In my fantasy life, I would have long, uninterrupted days to spend in the shop, forgetting to eat lunch, jumping from project to project with no care for what got done or how long it took. Everything would be in soft focus and I’d look up earnestly and wonder aloud “is this heaven?” My Elysium probably won’t be set in a corn field in Iowa; I’m guessing maybe a New England state, given the more ready availability of old tools.
In real life, I’m an amateur woodworker with a day job, a mortgage, and a family, so my workshop time comes at a premium. It’s easy to get stuck, or to spin my wheels trying to figure out what to do next. That’s why, when I step into the workshop, I like to have a plan.
Here’s what works for me.
I keep a notebook with my current projects, plus graph paper and drawing paper. For each project, I’ll make a list of each step I can think of. Order of operation isn’t crucial at this point, but if I realize I need something else in place before I perform the task I just thought of, I’ll make a note. The point here is not to have a perfect, unchanging plan, but simply to gather my thoughts.
Once I have this done for each project, I’ll go back through and make a short list of any task I could perform immediately in the workshop, regardless of project. Then, when I get my next opportunity in the workshop, I can make the best use of my time. I’ll repeat this process when my short list is complete, when I start a new project, or when life has kept me out of the workshop for a while.
I don’t think the fancy notebook I use has any secret sauce to it. Once upon a time, I was infatuated with it, so I rushed out and bought tons of filler and accessories. I’ll use it as long as I have filler for it. After that, maybe I’ll switch to a bound notebook. It’s a bit like sharpening systems, really. You can be dogmatic about it and thump your chest, or you can just pick something and use it to its fullest.