One way or another, I recently came across Paul Graham’s 2009 blog post about the difference in how “managers” and makers” prefer to allocate their time and it’s gotten me thinking pretty hard about how I choose/prefer to spend mine. His framework is a little different from mine, since he’s writing about start-up culture and the fact that meetings interrupt the flow that programmers and writers (his examples) need to be in in order to be productive. I tend to roll my eyes at the idea that you can’t create effectively unless you have long stretches of time—I know too many people who write multiple books a year while also holding down full-time jobs in addition to other responsibilities (family, charity work, exercise, seeing friends) to buy into that and I firmly believe that working on something for 15 minutes a day everyday is going to get you farther faster than working on for four hours every two weeks—but then I had a creatively rich and productive long weekend over the fourth of July and I have to reconsider my position.
And here it is: Working on a project for short intervals on a regular basis is exceptionally good for productivity, but only when it’s something you already know how to do. For instance, I do almost all of my sewing in 20-30 minute spaces between getting ready in the morning and leaving for work or between arriving home and when I make dinner. I don’t make a tremendous amount of progress in any particular session, but the cumulative effect is a closet that’s increasingly more handmade than not. But I’m pretty comfortable with my sewing machine and the patterns I’m sewing (which I really should blog about at some point, hmm?) aren’t difficult. I’m using a couple over and over, and even if certain steps are fiddly, I still know what I’m doing. Likewise, I rarely spin for long stretches, but 15-30 minutes here and there will produce full skeins of yarn in a surprisingly short period of time. (I’m in the middle of spinning for a really cool project that I should write about soon.)
Contrast that with shibori dyeing, which is something I tried out this weekend for the first time. I’d ordered the pre-reduced indigo crystals and other supplies a few months ago, so I had everything I needed on hand. The coconut oil I use for soap comes in 50-pound containers that are the right size for a small indigo vat and have a tight-fitting lid. I have a bunch of spares (if you’re local and want one or more, let me know), but first I had to scrub one very, very clean because I assume that any grease in the vessel could interfere with the dyeing action. Then I had to look up instructions for setting up the vat, find and lay out a dropcloth on the deck, measure everything, mix it up, and let it stew for an hour or so. I had to collect the items I wanted to dye and find a tutorial for tying them. (I used this one.) I had to do all of the folding and tying. And then I could actually dye the two dresses and two curtains I’d prepared, which was pretty messy and kind of time consuming, since you have to let the pieces fully oxidize between dips. (I really should do a whole post about this too.) Working on and off at it, it took most of Friday. And it was great! It was CRAZY EXCITING to see the cloth come out of the vat a weird, sickly green and then change, literally as I watched, into a gorgeous indigo blue. And then to undo all the ties and see the cool patterns. SO GREAT.
So great, in fact, that the next day I decided I wanted to shibori dye all the rest of the curtains in the house, so I did. (There were only three of them.) And it took maybe an hour start to finish because I had the vat set up already and I knew what I was doing. Shibori is not quite something I can fit into my post-coffee, pre-commute time in the morning (unless I start getting up earlier), but it’s doable in a relatively short block of time, even shorter if I spread the tying part out over a couple of days. But if I hadn’t had a day to play around with the whole process, I never would have gotten to this point.
Likewise, I spent much of Sunday working toward getting the loom ready to weave, which has been a long, drawn-out process that hey! I really should blog about. Short version: the loom I inherited wasn’t in quite as good a shape as I’d been told and I am not mechanically minded, so figuring out A. what’s wrong and B. how to fix it had been frustrating. Also frustrating: weaving is something I used to do regularly and I was good at it, but it’s been 15 years and I have almost zero recollection of how to even dress the loom. I bought this Craftsy class, which has been super helpful so far, and I’m gradually getting closer to being able to make cloth. Again, though, at this point, while I’m (re)learning, I can’t just pop in and out of this project. I need stretches of unscheduled time to focus and start thinking in weaving terms so I can absorb the information.
And that’s the essential point for me. I work well on both Graham’s manager schedule and maker schedule, but for different things. Getting shit done? By all means, break the day up into tiny slots of time and assign something different to each of ’em. That’s terrific. But for learning and stretching and absorbing new information, that doesn’t work. For that, I need to jealously guard my time (I skipped a friend’s barbecue on Sunday that ordinarily I would have loved to have gone to), put my blinders on, and focus. And then I need to step back for a few days or weeks or longer even, and absorb the information before returning to the well. I can already feel myself approaching things differently. I have a goal for this year to improve my photography skills and learn Photoshop. I’d tried to work my way through a lynda.com PS class (free with a Brooklyn library card!) earlier this year and got really frustrated, but it was because I was trying to dip into the course for short periods of time instead of setting aside the time for an intensive study session. Also, I should really get a halfway decent camera, but researching that is a minefield I’ll try to navigate at a different time. A time when I can focus for as long as I need with minimal distractions, of course.