Is Good Help Really Hard to Find?

Are the menial tasks that comprise the less “professional” side of life so devoid of meaning that they need to be outsourced? Apparently grocery shopping, washing laundry, sweeping floors and clearing out rubbish are all tasks that can’t derail a generation that’s aiming for productivity overdrive. Or maybe that’s just what everyone enjoys telling themselves.

Call me old fashioned, but doing things like cleaning the house and washing the laundry aren’t just black holes in my schedule or drains on the almighty Productivity metrics. They’re the spice of life.

A new startup wants to connect you with your own personal butler. Because you’ve earned it.

Here’s something that the wunderkinds behind Hello Alfred may have omitted from their stress testing sessions: ask a retired person if they need a butler. Or ask if they would even want one.

Performing day-to-day tasks that are the essence of independence, the honorable but banal hallmarks of functional adult life, do more than eat up your time. These little tasks keep you in the game. They’re good for neurological health. If the ability to remain autonomous and perform these “dirty” jobs gets taken away, then you will see how quality of life is affected.

Certain areas of the brain shrink as it ages, specifically the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. These are zones of the brain which are closely associated with memory, decision-making and other complex functions. By performing something as seemingly mundane as writing out a grocery list, going to the supermarket and then selecting all of the items on that list, your brain is doing its own form of calisthenics. “Sure,” you might say, “that’s all well and good, but our devices come with no shortage of outlets for brain training and memory games and the like. Plus these games are fun! Who doesn’t like fun?”

I’m not here to argue against enriching mental elasticity or refreshing your brain’s age by playing cognitive games. There are many ways to incorporate those short, demanding cognitive games into a productive lifestyle. No “Alfred” needed.

Also consider that many of the functions that get taken over by an “Alfred” are the ones that require you to spend money in your neighborhood and support the local brick-and-mortar economies. Alfreds will be bouncing back and forth between your local supermarket, dry cleaners, hardware stores and pharmacies

Instead, what I’m suggesting is that rather than cut out a red herring from the diet of day-to-day activities, namely household chores, why not tamp down the stressors that drove entrepreneurs to come up with an on-demand butler service? The conversation shouldn’t be focused on eliminating the tasks that keep people in touch with local businesses, neighbors and families. It should be all about making room for your life, that thing you like to do before work starts and after it ends, while achieving your professional goals.

You can pay $22 a week for an on-demand helper to appear from the ether and knock out all of your needling daily chores. Or you can have a conversation with your boss, manager or whoever is making it difficult for you to have both a life and a career. The latter is free, and you might find that affords you more freedom if you just bring these issues out in the open.