Paper Cuts and Itches

Posted by bob on December 12, 2023

When you are busy solving problems you will encounter many small problems that slow you down. In some cases, these smaller problems can completely stop progress on the main project until the smallest problem is solved first.

Sometimes the solution to one small problem leads to a series of additional problems. Perhaps this is like getting a paper cut from the edge of the box holding the bandages you were trying to open to cover a paper cut you got from the paper documentation of an instrument you were trying to understand in order to make a measurement you needed to understand the main project problem.

Like a teeny-tiny insect bite, or a small irritation of your skin, these little problems itch. The itch irritates you. Distracting you, the itch keeps you from concentrating on the original problem you were trying to solve. Scratching that itch won’t really fix it. Sometimes it can lead to a bigger problem like a horrible secondary infection.

Many times these tiny obstacles come from the act of organizing—or lack thereof. I try to keep my tools available closest to the place I am likely to need them, yet inevitably, I find that the one critical wire-stripper or that one special screwdriver is currently in a different toolbox that last week I had carried to an offsite repair or project. That means I have to stop what I was doing, try to remember where I put that thing, and go find that other toolbox or parts bin. Then, having used the tool, I can make a decision about where I really should be keeping that tool.

Occasionally, I use the stress to motivate me to purchase an extra copy of a tool, but that can just lead to waste and further disorganization. I believe that there is no perfect storage system, no perfect toolbox, and no perfect solution. Putting everything in one giant toolbox can make it impossible to move your tools to where you need them. Organizing minimalist toolboxes will mean you have to get out multiple toolboxes and parts bins for any medium sized project. Minimalism will also increase the number of times you say, “Doh! Now I need to find that tool I have been keeping somewhere else.”

I keep trying to find good compromises, but space, time, money, and energy are never infinite. Sooner or later I need to get back to fixing the original problem.

You would be well justified in saying, “Bob, you are complaining about having too much stuff. This is a problem many people would love to suffer.” True, but I remember encountering similar headaches even when I had very little. In those cases, I had to stop the project and go borrow or buy (if I could find the money) the missing tool or resource.

Bigger projects with many workers often face delays where one group (or person) is forced to wait for a different group (or person) to finish some task. The delays make us itch while we wait. Customers sometimes change their requirements in the middle of a project. The stack of resulting documentation gives us multiple paper cuts.

Like so many challenges we face, the ultimate answer is finding balance. You and I are going to have to keep trying things. We will get side-tracked into putting bandages on some paper cuts and we will occasionally need to stop and scratch our heads—for more than one reason. Don’t get too discouraged. Remember that even those of us who have been doing this problem-solving thing for a very long time will experience the same challenges that you are facing today.