2012-08-06: The Optimal Shower

The source for this post is online at 2012-08-06-shower.scrbl.

Categories: Efficiency

One of my goals in life is to do things very efficiently and get a lot done. But throughout my whole five-year marriage, my wife has always complained about my long showers, which to her were a waste of time and valuable water.

As a computer scientist and programmer, I try to use technology to optimize my life whenever possible. In this article, I discuss how I improved my shower times and my marriage.


Before I start, two pieces of background information.

First, in the first two weeks or so of knowing my wife, she happened to see me brush my teeth. I left on the water while I brushed and then rinsed off with the same stream of water. She was horrified. She told me how it was bad to do that and referenced a Public Service Announcement from her childhood talking about that which called it out as "wasting Utah." (Utah is a desert with very little rain: most places where people live get about 15 inches per year.) Based on this, I repented and have never left on the water since. (Marriage advice: Do whatever your wife says.)

Second, I’ve heard of people who take EXTREMELY long showers, like 30 minutes to an hour. I was more in the 15 minute to 30 minute boat, probably averaging around 20 minutes.

Once we lived together, my wonderful wife started making little comments about how long my showers were. I made a few attempts to speed them up. The first was to play a set of a few albums during the shower so I’d know how long it was taking. Another was to always do the same thing so I would have a regular order of operations and thus go a bit faster. These didn’t really make a significant difference. I was probably consistently at 20 minutes and never more.

Next, I decided that I would "time" myself, in a sense, while in the shower. I would just count (out loud or in my head) as I was in there. This cut off about 5 minutes on average, probably, down to about 15 minutes.

Next, I went a bit further. I would count out each shower "activity"—such as washing my left arm, etc. I’d give myself to the count of five. (But when I counted to five, it probably really lasted between 10 and 15 seconds.) This was very effective and dropped me down to about 10 minutes per shower.

But I knew I could do better. I just needed some technological help to keep me focused.

Here’s the concept:

* Plan out every activity that you’re going to do. I came up with 22 things on days I washed my hair and 15 for other days.

* Give yourself 10 seconds per activity.

* Have a music file that "announces" what activity you should be doing at each time.

* Make it exciting by playing intense music (different music for each activity) during the activity.

* End with a horrible alarm so you will get /out/ of the shower immediately.

With this concept in mind, I created two MP3s:

As my background music, I used the soundtrack for Mega Man 2 for the NES, by Capcom. For the announcer, I used the espeak system. For the alarm, I found a horrible alarm on freesound.org.

With this in place, my showers are now either 2:43 (including alarm) or 3:51 (including alarm), depending on whether I am washing my hair on that day. Normally I have about 10 seconds of alarm while I’m drying off, though.

Whereas before, a shower would keep me comfortable and lull me back to sleep a little, now showers are a frenetic rush as I try to get everything done in about 10 seconds. It is exhilarating and extremely satisfying to have so much more free time as part of my morning.

You can see the program I used to generate the audio here:


I highly recommend trying this out.

You may be wondering what my wife thinks about this. When I first told her my plan, I don’t think she believed me. But then after I used it for the first time, she just laughed at me for a while.