Design for interruptibility

Trailhead:Design for assembly

"Focus and finish" is a nice adage for projects. Do one thing—and focus on that one thing until it's done. I've never seen it actually happen like that in the wild, but it seems like a theoretically sound idea for getting things done right and done quickly.

At home that theory shatters into pieces. For any large enough project I have to deal with the effects of fitting that project into the times when it will fit between work, school, and other around-the-house activities, and if the project is being built outside it has to fit during the daytime and around the weather.

In reality, "focus and finish" is more like "prepare to get interrupted".

Really I'm thinking about this project with the steps and wall in the backyard. I started working on it in November during a long stretch of warm, dry weather. Fairly early on in the project—after I dug the trench, but before I finished laying in the base rock—the weather forecast called for rain. OK, no problem. The finished project has to live outside in the elements, so we'll just let the project under construction live in the elements.

After bailing out that water, I still had to wait for some time for the water in the crushed rock to go away as well because it wouldn't compact correctly while wet. (Side note: with the use of this free water level I could tell where more base rock needed to be added to make the whole thing level.) Also, some of the dirt (clay) washed off the sides of the trench—not enough to cause problems with stability, but it was inconvenient to remove and, if it happened often enough, sure to cause some problems with the trench.

Now I keep an eye on the forecast and plan for the interruptions. It doesn't prevent water from getting in, but it limits the effects and lets me get back to work sooner. It's not just about preventing the water from getting in that one spot, but not starting too much at once so that more work is exposed to problems.

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