More than coffee and donuts

For any project, there are three phases. The three phases of any project are: Set up, do the work, and clean up. Project management and cost control usually involve setup and cleanup. Cleanup includes quality control. What most people think of, when they think of ‘doing’ the project, is labor, which is one of three phases of the project. It’s easy to overestimate your ability with setting up or cleaning up a project. Many people underestimate the time it takes to set up or to clean up a project. Nevertheless, it’s best to learn all those phases through labor, which is to say, through building. Later on, time and experience can be leveraged into efficient hiring, because you’ll learn where people can help you regulate time and momentum, and contain costs in turn.

You need to be clear about which phases of your project, if any, you plan to take on yourself, and those which you plan to hire out, so to keep roles and expectations clear. Too often, people who want to manage a project pick up the hammer themselves, and annoy themselves and their contractors to boot. Either do, or get out of the way — but not both. Getting out of the way is smart, so long as you know you’re doing it; so long as you treat the doer with kindness and reverence; and so long as you understand what needs to be done, and what the thing-done-well looks like.

You want costs to be predictable, containable, and insured. Anticipate as many costs as you can during setup. Nothing’s for real until you start swinging a hammer, so take time to think. List out as many of the acts involved in what you can see needs to be done. Be thorough and boringly specific. ‘Measure and cut drywall’ and ‘install drywall to wall with screws’ informs you of tools and supplies you’ll need to do the hundred mundane tasks and motions that transform space. List out those things you’ll need to act. Get them. Visualize the building process as specifically as you can — your brain is moving faster than you realize, and the imagination can be trained with practice.

Simple, beautiful, and useful things do what they’re intended to do, and solve the problems they’re intended to solve. Sometimes the solution is a well-built and well-placed shelf. Sometimes it’s opening up a foyer, so that light and energy and footsteps have room to flow. Our first proposals usually make things more, rather than less, difficult. It can take years to place a counter top in the right place, and plan how best to build the wall its anchored to.

Think like a physician. Diagnose this thing of thousands of parts that confronts you. In time, you’ll see the parts combine into larger wholes, and the names of the parts will become second nature and less relevant. What’s the absolute, best placement of things, to make the inevitable churn of doing dishes or folding laundry more bearable, more essential, more carefree, and a blessed part of a routine day? Where’s the sun come in?

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