Work In Progress

Funny how little things can add up to bigger things.  Funny how we let them.

Most recently, the eldest has had surgery on his shoulder to correct issues he has with his shoulders dislocating.  It’s a genetic thing, rather than sports injuries or something exciting like that.  (He once dislocated it pretending to throw a ball … without holding the ball.)  And while the doctor’s office, hospital, and MRI site were all a minimum of 45 minute drives away (and not all in the same location, of course), that is only a part of the issues I’ve been having.

You see, part of what I have been doing is putting things on hold to wait.  Wait for a moment to write, wait for a moment to do homework, wait for a moment to post.  I’m constantly waiting for a call to come in saying “I need a ride,” or “please pick this up for us,” or “ow.”  (OK, maybe I’m dreading that last one, rather than waiting for it.)  The point is that I’m not keeping up my end of stuff, as I’m spending the days doing little stuff rather than taking my own advice and breaking it into five minute chunks.

So the moral is: Do as I say, not as I do?  Don’t Be Like Me?  People who live in glass houses shouldn’t play with fire?  (I don’t know, I’m spit-balling here.)

Seriously, though, the world we live in is rapid and chaotic enough that we need to adjust frequently and immediately.  I won’t say instantly, because science has proven that people do not multitask as well as they think they do.  (That and I have issues with what we call “multitasking” anyway.)  Being able to shift gears and directions is important.  Setting yourself up for success in that regards is tantamount to succeeding.  But you cannot succeed if you do not want to.

(Sorry, getting off the soap box now.)


How do you set yourself up for success, then?  Planning, thinking, and a healthy dose of reality.  Work your way through the process mentally.  If it’s a project, read and review the plan if you are using one, or think about the steps involved if you are not.  If it is a reading (assignment or for fun), set yourself a goal and quickly flip through to see what sort of waypoints you need to watch for.  Some books suck you in and you can’t (or won’t) stop reading.  Others you have to fight the beasts off that are distracting you from your task.

After you’ve flipped the pages a couple of times, you have a broad idea of what needs to be done.  So, then the planning work starts.  Sorry, but you won’t actually be working yet.  (Yes, I’m borrowing this idea from the power reading concept, but not the one you might be thinking of.)  Let me give you a few examples.

For projects where you will be making something from raw materials, start with the end result.  What is it?  A table?  Chair?  Car?  Exotic winged sculpture with multiple moving parts?  A block of wood?  These all will give you insights into what you need to do.  If you have to have moving parts, you need to work out what will move, where it will go, and what it is supposed to do.  If it is non-moving, that’s much simpler.

Next, look at tooling.  What tools do you need to make this happen?  What tools do you have?  Are there any tools that will do what you need that you already have?  What do you need to do to make those tools work?  This last part may be a difficult bit, or it may be simple.  Saws, for example, all do the same thing.  They don’t all do this in the same manner, though.  Table saws and circular saws work on the same principle: the blade revolves around a central point.  But they do their action – cutting the wood – in different manners: the table saw requires you to bring the work to the saw, while the circular saw lets you bring the saw to the work.  Both cut wood well.  Neither cuts curves well.  Knowing their strengths and weaknesses is critical in this stage, because you can eliminate them or select them as part of your planning.

Next: we look at the size of the object.  Can you do this on the front porch?  In the kitchen sink?  Do you need a full size warehouse to complete it?  This can be broken down into a couple of other bits, though.  Can you make the smaller bits in one location, and assemble it into larger bits at another?  Can you store the smaller bits until that happens?  That can help you take advantage of the time you have.

Pig in Process, stage one
Pig in Process, stage one

Woodworking calls this sub-assemblies: chunks of the whole that are made up of smaller parts in advance.  For example, a box is made up of four walls, a top, and a bottom.  All four corners need to be square if you are intending for them to be square.  (We won’t cover that at this point.)  Now, you could do all four walls at one glue-up, or you could do two at a time.  Either way has advantages and disadvantages.  But the sub-assembly is that you have to cut all four walls, cut the bottom, and figure out the top before you start applying glue.  Cut all four pieces so that they just need to be glued and wrapped with bands or clamps.  Size, sand, shape, and set aside until ready.  Get it?

You aren’t done with the project once you glue it up, either.  Next is the finishing stage.  This includes knocking off glue patches, applying stain or spit or polish or whatever, and presenting it.  Finishing takes as much time as creating (sometimes), but brings out the best of the project.

What happens when you are doing intellectual pursuits, rather than projects?  Same thing.  You just break the reading, notes, writing, drafting, editing, and thinking up into categories instead of the physical work.  While it is impractical to bring the entire book or board with you when you will be in the car, there are mobile things you can be doing to further the project.  Books are available in e-reader format, and phones have e-reader capabilities.  The mobile market is filled with devices that can take thousands of words and carry them in your pocket, or briefcase, or purse, or wherever.  Even if you cannot plane thousands of board feet while driving, you can listen to shows or podcasts talking about the subject you are working on.  Be it woodworking, metal working, climate change, geopolitical forces impacting plant growth, or shapes of snowflakes, you can listen to chunks at a time.

The final assembly, complete with presentation. All from five minute projects.

If you are like me, you need to be focusing on listening, so doing this while driving is not always a good idea.  But setting something on that lets you think while driving, that’s acceptable.  (Then again, this is back into the multi-tasking area…)  But even if it’s just out to get a gallon of milk, you can work on pretty much any one of your projects.  Or all of them.

Just don’t let the list of what might happen interfere with what is happening.


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