Service Skill: Event Debriefs

Event Debriefs: What Are They?

Event debriefs are relatively what they sound like.  The type I’m talking about here is the private post-event reflection for the host (sharing with co-hosts and whatnot can come later).  

An “event” is what you make it out to be, and you should set your own standards for what constitutes an “event” that warrants a debrief.  Does one person coming over count?  What about four?  A dozen?  Does it depend which ones?  Is it more about the difference between an impromptu get-together and a thoroughly planned, themed occasion?

Personally I mostly debrief (and host) for small events for between five and twelve people, so my advice here is going to be influenced by that.

The idea of a structured reflection, though, I think scales up nicely.

The How-To 

Give yourself some breathing room after the event to process, but not so much details blur.  Say, for an evening event, perhaps do it the next morning.

Gather, for your reference in doing the debrief (and to keep with it for future reference), any feedback from attendees, any reference material or planning notes you used, anything else relevant you jotted down before, during, or after.

Start by recording the basics: who came, when it was (day, time), where it was, the occasion, purpose, or theme, what activities were done, what food and drink was served, and what decor or practical setup was used.

From there, you might want to start with a brain dump.  Write down all of the ideas, questions, thoughts that come to mind about the event.  If you’re really pulling a blank, you might want to go straight to a list of questions.

Which questions you use will be unique to you.  You might have a list of questions you answer like a worksheet, or a list for general inspiration.  

Some ideas include: 

What worked great?  How can you replicate it?  What didn’t work?  How can you fix it?  What problems did you run into—did they get solved?  How?  What lessons did you learn?  What would you change?  How can you incorporate the feedback you got?  Did you get any ideas for use in a future event?

Once you have this all down, you’ll want to find the actionable items, and incorporate that information into your systems of reference and planning, whether in notes for a specific future event, reference pages for event planning in general, peoples’ pages in your butler’s book, recipes that you used. 

Store the debrief in its entirety with your other event debriefs, for future reference on the bits like, “Didn’t I already serve that dish the last time so-and-so came over?”

Over time, you’ll refine your own system; mine, I know, is always a work in progress.

Service Skill: Setting the Table

Who knew, really, how much can go into setting a table?  A little scatterbrained from handling other preparations for company, like the cooking and ensuring the right drinks were chilling in the fridge and right quantity of glasses were chilling in the freezer, I couldn’t seem to print the first few names right-side-up on both sides of their place-cards on the first go—though I got there eventually.  I ended up scrutinizing the table to make sure I hadn’t spaced anything—napkins well-laundered and white, knife blades facing plates, Mistress’ place set to her preference with the right and left sides switched, my grandma’s place set to her preference with a salad fork instead of a dinner fork.  Then I got reminded one guest was left-handed, and as the only leftie and with such a place available, I reassigned his place to where there was no one to his left.  Made sure I noted that for next time.

Proper table setting has caught my interest, mostly in the little details I never really noticed before, the differences between styles, the “whys” of some of it.  I have yet to find a good opportunity for a real formal dinner, but, as above, I try to work what I can into more casual events.  The place cards were more than usual, though the rest is everyday.

So I’m certainly not an expert, but here are some quick overarching table-setting tips and guidelines I’ve run across.

  1. Space things evenly and line them up (bottoms of the vertical flatware all along the same line, for instance).
  2. All knife blades face towards the plate.
  3. Be consistent in your style.  There are different types of settings (like North American versus European); stick to one.
  4. Use as few disposables as possible to increase class.  Cloth napkins, real dishes.  Have them match (in general; there might be times other options are appropriate), and make sure they’re spotless.
  5. Big centerpieces might look pretty in isolation; on the table, they mean you can’t see the person across from you.  Think smaller, or get creative on placement.
  6. Certain types of plates, bowls, and glassware can be chilled for serving things cold or heated for serving things warm.  Adds a touch of luxury.
  7. Check what’s in your butler’s book for any special considerations for those who will be dining.

There are many good visual references for place setting online.

Service Skill: Digital Productivity

This post is a conglomeration of productivity systems, tricks, and tools I use in my slavery, focusing on the digital side.

Part One: Using Technology to Be More Productive, Not Less

Let’s face it: for a lot of people, their devices are simply time sinks, or for leisure.  Their phones are for Candy Crush and Instagram; tablets are for Netflix and cat videos; so on, so on.  For a lot of people, too, their devices are crucial productivity tools—full of important resources, communications, planning—but definitely still able to become a time sink with the right Wikipedia rabbit hole.  For this, technology can get a bad rap.  So Part One is how to make your tech focused around being more productive, not less.

Eliminate those time sinks.

If possible, it can be best to eliminate them altogether.  Delete social media accounts, games, whatnot.  On the other hand, those are perfectly fine things to engage in during leisure time, so in that case it becomes limiting their use to those times.  I very rarely use my phone except for a quick check on a ride or jotting down an idea while out and about, but I make sure there are no games on there or certain time-sink apps (Pinterest, anyone?).  No games period, actually.  Very little social media.  FetLife… Pinterest.  I used to have a Facebook, but deleted it because of the time sink factor.

If you can’t delete them, app and website blockers with timers can be your friend.  I have those distractions like FetLife and Pinterest basically blocked during most of my usual waking hours by a simple Chrome extension called StayFocusd.  There are many apps and extensions like it.  If you’re exclusively a Chrome user like me, an extension just for that may work—if you’re more of a general phone user, or use multiple browsers, etc., you may want something more robust to keep you on track during your key service hours.

Eliminate friction points in your tech use.

Have you ever meant to quickly check an email, and ended up looking at two other emails in your inbox, or running to find a charger for your dying device so you can finish reading that email, or getting linked to a site you forgot your password for, leaving you to get in via a reset email, or having to install an update before your device cooperates?

These are friction points.  

I recommend eliminating those issues—and a few more—in these ways.

One, properly set up and use a password manager to save your passwords, so you don’t play the, “Forgot your password?  Enter your username!  Forgot your username?  Enter your email!” game.  I use LastPass in the form of another Chrome extension.  Some of these even come with a strong password generator, and it makes it easier to not dangerously repeat passwords.  This is another one that heavier phone or app users may need something else for.

Two, charge your electronics every night.  The devices you use basically every day—plug them in before you go to bed.  It’s simple, takes just a second, but it makes a huge difference.  Take it from someone whose phone and smart watch went from “always dead” to “always charged”.  Also, make sure you carry chargers for whatever devices you’re carrying, and consider a charged power bank and appropriate cords for that.  The backpack I carry even has USB charging via power bank abilities built in (so you can plug in the power bank on the inside of the bag, and the phone to a port on the outside).

Three, unless you have reason not to (waiting for bugs to be worked out, new pricing, etc.): install updates promptly for your apps and devices.  It’ll save you the headache of functionality issues ensuing.

Four, backup, backup, backup.  Don’t lose your important files to dragging the wrong thing to the trash or a water glass dropped on a device.  Set reminders—mine are weekly—to backup your files, preferably in more than one form—for example, I have things in EverNote and OmniFocus, which have cloud syncing, and I also export both to iCloud weekly for more cloud backup, and save that same weekly export to a flash drive for a version I can touch.

If you do these, you’ll never get ordered to do a quick task on one of your devices and have to go, “Er… one more minute!”

Part Two: Organizing Your Devices and Related Routine

If your digital files are a mess to sort through, or you’re always forgetting something you’re supposed to do on your devices, you’re not going to feel—or be—any more productive.  Here are some organization pointers.

A Table of Contents is your friend.

Wherever it can be, something table of contents-like (whatever you like to call it/however you like to organize it) can be a lifesaver, especially if the alternative is just a shambolic collection of files.

In EverNote, you can select notes and have EverNote generate a Table of Contents note that contains the title of each note you selected, hyperlinked to take you to that note.  I make a new one of these for any notebook with more than a few notes in it on a weekly basis.  (I have a general physical notebook with a table of contents that I update daily.)

If you use anything where one would be useful: consider it.  You’ll find things faster.

Set (and keep) techy routines.

Set a time, however frequently you need, to check the digital things you have that need to be checked.  This means you won’t overlook things until they’re urgent (or worse), and it will keep you from compulsively checking things as you remember them.  

This can be correspondence, your calendar and to-dos, etc.

I set my times for this as part of my AM and PM routines.

In my AM routine, I also have a note to message Mistress about any questions, plan confirmations, permission requests, whatnot, for the day.  This means I hopefully have fewer, “Oh, I meant to ask—” times throughout the day.  If a similar note would work for you—give it a try!

Use tags.

Wherever you think they might be useful: try tags.  They’re a feature in a lot of productivity software, and you can use them on a lot of email platforms, too.

For example, I use tags in EverNote on recipe notes—to sort by diet (like vegetarian, gluten-free), main ingredient or cuisine (like chicken, Italian, potato), and meal (like breakfast, dinner, dessert, drinks, sides, snacks).  This way I can quickly find something to make for a guest on a special diet, or for a specific craving they’re having.

I also use a form of tagging in my email; I use Gmail’s filters to send emails straight through the inbox to specific labels/tags based on things like who sent them.  This way I have an idea of what emails have come in just by seeing the notification number next to those labels, instead of an unsorted mess of emails.  Pretty much nothing ends up in my general inbox.

Part Three: Collaboration/Other People

How to integrate technological options with real objects and timing, and how shared digital resources can make life easier.

Use shared folders or calendars instead of individual documents or events.

For the people you share things with regularly, go broad.  Save yourself a little bit of time selecting the same sharing settings every time you share a document, and apply those settings to a folder now, and simply drop things in there.  I use Google Drive for most of my collaboration, and so I have a folder I share with Mistress that I can simply drop things in, and it holds things like our contract, guest manual, my slave journal, a checklist for our weekly check in, slave positions guide, etc.  My best friend has a folder we share things in, too, mostly for writing.

Mistress and I have a shared Google Calendar as well, for events and meal planning and whatnot.  For ease of keeping track of my life when we’re trying to make plans, I share a basic calendar with my mom, too.

Tracking someone sounds controlling, leave it to the M-types, right?  Maybe not.

Mistress and I share our locations with each other via Find My Friends.  The fact she can track me raises a few eyebrows, but what actually gets questioned more is when I share that I track her actively way more often than she does the same to me.

I use it not for any kind of control, obviously, but as a service tool—notifications on when she gets within a certain radius of home can let me have last-minute food prep done right before she walks in the door.  When we go on our monthly trip, I use it to be waiting by where she will park at the hotel with coffee I grabbed in the lobby on my way.

Part Four: Specific Idea – Gifting Spreadsheet

The first sheet in my Google Sheets gifting spreadsheet has six columns: Item, Recipient, Occasion, Purchased (indicated via checkbox), Wrapped (indicated via checkbox), and Notes.  I fill it in for every item.  For ideas I have but haven’t committed to an occasion for yet, I put “Any”.  Under notes, I mostly note items that are DIY projects in nature and thus need more time than the others.  Each column is able to be filtered, so I can find all gifts assigned to any one or more recipients or occasions, or see just ones that are purchased but not wrapped (to see what I should go wrap), or purchased and wrapped, or neither (to see what I should go buy and then wrap).

A second sheet has a gifting list (who I gift to for what occasion, to make sure I don’t forget anyone and can plan), a very general ideas list, and an inventory of “Emergency Gifts” (fairly generic gifts bought and wrapped ahead of time with a blank gift tag and a sticky note label of what’s inside, intended for surprise recipients—like ones who give you a last-minute invite to their birthday party, or someone who gets you a gift for a holiday when you didn’t expect one, and you need a reciprocal one for them quickly).

A third sheet is a “have-gifted” reference, where gifts move to from the first sheet once given, to remember for future occasions what has already been given.  This is simplified to Item/Recipient/Occasion with filters.

Part Five: Specific Idea – Butler’s Book

In EverNote, I have a notebook filled with notes labeled with the names of people I know.  I have a template saved that I use and modify as needed, with the template including places for name, birthday, contact information, health information/allergies, general schedule (for making plans), entertainment preferences, “what’s up in their life” (for conversation topics), food and drink preferences (where I frequently link straight to the recipe notes), a “pre-visit checklist” (put extras of their favorite soda in the fridge from the soda shelf, adjust the lighting to their preference, etc.)  I include any notes on things to do the next time I see them—return something borrowed or whatnot.  A quick glance at someone’s note before seeing them can make things go more smoothly.

Service Skill: Making the Bed

General Notes:

  • Bed linens and such that are properly sized, fit the color scheme, and are in good condition go a long way. 
  • Remember to change/wash the linens regularly (once a week is a popular guideline); watch the care instructions.  
    • Having at least two sets of bed linens can save some headaches.
  • Don’t forget appropriately keeping the bed frame and whatnot neat too.  This might mean dusting, or handling upholstery, or something else.
  • Remember mattress care—rotating, cleaning, etc.
  • Set the tasks mentioned on a repeating schedule.
  • Maybe try a light linen spray once in a while—but remember to check on allergies and sensitivities first.
  • I don’t mention certain pieces below, because I decided to stick to what I do—but if you have a bed skirt, mattress pad, etc., factor them in appropriately.
  • Make sure the piece you’re handling is facing the way it’s supposed to, both in vertical/horizontal orientation and where the patterned side is; a patterned flat sheet, for instance, needs to be put on the bed face down to have the pattern facing up when folded back. Note that the side of the flat sheet with the wider hem should be towards the head of the bed.
  • Customize it!  Make sure you adhere to your M-type’s preferences.

Making the Bed (the Daily Stuff)

  • If the mattress has shifted at all, for those tossers and turners, make sure it’s lined up/back where it’s supposed to be.
  • Fitted sheet: evenly place on the mattress; smooth out.
  • Flat sheet: make hospital corners.
    • There are many great resources on how to make hospital corners online.  A quick Google search should get you to guides for a variety of learning types if you haven’t done it before.
  • Main blanket: evenly lay on top; smooth out.
  • Fold down the flat sheet and the blanket so the fold lays not quite below where the pillows will be.  Neatly tuck the hem of the flat sheet under the hem of the comforter, or simply smooth out.  (This is really a preference point.)
  • Place any extra blankets, whether another layer altogether, or folded across the foot of the bed, or what have you.
  • If preferred, neatly tuck in the blankets under the mattress.
  • Put pillowcases on pillows if need be (tuck excess pillowcase fabric, if any, under the pillow); arrange pillows practically and attractively; try slightly propped up on the headboard.
  • Handle any other “extras”.  (As an example, I place my leash neatly on my pillow for bedtime.)

Service Skill: Creating a Butler’s Book

Largely just some thoughts on things that could go into a butler’s book, adapted to the user’s wants/needs. Written in M/s language for an s-type audience.

Preferences

  • Notes on any and all of your M-type’s dietary restrictions, sensitivities, and allergies. Note things that they simply dislike, whether they’re entire cuisines, an ingredient, a recipe, a spice level, or a cooking method.
  • Now the flip side: notes on their favorite foods and drinks. What are those favorites? Is there anything they need/want to eat more of than normal (like iron for the anemia-prone)? What are their preferences for things like seasoning, cooking methods, or presentation? (You can keep recipes here too, and note these things right in them. Consider sorting by meal—breakfast, lunch, etc.) Maybe they like eggs best over medium. Maybe only heaven can help you if their coffee is not available through a straw.
  • Don’t forget notes on restaurants/their menu items if you don’t always eat at home. Favorites, dislikes.
  • Their likes and dislikes for products in categories like cleaning and hygiene. Cleaning chemicals, soaps, detergents, hair products, towels, razors, dental products.

Guides

  • Guide to the bed. A “making the bed” checklist. A reference of your M-type’s favorite blankets, sheets, and pillows. Mattress maintenance schedule. Linen washing schedule. Seasonal change notes. How many pillows and blankets, and where do they go. A “how do hospital corners work” guide for those bleary-eyed mornings.
  • Table setting guide. Have a good general reference, plus anything specific to your home.
  • Guide on how to use any relevant electronics/appliances, including notes on the settings to use. Consider things like kitchen gadgets, and the all-important coffee maker.
  • Guide for where items go if you are at all likely to forget. Pots, pans, baking sheets, plates, bowls, cups. Socks, shirts, pants. Whatever it is.
  • Laundry guide—how to handle delicates, how clothes get sorted to be washed, detergent preferences (plus dryer sheets and/or fabric softener), settings to be used on any machines.
  • Manicure/pedicure guide if you give those.

Information

  • Passwords and usernames that you might need. Remember the WiFi!
  • Quick-access emergency health information about both you and your M-type and available to both of you.
  • Contact information for important people in your lives.
  • Pet information if you have pets. What they eat, their health information, contact information for pet-related services (vet, groomer, pet sitter).
  • Car information if relevant. Model and year. Contact information for car-related services.
  • Notes and contact information on any other services you use regularly (think trash, recycling, mail).
  • A copy of your relationship’s contract if you have one, any other “paperwork” like a rules list.

Lists

  • Gift idea list for people you or your M-type gift to. Include links where applicable. Sort by recipient or occasion.
  • Household inventory. Consider including: item (brand, flavor, size), current stock, what stock level to buy at, what number to buy, where to buy, who buys, photo.
  • Master shopping list (as in a list of everything you buy on the regular, as opposed to the M-type status). Sort this and your temporary shopping lists by the order you go through the store in for more efficiency.
  • Meal plan, menu, or similar system that you use.
  • Master packing list (again, a list of everything you pack on the regular). Consider a base packing list for any recurring trips.

Planning

  • Calendar. Probably best to be shared with your M-type in some way.
  • Task lists. Your current one(s), any ones that repeat on a schedule.
  • Task lists associated with recurring events, such as overnight company.
  • List of important people’s also-important dates, like birthdays and anniversaries, for people relevant to both you and your M-type.

Final Note: Remember to have backups of things and keep it all updated!

Service Skill: Hosting at Home

Some of my advice for hosting a group at home. These are things you can do the day of (some could be done a bit more in advance); therefore, some early planning, including invites, isn’t addressed.

Preparing Yourself (and Others)

  • Dress appropriately for the occasion—if you have a specific outfit in mind, you might want to change closer to the last minute to avoid any mishaps, especially if you’re doing messy prep work the day of.
  • Take care of yourself. While it’s easy to let this slip, try to eat something and drink water, if for nothing else, to keep efficiency up.
  • Try to put away your electronics and focus on the event when the time comes.  You might want to find a way to monitor certain notifications, though, if people might be reaching out to you with last minute questions.  If you have digital reference material, like recipes, that you might need: print it!
  • Remember to check on any special needs/wants of guests.  Polls are valuable.
  • Make sure that any pets’ needs are handled, and keep in mind what your plan is for them during the event, if they’re going to be in a specific area or have free reign, etc. (and remember to warn guests in case of allergies).

Some General Prep

  • Doors. Have the right ones closed, open, locked, unlocked, etc. If you expect to direct guests to a certain room, having the door generally open might help (like bathrooms).
  • Lighting. Have guest areas lit as desired, and don’t forget pathways between them. Consider turning off the lights in areas guests don’t really need access to, to help highlight where things are going on.
  • Do a quick thermostat check a bit before guests arrive, and set it to something comfortable. Consider the activities going on, the weather, etc.
  • If there’s going to be music, get that set up—volume, playlist, etc.
  • Label things if you think it will help—where certain supplies are, including food and drink, maybe rooms if people will spread out.
  • If you have a guest manual or something of the sort, make sure it’s updated. At the least, have any house rules available, and the WiFi information if you’re handing it out.
  • Keep an eye on certain supply levels close to the event—remember soap at the sinks, toilet paper, hand towels/paper towels, etc.
  • Set up for any specific activities.

Clean, Clean, Clean

  • Do the general tidying. Control clutter, straighten things up, especially picking up anything on the floor. Closing cabinets, drawers, and closet doors can instantly give a room a neater look.
  • Clean floors and surfaces as needed; also check on windows and mirrors.
  • Don’t forget any needed toilet cleaning.
  • Run any couch pillows through the dryer for a quick fluff if you can.
  • Get any dishes clean and put away; take out the trash (all of the bins if there are multiple, like little ones in the bathrooms), and don’t forget to put liners back in bins that have them.
  • Make the beds if needed.
  • Do any outdoor cleanup needed.

Food and More

  • Don’t make something for the first time at/for an event. Pick recipes you have confidence in, and the right timing for. Consider if the food handles sitting out well if that will be an issue—if reheating methods are available, make that clear.
  • Remember to set out anything guests might particularly want in the way of condiments, seasonings, etc.
  • Set the table if that’s relevant.
  • Try to at least have snacks, and if you’re hosting during a regular mealtime, serve something resembling that meal. Have snacks around even if you’re serving an entree, for the guest who shows up hungry before food is even close to ready, or the guest who gets hungry after the meal digests. Variety is always nice, and keeping snacks single-serve in some way can be helpful.
  • Labeling things can help people out, and you might want to mark common allergens at a bigger event, especially if that allergen’s presence isn’t obvious.
  • Drinks! Variety is your friend again. Ice is also your friend. Water and soda are always good. Consider coffee and tea depending on the time as well.
  • Keep cups, plates, bowls, silverware, and napkins accessible. Consider offering chilled glasses by keeping some in the freezer.

After, consider an event debrief!