Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Still more thoughts on frittering

I have written several posts over the years spanned by this blog, about the general topic of planning, and about getting things done. One obstacle for many of us, certainly including me, is what I call “frittering,” meaning occupying oneself with lots of little and moderately necessary tasks, instead of digging into big ones. (One example of a post on this topic is here: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2014/06/more-on-planning.html ).
     One thing that, at least for me, tends to generate frittering is a looming need to work on some big project, but there is some barrier, or series of barriers. Probably everyone knows this kind of situation: I need to paint the trim in the spare room, but first I need to buy the paint. Or first, I had better check if we have any of the old paint, and see if it’s still usable; if not, find the paint number so I can buy new paint. I should check to see if we have primer, too.
     But before I go ahead and get the paint ready, I had better make sure the scrapes and dents in the woodwork are patched. And to do that I need to buy some more plastic wood or other suitable patching material. And before I can do that I need to examine all those scrapes and see if any need deeper sanding or repair before I patch them. And before I start on that I better make sure I have fresh sandpaper of different grades before I start. And to do that I better survey the sandpaper stock in the garage . . . grumble, grumble.
     All those steps, and it begins to seem like a big mountain to climb. But then I realize, if I go look over the sandpaper stock, I will actually be getting started on the project. Once I’m underway, the project takes on a life of its own, and will keep going.
     This is a good example of a principle that is called “finding the next action” in something, and it can take a bit of a think sometimes, to realize what that “thing before all the other things” actually is. But often it is very positive to do so, because that great big project can actually get underway with something relatively small and easy (like checking on the sandpaper supply). And now you’re off and running.
     I use the “next action” indirectly, too. I learned long ago that I hate to start modeling projects without all the needed detail parts and materials, because finding them missing when I’m actually working really brings things to a halt. Or at least it does if you don’t live near a local hobby shop. So I sometimes go to the opposite extreme and buy parts for projects that never get started . . . but I prefer that situation to the discouragement of having to stop work in the middle of something.
     Like most modelers, I recycle old kit boxes for parts collections and incomplete projects. Some of them have been in that use for quite awhile, as is evident from the box ends, revealing long-gone kits or companies, or obsolete box decorations. Here’s an example.

Many of the boxes have strips of tape used for writing the contents, indicating that they have contained a variety of things over the years.
     Is this about frittering? Well, yes, indirectly, because getting going on a project of some ambition requires that you make a start, however small, and whatever that takes. Frittering is really a way to kill time while avoiding that big project (and looking busy . . . how can I start that big project while I’m tied up with this other stuff?). You have to recognize that you are kind of constructing a reason why you can’t get to the starting line on that project. That killing of time can include a long exploration in finding the “next action.” So I have found that I had to learn not only to plan thoroughly, and find the next action for each step, but also be sure not to get lost in the planning — or lost in the little steps before getting to the big steps in a project. That can easily turn into frittering.
     I might paraphrase an old saying, and remark that “the price of avoiding frittering is eternal vigilance.” I would hate to have to admit how often I've realized I was happily diddling along with some little project, thereby postponing the bigger one, and actually it was just frittering. So if you’re like me, keep your eyes open, and check from time to time to be sure of what you’re really doing.
Tony Thompson


  1. Glad to know that there is a name for what my husband does. Projects never get started.

  2. How did you get into my garage and how long have you been watching me?