the world to be able to watch videos. One really cool feature they have that YouTube lacks is that comments are always attached to a certain time on the video and when you get to the time that a comment is attached to on the video, the comment scrolls across the video. It’s really cool and lets you see more closely how Japanese people are reacting to things, I think.

  23. March 23, 2009 at 21:56

    Khatz, thanks for twittering Kato Lomb’s book. It was very interesting indeed. A bit sketchy on the details, but I still came away thinking “Oh yeah, can totally do this!” so it’s all good.

  24. isharabash
    March 24, 2009 at 06:20

    Hi Khatz,

    Thanks for the site… although I’m finding I’m spending a lot of time here as well as studying…

    Anyway, a question I had that has probably been asked a ton of times, if you don’t know how to say a kanji, how do you learn to speak?

    But I am trying the listening thing and… it actually is working.

  25. Ed
    March 24, 2009 at 08:48

    off topic but awesome:

    learn japanese from tupac!

  26. March 27, 2009 at 10:12

    Hey Khatz,

    Found a site you might like on learning

    Also a couple of people discuss goals here:

    How did your Victory (um, I can’t remember what it was called, map? Calendar?) thing turn out?

  27. frauleingunderson
    March 28, 2009 at 04:38

    Off topic but,
    Holy f-ing shiz.. KANJI-LISH IS AWESOME. Install it people.
    Thanks for the recommendation on twitter, person who runs this blog!

  28. cb4960
    March 28, 2009 at 07:26

    Kanji-lish is quite an interesting plugin.

    I put together a Kanji-lish profile that contains keywords from both RTK 1 and RTK 3:

  29. Dodomeki
    October 9, 2011 at 12:33

    And this is exactly how integrals work in calculus.

  30. Dan
    November 12, 2013 at 17:00

    Khatz, I used to be a dishwasher at a restaurant for about two years, long before I stumbled upon this site. I was a junior in high school at the time and it seriously sucked to wash everybody’s filth. I figured out a way to get through the nights though by basically doing what you suggest to do with Japanese (or any other language for that matter). I played games while washing them. I used these square-like dish holders and some games were how fast could I fill the holder or how many could I do in an hour. My favorite game was seeing the holder like a Tetris board and fitting the different sizes and shapes of dishes onto the holder while taking up the most space, it was awesome. Just like with Japanese, just gotta keep moving and have fun! 😀

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