Tuesday, June 28, 2016

In Defense of the Butt Hose

Warning: What follows is somewhat graphic in nature. That said, parents with children between the ages of three and eleven might actually enjoy reading it aloud to them.



People sometimes ask what's our favorite thing about living in Chennai, India, or what we'll miss most when we leave. We've been living here a year now. We've experienced the vibrant culture, exquisitely spicy food, low cost of living, and beaches with bathwater warm waves. There is plenty to appreciate about India. But my answer is always the same.

I am fanatic about the butt hose.

In Praise of the Butt Hose

The butt hose, also called a bidet hose or hand-held bidet sprayer, is a small hose with a pressurized nozzle attached to the side of every toilet in India and most of Southeast Asia and most Muslim countries. It is similar to the spray hose sometimes found in kitchen sinks, only much longer. Do not confuse it with a built-in bidet that you might find in a French or Japanese toilet, which is comparatively impractical in design.

Before I describe in great detail the reasons for my own personal affinity for the butt hose, let me first explain its many varied uses, noting that they are not all butt-related. Yes, as its name implies, there is some hosing down of bums involved with the butt hose, but there are many other uses, too.

For example, every two weeks or so, I have to clean the screens in all the air conditioning units and dehumidifiers in the house. I pop them out, carry them into the shower, and proceed to spray them with high pressure and wonderful precision using the butt hose.

Have a baby? Need to rinse the baby without giving him or her a full bath? Dangle your small child above the toilet and give a few quick sprays.

In a hot and humid climate, women easily develop their own reasons they might like a personal rinse: a post-sex spritz, to wash off during menstruation, or simply cool off down there on a hot and humid day.



The butt hose therefore is a high value item with multiple purposes for people of all ages and sexes.


How Does It Work? FAQs

A few years ago in the U.S., a new product came to market: moistened, disposable towelettes for toilet use. The person who invented these wet wipes for adults once made this analogy: When your hands are dirty from gardening, do you take a dry paper towel and rub it vigorously on them? No. You wash with water and soap. The same principle applies here. After doing your business, the wipe will be much more effective if there's a quick rinse first.

I'm still shocked more people don't agree emphatically with me every time I talk about how much I'm going to miss the butt hose after we leave India. But I'm even more surprised at the follow-up questions they ask about how it works. Are other Westerners not using this genius invention of personal hygiene?

Now, I'm sure small children who are raised in the region learn from their parents proper butt hose etiquette, but all my knowledge comes from experimentation. So don't take my experience as gospel. Here are some common questions people ask me and my answers based on trial and error.​

How do you do it?

I like to reach in and underneath from the front, angle the sprayer at whatever needs spraying, and lightly squeeze the trigger until I get a sense of the water pressure. I usually do four, five, or six quick sprays, followed by a little dab with toilet paper, and I'm on my merry way. You can go in through the back, but I find it less practical.


Aren't you soaking wet afterward?

No. The butt hose has a targeted nozzle. You only rinse what you need to rinse, and you do it while sitting on the toilet.

Thanks to gravity, all the water drips off your bum and labia and into the bowl. Just as women wipe after they pee and miraculously don't leave the bathroom drenched in urine, you can blot or dab yourself with toilet paper after a little spray and be just fine.

In a pinch, like when there's no toilet paper or only very thin, useless toilet paper, a little shake-shake drip-dry will do just fine. Remember, it's India. The temperature is likely to be above 90 degrees, and you'll either be completely dry or sweating again in no time.


Doesn't it splash everywhere?

Again, thanks to sitting on the toilet and gravity, the water stays in the toilet.

But let's say you somehow manage to splash a little. Bathrooms in Southeast Asian tend to be 100 percent tile with a drain built into the floor. So it doesn't matter if they get wet. They drain off on their own.

Plus, everyone owns a squeegee. If the puddles don't run off, you can push the water down the drain with a squeegee. (If you are living in Southeast Asia without a squeegee, go buy at least two of them now. They will change your life.)


How do you, you know, actually clean your butt hole?

I'm not a hands-on kind of gal, but I get the sense that locals give a good scrub with the left hand. In India, people only use the right hand to eat, exchange money, and shake hands because the left hand is thought to be unclean.

For me, it's more of a hands-free, high-pressure hosing off before wiping with paper.


Ew. Oh my god. Don't tell me about rinsing your lady parts!

Sorry, but we women have been silenced too long about too many things. We need to talk about this stuff to share with one another but also to educate all the men out there who design and build stuff that they think we so enjoy using.

Rinsing the labia area is amazing. When I go back to Western toilets and have to once again dry the pee off my pubes without any water, it feels totally disgusting.

As I mentioned already, it's also refreshing. Imagine weeks on end when the temperature never dips below 95 degrees, even at night. A little cooling off every few hours feels great.

Additionally, it makes using a menstrual cup possible! Having a butt hose eliminates all the obstacles to using a cup in a public toilet. A menstrual cup is a reusable silicone cup inserted in place of a tampon to collect blood during menstruation. You have to dump it every so often, and you need to rinse it before reinserting it. In a Western bathroom, it requires having a private sink, and public bathroom, including those in office buildings, usually have stalls with communal sinks instead. There's no privacy for rinsing the cup, so it's next to impossible to use them unless you plan to stay home all day. In Southeast Asia, there's always free flowing water in every private toilet stall.

When I mentioned all these benefits of the butt hose to my sister, who has kids, she said that after giving birth, she had to carry around a water bottle with a sports top specifically for rinsing after she went to the bathroom. After having a baby, women often have lacerations or stitches or just raw skin that burns when you pee and needs to stay clean to reduce the risk of infection. No need for a water bottle if you have a butt hose.


You Can Try It in the U.S.

A friend of mine recently told me that there are hand-held bidet sprayers that connect to U.S. toilets without any special plumbing for about $40. I am definitely looking into it for when we return to the U.S.

In the meantime, I highly encourage everyone who comes across a butt hose to not be shy about experimenting with it. Figure out a few use cases that most benefit you, and you might never go back to rubbing your butt with dry paper again.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Email's Unique Problems

Email causes unique problems in the workplace that we don't see in other forms of communication. It's not the technology necessarily that creates them, but rather the company culture that's formed around email.

When we look at alternative office-place communication channels, such as Slack, HipChat, work-management platforms, project management platforms, and so forth, we often find that they are still interruptive and distracting. Slack is no less distracting than email. But it's distracting in a slightly different way, and one that I would argue is less destructive to productivity.

The Simple Part of the Email Problem: Interruptions and Task-Switching
We know that email is interruptive because of its notifications and that we lose time task-switching between our primary task and email. Notifications also break our attention from the task at hand and divert our focus to see what's happening now. So it's not just time lost spent task-switching, but also time spent reorienting ourselves and getting back into the flow of our work. When we break our focus to check email, we end up with fewer periods of uninterrupted focus. Those periods of uninterrupted focus are necessary for getting our hardest (and usually most important) work done. That hard work is usually the work companies are most interested in seeing us do from an ROI perspective.

But that's not the full story.

The problem with email specifically doesn't end with the interruption, the glance at the notification, the skim of the subject line, just to be sure the message isn't urgent. The problem goes to the heart of why we must check.

The Harder Part of the Email Problem: Are You a 'Team Player?'
Many organizations have a company culture around email that says, "If I don't reply to this email right away, I am not a team player. I am not paying attention to my job. I am failing to be responsive." But there isn't much basis behind that sentiment.

Email messages that feel urgent aren't always urgent in reality. Even emails that contain tasks that the receiver believes should be done today or now don't need to be today or now or sometimes at all. One piece of research suggests that a good percentage of office emails that contain tasks simply expire after a time. If the task doesn't get done by the time the expiration date rolls around, it either didn't need to get done so urgently after all, or the sender found another way to complete the task by him/herself. A clear example is information gathering. Email a colleague to ask a question. If the colleague doesn't reply, the sender might look up the information or ask someone else. The receiver of that email would have believed it to be an important and urgent email, especially if it comes from a superior, when in fact it was not urgent at all. Sometimes we even experience this phenomenon the day after a long flight or being out sick. We scan our inbox and find messages that are essentially dead in the sense that they no longer have any relevance.

It's not entirely clear why this problem occurs in email but not in other forms of communication technologies, but it probably has to do with email's history of development and the company culture around email.

For More...
I've been exploring a lot of productivity problems caused by or related to email over at ProductivityReport.org. You can read some of my more in-depth exploration of the research on the trouble with email there.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Everyone Hates Email

Image by brunogirin, CC.
Email is a perpetual pain in the workplace. It hurts productivity. It creates stress. And it makes people pretty unhappy. Too many workers feel like they are slaves to email.

I was a guest speaker at a corporate retreat last week, where I spoke about email overload and how to prevent it. Before I put the finishing touches on my talk, I interviewed a couple of people who work for the company. They are prestigious music agents who represent some pretty big name performers. 

Some of these agents get 2,000 emails a day. Two of them told me they feel like they're in a good place when their inbox has only 200 to 300 unread messages.

That is an overwhelming amount of email!

So what are some of the problem that create so much email? A huge part of the job for these music agents is communication, so it makes sense that they might have more email than the average knowledge worker.

As with most instances of email overload, part of the problem is that a whole lot of their "email" is probably not really meant to be email.

What I mean by that is we use email for a variety of purposes, and while those purposes might boil down to "communication" in one way or another, they are often something more specific. For example, when someone asks you to do something via email, that's a task assignment. Email is not very good at handling task assignments. The manager of the task can't tell when you've read the task, if you've accepted, whether you are able to make the due date, and what else is on your plate that might take priority.

Another way we often use email that isn't very email-friendly is to distribute information that's optional. Let's say a team leader sends a message to her whole team informing them that there will be a happy hour three days from now. The message arrives with the same sense of urgency as every other email, even though it's not urgent at all. In fact, it probably doesn't make much of a difference if recipients read that email today or tomorrow, or never. A message of that nature would be better left pinned to a cork board in the office kitchen… or on a company intranet, or in an opt-in communication tool such as Slack.

Speaking at this company event was a wonderful opportunity for me to take a step back and remember the common problems that most knowledge workers combat with email. When I first started learning about the jobs that these music agents do, I was worried that they would have very specific problems that were unique to their line of work. But the more I talked to them, the more I realized they are running up against the same walls as most other knowledge workers.

If you'd like to read more about email problems and solutions, I've been writing about that very topic for the last few weeks on my other blog ProductivityReport.org.

Monday, December 28, 2015

10 Digital Cleanup Projects To Do Before January 1

We're in the stretch between Christmas and New Year's Day, an ideal time to get organized, or re-organized. Most workers get days off, but people don't necessarily travel, meaning they have a little bit of time at home, time to regroup, reprioritize, think about the new year.

In some cultures, New Year's Day is a time to clean. I'm a believer that cleaning is essential to being organized. You have to declutter, get rid of junk, otherwise you're left trying to organize it, which is fruitless.

The more stuff you have, the more it weighs on your mind. While many people get this concept in the physical world, they don't always see how it works in the digital world. Think of it the same way you might think of emotional baggage. It can weigh on you even if you it has no mass.

If you have a day or two, or even a few hours, off this week, I highly recommend taking a little time to re-organize something in your digital life that could use a little decluttering, or tackle a clean-up or organization project that you've procrastinated doing.

In my weekly Get Organized column on PCMag.com, I recommended these 10 digital clean-up projects to do before January 1. I'll list them here, but see the full article for more detail and instruction.

  1. Get a backup service and back up your computers and other devices.
  2. Run a tuneup utility to make your computer fast again.
  3. Get a password manager and let it fix your reused passwords, essential for fraud prevention.
  4. Sweep your inbox by moving old messages to a new folder. You don't have to delete anything. Just move it to a new folder. I bet by March you'll be convinced you don't need any of those old messages and can throw them out.
  5. Take control of your personal finances; I recommend using the free app and website Mint.com.
  6. Clean up your phone, and make sure you add emergency contact information to your lock screen.
  7. Consolidate your digital photos to one service; Flickr has some really good tools for this job.
  8. Update your LinkedIn profile and resume.
  9. Run a quick security checkup on your Facebook and Google accounts.
  10. Clean up your music and podcast playlists.