Selecting Service Tasks in a World of Automation and Outsourcing

This whole post is something I usually throw in while expanding on one bullet point in my Anticipatory Service class, but it deserves a little more, so here goes. 

I talk in that class about generating service ideas/ways to serve, and cite one source of ideas being things that the person you’re serving typically automates or outsources (whether it be home automation or technology, hiring a contractor, going to a place to have the service done, getting delivery, etc.) 

Now, this can be a great source of inspiration, as it’s something they clearly do want done and are willing to hand off. And it can be beneficial to do things yourself to really connect with your service; washing a dish by hand will typically feel more like service than loading a dishwasher, as will giving someone a massage instead of driving them to a spa appointment, baking a loaf of bread instead of buying it, or walking the aisles of a store instead of clicking buttons. 

But there are several factors to consider when deciding if you should take it on as a service task or leave it to automation/outsourcing. 

There’s typically money to be saved in “doing it yourself” (having the s-type do it) versus involving a professional. But sometimes not, if this involves renting or purchasing expensive equipment usually covered by a smaller contractor fee. Even if the money is not an issue—what about the space in your home those supplies take up? Could you maybe split the space/money involved for such supplies with a family member, friend, or neighbor? 

Or, say, if there’s a major pandemic. This may make it safer to hit buttons from home and get grocery delivery than to walk the aisles of a store yourself. But it may also make it safer to perform a service yourself at home (say, giving a haircut) than to go out and have it done.

Next, can you perform the service (or learn to) to the same standard as the professional or technology involved/can you get close enough the trade off (say, money) is worth it? Or could the alternative do this so much better/faster/more easily that it isn’t worth it to do it yourself? There may also be other factors here, like if it’s more eco friendly or healthy to use one technology or another/lack thereof. Or if there are safety factors involved that a pro could better handle. 

The person you’re serving may also simply have a strong preference on this. If you’re beyond the point of negotiating that, you’re beyond the point of negotiating that.

I think the hardest factor to judge and navigate is the trade off of your time and energy (as the s-type). Just because there’s a potential service task to be done doesn’t mean it’s the best use of your time and mental and/or physical energy. Even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal, it can still be a disruption to your focus on another task, and ten tasks that all only take three minutes actually mean a half hour of extra work: things add up, and that’s time you’re not spending on another task that may be more useful.

In my case, I’m not allowed to be truly answerable to someone who isn’t Mistress, I’m not allowed to have a job, or take on things that could interfere with her authority. Service is my full time, forty plus hours a week job; I’m the housewife, no kids, no roommates, no other partners, always on call. But I still have only twenty-four hours in a day, and only so much energy (and some of those hours do need to go to food and sleep and all). And let’s face it: most service types do have other commitments that need to be taken into account. Even I have a lot going on without traditional employment.

So we balance what it’s most practical for me to focus on.

Examples both directions:

Dishes—we’ve opted for me to do them all by hand. Right after meals, I’m required to wash, dry, and put everything away as part of cleaning the kitchen, unless there’s some special exception. Now, we do have a pretty nice dishwasher, but it still really doesn’t do as good a job consistently, and I’m an admittedly somewhat slow and ineffective Dishwasher Loader (spatial reasoning isn’t my strong suit). It’s been used a couple of times when I was ill/after a large event, but that’s about it. 

High window washing—I do the washing of the more accessible windows, but we have a lot of windows that you’d need a full ladder to clean both inside and out. It’s basically impossible for me to move such a ladder by myself, and I have balance issues: me being on it at any real height above the ground would be dangerous, especially unsupervised. But, if I arrange things with a window washing company and have them do it, they whip right through this chore with celerity I’ll never achieve, and the windows are sparkling. The money is well worth it. 

Ultimately, choosing which service tasks to take on and which to leave to automation/outsourcing is about finding that balance point, which might sway back and forth over time (ex: utilizing the dishwasher when I’m very ill). I lean towards doing everything I can myself to really get that feeling of serving directly, but I’m learning to admit when it’s not practical. 

Lots of things to consider. 

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