Throwing dirt

There's something to be said about keeping a work area clean—mise en place, more or less. Wash dishes as you cook, put tools away when you're done using them, etc. It makes final cleanup easier, it makes the work go faster because things are prepared and organized, it makes the final product better because there aren't things in the way while you're working, and it looks nicer.

Those first three things—easier, faster, better—are self-evident. The fourth one is basically the aesthetics of work—not aesthetics of the act of working or of the final product, but aesthetics of the state of the work at any given time.

There is still a big pile of dirt in my backyard. First there was a huge pile of clay dirt from digging the trench for the retaining wall and digging down the high side of the yard to the desired level. Then I pushed that out and made a new pile in the middle of that area from topsoil that I ordered. Then I really flattened the clay pile into what will roughly be the new shape of the flat part of the backyard—but it still doesn't look good because the topsoil pile is sitting there in the middle making what should look like Victory Field look like Mt. Trashmore instead.

There's nothing that can be done about it, really. I have blocks and rocks and bricks and dirt stacked in various places behind the house, biding their time. "Just-in-time" delivery of these things is a fine concept, but the reality is that every truck delivery from the material yard costs $125, so I've got materials for four projects back there to save some money. Also I have no concept of what "in time" means for these projects, because I'm stealing time—tempted to call it "free time", but it's not even cheap—to work on them, an hour or two after work, a weekend day or two. (This is also my trick for not shattering my back, I think: not working very much for any long stretch of time.) Although the final result will be what I'm most proud of, all of this staging that I'm doing—managing where this or that goes, what order to do things in, etc.—is what I'm secretly feeling good about. It's a complicated problem to solve. I'm not winging in, despite how it looks.

Still, it's bad form to let the backyard construction site look like trash all the time. It's a curse to be able to see, inside my head, how all of the pieces will move and the game will play out when it's not obvious to observers who see only the visible situation. Sometimes it's worth taking some time to reorganize things. "Things" here are pallets of 45 30-kg (70-lb) blocks or truckloads of rock and dirt, so you really have to believe that it's worth the trouble to convince yourself to do it. It's a matter of taste. And sometimes it's a matter of comparing how much time it takes to move those things versus how much time it takes to explain to your significant other that the yard actually looks better than it did before, OK, there's just a pile of dirt there that will be moved soon, come on.

Sometimes you just have to throw dirt for a while—from this pile to that pile, from this pile to that pile—in order to keep the right people satisfied that the job is getting done. It's locally inefficient, sure, but if you have to repeatedly spend time explaining the current state of things, then it might be globally efficient. Form should follow function as a general rule, and like all rules you should really consider what the rule means so that you know when it's time to break it.

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