Force of Habit: Week 1 Review

This post is part of Force of Habit a series of posts following a 100 day period of funemployment where I return to hands-on making and coding in the Autumn of 2014. Follow along as I solder, 3D print, and stumble into a new way of working and expressing.

A week has passed since I started this whole crazy personal R&D project, so I thought it was a good time to review the last seven days.

How’s progress so far?

To be honest, progress has felt slower than I’d hoped. It is easy to imagine that your days will pass in productive flow when you step off the corporate treadmill, but the reality is surprisingly messier. But there’s a lot to be learned from where I’ve gotten derailed and where I was misled by my own optimism.

I’ve made considerable progress on the 3D printer, my coding skills are returning and the quadcopter is getting some tweaks and upgrades which is a fun change of context.

Despite some nagging distractions, I have regained a sense of progress and involvement that I’ve been missing for a few years. I’ve been having an enormous amount of fun and wake up every morning, looking forward to whatever project I’ve got planned for the day. There’s little dread of the commute and while I know I’ll have to spend some time documenting my work its all passion-led and easy to commit to.

“An artist’s early work is inevitably made up of a mixture of tendencies and interests, some of which are compatible and some of which are in conflict. As the artist picks his way along, rejecting and accepting as he goes, certain patterns of enquiry emerge. His failures are as valuable as his successes: by misjudging one thing he conforms something else, even if at the time he does not know what that something else is.”

Bridget Riley

Inertia and Mojo

I still get a nagging sense that I’m working too slowly and that I’m too easily distracted. Discipline and creativity are muscular and I feel atrophied in my ability to make big progress without hesitation. But it takes time to get your flow and mojo back. I probably should have taken a week to goof off before trying to be productive.

A week in, I’m surrounded by my tools and projects. I’m starting to crave a sense of purpose in my experiments and I’m seeing all of the various electronics, 3D printer and coding hacks as some raw material that feels like it will start to coalesce. So all good “Iteration Zero” activity anyway.

Putting the Ops back in DadOps

Spending more time at home with my family and less time commuting was one of the main reasons I decided to take a change of direction with my work. But balancing the demands of managing a home and a family with two small children takes time and energy away from the hardware and software making I’m so inspired about.

I’m not proud to admit that I am prone to craving more involvement as a father, then balk at the huge demands this makes on time, energy and creative focus. I think that as Western men we believe we are conducting some heroic act by pulling our half of the household load and then are shocked when it turns out to be hard work. In the meantime we expect the women in our lives to contribute this effort and still have the energy to fulfill our own needs. All while not whinging in the process.

I’m learning to manage my time and energy so that it falls into the rhythm of nursery and school days and my partner’s working life. My coding and making time happens when the house is empty in the morning and interruptible tasks, like writing and email, are done when the house is full of fractious kids.

We also have a new lurcher puppy and if an eight week old puppy isn’t going to distract you, nothing will. Granite’s pretty much the ultimate in puppy cool, sleeping amongst the cabling and a welcome companion in the workshop.

Writing

Finally, putting together a blog post or timelapse video of each day’s progress takes away time I could otherwise spend on the projects themselves. It takes about an hour to knock together a brief update or video and as much as 2-3 hours to craft a longer post. So as much as 1/6th to ½ of a day may go on the storytelling.

It’s tempting to abandon the blogging and focus solely on the work, but having to describe progress makes me more observant of the work and the discoveries that I’m making. I’m more mindful when I find some strangely tangental tech or unexpected observation. The accountability of writing updates keeps me focussed and the desire to tell an interesting story keeps me curious about the unexpected direction my work is taking me.

Project posts are also hone “meta-making” skills of writing, sketching and persuading that are a key part of any worthwhile project. The better you are at describing and promoting the outcomes of your work, the more interesting work you tend to have.

Making is 50 percent building and 50 percent sharing and communicating

Goals for next week

So I’ve learned a lot over the last week. About what distracts and what inspires me. And I expect the pace to pick up a bit as I find my rhythm. But I also realise that even with 100 days (90 left!) that I’ll still need to be quite selective about what I spend the time on. The first seven days have gone by in the blink of an eye. Let’s hope by next week I’ll have:

  • Finish the 3D Printer
  • Print a crappy blob of plastic
  • Get 100 day project/learning plan together
  • Put up a dashboard
  • Add a GoPro gimbal to my quadcopter
  • Put together a project template for Processing sketches

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