Zen and the Art of Mopping

I used to be a professional mopper. Shocking but true. Before I spent my working hours programming software and running a business, I earned a living working with an eccentric woman who ran her own cleaning business. Initially most of the work came from residential clients which was tedious to say the least.

Eventually as the business grew to a modest degree she was getting work from local businesses and movie sets. These spaces had much different needs than the homes and their layouts were enormous. Sweeping and Mopping was half the entire project in some of these spaces. That’s when I started taking over the floors.

We would go in, I’d move everything out of the way and sweep the entire area with an industrial push-broom. I remember becoming quite particular about which brooms I would use. My favorite were the 24″ wooden Libman Professionals. They were stiff, strong and wide. I could sweep 4000 sq. ft. in 30 minutes when I was on it. All it required at the time was a Red Bull or two and some hip-hop playing on my cheap MP3 player.

After sweeping I’d move on to mopping. I’d use an industrial mop bucket, the kind with a strong wringer, and a second bucket for clean solvent.

There were a few things about this job I really loved. For starters it’s meditative. It doesn’t require much brain-power, just a lot of repetition which gave me lots of time to lose myself in the work. Secondly, the work stayed at work. I was on-site until my job was done and then I went home to forget about it.  Lastly, it is intensely satisfying to turn a dirty floor into something that sparkles. That’s something you just can’t achieve regularly with a desk job.

While it might seem odd to wax poetic about something as mundane as sweeping and mopping, I discovered there are a few things that drastically change the quality of the outcome and the enjoyment of the work itself. I’ve carried these same principles over into my current work. It prevents me from building a thousand dollar solution when a ten dollar one will do just fine.

How to mop and work smarter

Don’t contaminate your dirty water. You want to use two buckets if you can: one for your clean solution and one for wringing and rinsing. If you don’t have access to a second mop bucket use a faucet or hose to rinse out the grime. Never dunk your mop in a bucket of cleanser without rinsing it first. By rinsing the mop of all dirty water and grime before soaking with cleanser you avoid smearing germs and muck around on the floor. This is also environmentally friendly because the faster you contaminate your water, the sooner you have to change it, increasing the total amount of cleansers you use.

There’s something to be said for starting each day, each new portion of work with a clean slate. Each day I do my best to wring myself of all negative thoughts or memories about the days before. Even yesterday’s accomplishments won’t serve me today. I need to achieve new ones.

Start from the corners and work back toward your water supply. This way you’ll avoid ever stepping on your wet, clean floor. You want to let it dry before stepping on it again or your dirty feet will leave marks.

Identify the extremities of your work. In software, this means front-loading complex problems that need time for resolve. Always tackle the hardest problems first.

Stroke in straight lines, not circles and use your legs. Circular strokes are more difficult, take longer and leave the most noticeable watermarks and residue. Use a wide stance with a 1/4 squat. Stroke parallel to your stance, not perpendicular. This allows you to get a much longer stroke and it’s significantly less difficult. Mop in rows, again from the outside-in. Alternate your stance between rows to keep your body balanced and avoiding fatigue.

Questioning the how of work is just as critical as the what. If you don’t challenge assumptions and evaluate your methods, you may inadvertently be giving yourself un-necessary work and added stress.

Lastly, you have to be in good health to do your work well and you want your body to stay balanced. Anything you do with one side of your body should be done the next time with the other. Not only will it keep your body balanced, but your brain.

Joshua the Music Maker: a Busking Success Story

Riding the 2 train through Harlem today, a young chubby kid–probably around 12–boarded sporting a NY baseball cap, a clean tee and a harmonica around his neck. He was rolling a small cart with 2 buckets filled with drumsticks; some broken, all used.

He took the buckets off the cart, turned them upside down, sat on one and cradled the other between his short legs. He looked up and caught the curious gaze of an elderly woman and smiled a huge cocky grin.

“Excuse me ladies and gentlemen!” he belted with confidence far beyond his years, “please excuse the interruption. My name is Joshua the Music Maker. When you hear something you like, you clap. When you hear something you don’t, you still clap.”

He went on to drop an early Public Enemy-esque beat using his sticks, the bucket and one of the hand-poles. Then he kicked in with the mouth-harp, laying a nice tune on top.

After playing for a minute or two, he stopped, stood and called back to the audience:

“Thank you ladies and gentlemen. Applause is kindly welcomed” and waited for our applause. We clapped like trained monkeys to our 12 year old master.

“Any donation is welcomed. I’ll take a penny, I’ll take a dollar.”

He pulled one ratty dollar bill out of his pocket, and straightened it in his hand. I thought to myself: “Damn, that kid is impressive, he deserves a dollar” and I handed it over. He was so sure of his ability to make donations he didn’t even look at me when he took it. He continued around the train-car accepting dollar-bills until he came back to his kit. I saw him count the ratty dollars out in his hand: $10 dollars! The train stopped at 135th and he exited, hustling his way towards the next car.

If he can make $10 in 5 minutes in one car, that’s roughly $120 dollars an hour if he can keep that up! Suddenly I want to take back my $1. I think I might need it more than he will.