Pace (and an update on the 10,000 Hours Project)

This is a “Rerun” post from the original blog – I’ll be putting these up here and there alongside the new posts but with their original date of publishing.

So, first the update: I’ve decided to adjust my weekly quota of time in the workshop down from nine and a half to seven and a half hours. I’ve realised that while I can keep up the nine and a half without too much trouble on a good week, and even make up a little time if I miss a day here or there, when I take a proper chunk of time off (as I have this week, taking a seven day break to tour around Ireland and visit friends and family), I just can’t make it up in any reasonable period of time.

Of course, this does slightly delay my completely arbitrary goal of spending 10,000 hours making things – at current rate I now won’t hit that target until I’m 60, rather than 55. But it’s not that much of a setback, and recent events have made me suspect that it won’t be far in the future before I’m dedicating a lot more time to the workshop anyway – more on that in a minute.

I don’t consider this a defeat, just a tweak based on real world experience – and if you can’t tweak your completely arbitrary (and, some would say, slightly mad) goals in line with new learnings and experience, then what good are they anyway?

My workbench, with a leather portfolio in progress

On to the recent events: In the last few weeks I’ve had two great positive results from the work I’ve already done. First, I’ve received a commission from a friend who saw the work I did on the Leatherman pouches, to create a belt pouch for a flip phone. It’ll be a whole new design (although I’ll base it structurally on some elements of the Leatherman case) and a leap off for me because I’ll be working without the phone to mould from, so I’m going to make a wooden form and probably do some workarounds to get a better fit. If there’s enough interesting stuff there I’ll do a separate post on the process.

Second, and for me even more exciting, one of my Leatherman Squirt pouches actually sold on Etsy! The listing had only been up for ten days which is much faster than I’d expected a niche item like this to move, and the buyer left a really nice five star review as well.

I can’t quite describe the excitement of having thought of something, made it into a real object by my own work and practice, putting it out in the world and having someone not only choose to pay real money for it but sharing their satisfaction and enjoyment.

I’m also getting 2-5 visitors per day to the shop, and two other people have already Favourited it – all with only one, niche product on sale!

While I’m not sure I’d ever want to do this full time (I’ve worked self-employed for several years in the past and I wouldn’t want to go back to that uncertainty), it’s made me think seriously about a time in the future where I would like this to be at least some of my day to day work. Maybe take a day job with fewer hours and spend a couple of full days a week in the workshop? We’ll see how it develops.

I’ve ploughed most of the money back into essential supplies and a couple of small equipment upgrades, and just for fun I’m going to keep a workshop income and expenses sheet, and see how far I can get making my work pay for my workshop. Although not before using a bonus from work to make one significant upgrade to my toolset – this beautiful (affordable) beast. It’ll greatly speed up the process of developing the wooden form for the phone pouch, as well as shaping and finishing leather pieces themselves and a lot of other projects in the future.

Bench sander

This has been a longish update, so I’ll try (probably unsuccessfully) to keep the “Workshop Thoughts” brief. I’d like to do the occasional post about what you might call the philosophy or mindset of making things, attitudes or approaches that have helped me enjoy and improve my crafting. And as I’ve been thinking about the time I spend in the workshop, that seems to lead naturally into the subject of pace.

I talked a bit in my first post on this blog about how I’d made a steady transition from a sort of distractible, dilettante approach to crafting to really spending quality time on it. And what’s made the biggest difference for me, both in my enjoyment and productivity, has been not the amount of time spent but the change of pace involved.

As I’ve spent more time in the workshop, I’ve found myself much more inclined to take my time working out a problem or perfecting a technique. I’m much more likely to sit back and consider a piece of work from different angles, notice unexpected opportunities to make it better or to push it further along a satisfying line of enquiry, and to spot flaws that I would have brushed over when I felt like I was in a hurry to get done.

Rather than having videos or podcasts on in the background, I now tend to put on soft folk music or something minimalist, slow down, make a cup of tea, take deep breaths as I work. It becomes a kind of meditation, and at this slower pace I notice things like the texture of materials, the weight, how a piece feels (and can be made to feel better).

It’s hugely increased my pleasure in my time in the workshop, and I don’t believe I would have got some of the things I’ve made to anything like the same standard the way I worked before.

One of the unexpected benefits of the 10,000 hours project has been that it’s switched me from thinking in terms of taking time out to make things, to trying to make up a quota of time – which means that taking extra time actually gets me closer to a goal, rather than feeling that it’s taken away from something else.

I’ve noticed before that the people I know who really enjoy cooking are almost always the ones who make it a focussed activity in itself – with some music, a glass of wine, tasting, smelling, taking the extra few minutes to make something perfect – while the people who hate cooking are almost always the ones who (often out of necessity) just try and get it done as fast as possible and get something on the table. This feels like the same thing.

It’s a privilege to be able to approach a task in this focussed, meditative way. And a feeling of gratitude is a big part of the satisfaction that comes with it.

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