When I was a tyke, one of my favorite things to do was hang out with my dad when he was working on his Harley in our garage. He was a machinist, and a biker, and he had these huge tool boxes that towered over me and felt like big red Craftsman skyscrapers.
There were two rules when I joined my dad in the garage.
Rule number one: I had to stay on the opposite side of the bike from where my dad was working. If you’ve ever tried to get a task done with a curious toddler in your mix, you understand the necessity of keeping tiny hands out of the space you’re working in.
Rule number two: Every tool I took out had to go back to the place I found it. I didn’t just want to observe. I wanted to help, so my dad let me grab one tool at a time and “help” him with whatever he was working on.
Once, I was in the garage with my dad while he was doing some maintenance on his bike, and we were doing our little dance. My routine was to take a wrench and move from one side to the other as he went about his business. When he was done, he asked me to put up my wrench and took me inside. Then he went for a test ride to make sure everything was working the way he wanted.
He was only on the road for a few minutes, when BANG! He looked over his shoulder to see something had fallen off his bike and was rolling down the road behind him.
There was no way to know exactly what it was, so he pulled over quickly and shut off the engine. When he put his foot where the kickstand was supposed to be, his boot hit nothing but air.
While he had been working, I put my wrench on every bolt I could reach on his bike until I found one where it fit. Then I went to work loosening it as best I could before dad was done with his work.
And that’s the story of how we created a third rule when I hung out in the garage with dad: Always ask before I loosened anything.
Growing up the toolboxes in our garage felt like shrines. When I approached them it was with respect, overawed with the mysterious ability they contained to mend or make. It was wizardry to the mind of a three year old little boy. Those boxes gave my dad everything he needed for the art of fixing what was broken. I took mental notes as I went along.
This fascination turned into a routine for me. “OK, I pulled this out of the second drawer in the bottom section. When I’m done I have to remember to put it back there.”
If I forget my dad would tell me a story. For anyone who's met my dad, this isn't really unusual. He's got a story for just about any occasion, and most fit in more than one category. This one was about how my grandpa hated it anytime someone forget to put his tools back where they found them. If you needed a tool and it wasn’t where you kept it, you spent time looking instead of time working. When you left one of Grandpa's tools out he found some extra work for you to do as a little reminder to put things back where you found them.
Grandpa worked in the oil field almost his entire life and if you couldn’t find the right tool it was often impossible to do your job. Sometimes, if you didn't have the right tool it meant you or your crew could get hurt.
The lesson my dad taught me was reinforced through high school and college as I worked in a few restaurants and learned the value of thoughtful preparation. There was nothing worse than being in the kitchen and in the flow with tickets and suddenly realizing I'd run out of something that required prep time. No one taught me to call it mise en place, but I learned how important it was to think through all the steps of a task and make sure I was ready to knock out my best work instead of spending all day trying to get out of the weeds.
I think about these lessons when I watch Big Hero 6 with my kids. There’s a scene where Hiro, the main character, meets Wasabi, a friend of his brother. Wasabi turns to his workbench where all of his tools are set out in a clean, outlined layout.
No one would've confused my dad's toolbox, or my grandpa's garage, with the compulsively neat workspace Wasabi maintains. But, as an adult I see the beauty and the wisdom in mindfully preparing for your work this way. If you've found your way to the Wildbit blog there's a pretty good chance your daily routine doesn’t involve a physical toolbox. No, our toolboxes are a little different.
The first thing we think about is a space to do our best work. For me, I need to balance the solitude of remote working by hitting a coffee shop and getting a charge from being around other people. On our team we have a mix of personalities and preferred environments, and we recognize how important it is to respect everyone's workspace need. This is something we've put a lot of thought into and Chris recently shared a bit about why we ditched our open office.
Then of course, there's the one physical tool we all need, our computers. This is the closest thing I have to an everyday toolbox and from it spring all the virtual tools that make the work I do possible. It's got everything I need to write, analyze data, and stay in touch with all the Wildbytes. And the most important recent addition to this mix of apps and websites has been OmniFocus. It helps me collect the random noodlings that streak through my head and organize them into a list to whittle down one by one.
Inspiration for a blog post or some other marketing thing I need to take care of usually hits when I’m in the middle of something completely unrelated to work. In the past I would just email myself a quick note from my phone, but I found this led to an inbox full of ideas that I just ended up archiving. Now, when I have an idea, it becomes a task in my Inbox in OmniFocus. I've got the app on my phone, so if I remember there's something I need to do and I'm hanging out with my kids I can add it to my inbox and get back to the fun immediately. When I start the day, I look at my OF Inbox and put the items there into a category. This blog post started off as a list item in a project idea list.
Our team is full of OmniFocus fans, and we all use it a little differently. Natalie wrote an in-depth post about how she uses it to get things done and Josh Pigford from Baremetrics recently shared how he's using OminFocus to tame his daily tasks on the Baremetrics blog.
Depending on the kind of work you do, organizing your ideas into tasks may not be as important. Even if that’s the case, there’s no doubt you put serious time into preparing to execute your best work.
I’d love to hear how you prepare to get your work done on a daily basis. Tell us about a tool or process you couldn’t live without in the comments. If it’s something Wildbit builds that’s awesome, but it doesn’t have to be.