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Make: Asks is a weekly column where we ask you, our readers, for responses to maker-related questions. We hope the column sparks interesting conversation and is a way for us to get to know more about each other.

This week’s question: What is the pace of your work when building a project? Do you plow straight through, or is there an ebb and flow to your progress?

I often find that I’m jazzed about a new project and will make significant headway in the beginning, then pause at some point to ruminate about its direction, but then gather steam when the end is in sight.

Post your responses in the comments section.

Michael Colombo

In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens’ educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program.


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Comments

  1. When I first dream up a project, I have to consciously not get too excited about it too soon. I have a limited attention span; its important not to waste excitement too early when I can’t make progress due to missing materials.

    I order my parts and materials quite impulsively… I can always return or repurpose them. Only once *everything* has arrived do I let my excitement show. I work fast. If I’ve failed to anticipate my needs and I can’t power through the hard parts of the project really quickly, I’ll wind up with a half-completed mess on my hands.

  2. Ross Hershberger says:

    I work in phases. The project is broken down into functional or physical sections and I work on each one exclusively in my head to begin. This is slow because the project part is time-sharing with everything else in my noggin. When I’m pretty sure I’ve worked out the details I’ll sit down and quickly prototype it. If it works as expected I set that aside and go on to the next part by the same process. When all of the sections are unit-tested I combine them and do integration testing, reworking subsections as needed to make them play well together. So overall the project takes a lot of hours but little of it is bench time. If I get ‘stuck’ on how to configure something physically I take the materials out and mess with them to get a feel for the scale and characteristics of the components. This helps clear up in my head how it has to go together.

    1. Ross Hershberger says:

      Sometimes when there’s a problem area like a difficult soldering task or a tricky fastener I’ll ‘take that part out’ of the mental model of the project and defer it until I’ve worked on another part. Often returning to it I have a better idea that gets around the difficulty or solves the problem in a better way. I’m a big believer that the best designs happen when you just get the concepts in your head and roll them around until the required configuration finds itself. That’s my process and may not work for everyone but for me it beats starting with a concept and trying to force the parts to do it.

  3. Lincoln Carlin says:

    I nearly always start my projects all ba**s out. Things always take longer than I think they will. My 15 minutes can easily turn into 3 hours and I look up and don’t know where the time has gone. I rarely set a project aside once I start, but I am guilty of putting them off. My workroom is full of things I mean to get to. Once in a while, I have all the parts ready to assemble and suddenly can’t, for the life of me, figure out how they might actually all fit together. Luckily, this doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it can be a bit disconcerting. I do love creating and seeing the finished product. Showing family and friends and watching them oooh and ahhh and me stating the obvious: I made that!

  4. chuck says:

    I jump between projects often and have several half done or functional-but-not-finished projects going at once. I work pretty obsessively and while I’m working on one project I’m mentally prototyping another (and another, and another). I tend to fall asleep with a project in my head and wake up right where I left off. What ever I’m doing throughout the day there’s a mental design subroutine running. I’m hardly ever not working on a project.

  5. I tend to keep a couple projects going at a time. My main issue is once all the real challenges of a project are finished, I lose a bit of interest. I find switching between projects helps keep the less interesting (to me) finishing touches from becoming too boring to bother doing.

  6. Maria says:

    When I have a great idea, I usually get so excited that I want to build the whole thing right then and there. Unfortunately, I’ll work for hours on end without eating or anything hoping it’ll be done, but I usually fail the first time and give up, or realize what I’m trying to do is impossible. It’s kind of a bad cycle. All well.

  7. When I come up with a great new idea for a complicated project, the first thing I’ll do is wait. I figure if I’m still in love with an idea months after I’ve spawned it, I’ll probably like it enough to see it through to completion.

    Invariably there’ll be some sticking point that will halt progress somewhere along the way, but that just means I can set it aside while I revisit any of my other works in progress. This means that somewhere in my head I’m tinkering with dozens of ideas and stopping one is just a welcome opportunity to get back to work on another one.

    When I really get to making progress, friends will visit the shop and be amazed at how completely it looks like I’m doing a lot of nothing and still getting things done. I’ll walk to one side of the shop and set a bucket of silicone on its side to our into a mixing cup. While I’m waiting for that cup to fill up, I’ll go to the other side of the shop and glue and clamp some parts, then I’ll spray a coat of paint on something, cut out a few parts for something else, and get back to the cup just as it reaches the level I need. Then I’ll mix and pour that batch of silicone while I’m going over the shopping list of things I’ll need to order the next time I’m online. At the end of the day I’ll have done half an our worth of work on 20 different things. At the end of the week I’ll have finished half of them and reinvented the other half.

    I find I work best when I’ve got a completely full plate and a couple of looming deadlines. Otherwise I’m mostly just coming up with ideas for more things to fill up my workbench.

  8. liz_clark says:

    i find that i operate in bursts. first i’ll do a lot of research online to make sure i fully understand what i’m about to do. then i’ll work on it until i hit some bugs which is usually followed by a lot of thinking and more research. that can last anywhere from an hour to a few weeks depending haha. then when i’m feeling brave again i’ll go back at it and usually work at it until i have it. this is followed by a large documentation i do with many pictures that acts as my celebration that i succeeded :)

    1. Documentation is so important, isn’t it? When I first started making I found that it got in the way of my work and had to force myself to take pictures at every step. Now that process has turned into punctuations for every progression the project makes.