by Steven D. Johnson
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We bipedal, opposable thumb sentient, hominids can do amazing things, often at the same time. Jugglers, magicians, people who play an instrument and sing at the same time, craftspeople that talk and teach, and cut and carve concurrently… are feats of multitasking that defy credulity.
Yet science informs us that multi-tasking is a myth. When we think we are multi-tasking, we are actually splitting precious brainpower between tasks, with an inevitable loss of concentration and acuity. Of course, when a motion or task is totally committed to habit or muscle memory, the loss may be small, but there is still a measurable loss of mental agility when doing two (or more) things at once. Up until recently I thought the guy I saw riding his motorcycle in traffic, steering with one hand while the other hand tapped out a text message, was the stupidest thing I had ever seen. I think I topped it.
While prepping a bunch of drawers (
a drawer-building video is now available
, be sure to check it out) for finishing, I spotted a small glob of glue in the corner of one. I reached for the chisel rack behind my bench and grabbed a sharp one, and without much thought removed the glue globule. But then I tried to multi-task. Without putting the chisel back in its rightful place, I held the chisel in my hand, picked up the drawer and turned it, looking for more glue squeeze-out. As I turned the drawer, the chisel gouged into another drawer in the stack, leaving a nice big mark that can never be fully eradicated without rebuilding the drawer from scratch. Epic stupidity! It would have taken only seconds to put that chisel back in its place!
As I was preparing for my upcoming class for Popular Woodworking, another woodworker told me she has so little space in her shop that she puts away a tool that she knows she will use again in 15 minutes, simply because there is not enough room to leave any tools out. I think I just learned another advantage to putting tools away as soon as you are through using them.
I've got to go build a new drawer now… see you next month! By the way, if you are interested in learning some strategies for building big projects in small shop spaces, be sure to join me starting this week (October 7th) for
Super Small Shop Strategies
, a Popular Woodworking University online class.
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Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and
supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis
(although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his
Steven can be reached directly via email at