The antithesis of multitasking

I’ve just completed my first week of the 12-week furniture intensive course at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine and what a week it’s been! I’ve been stunned by how much progress I’ve made simply by focusing on fundamentals and practicing all day every day.

It feels like a luxury to be able to focus on woodworking 8 hours a day. A typical day might look like this:

  • 8:45am – Arrive, practice a skill like sharpening or laying out and cutting dovetails
  • 9:00am – Reed calls the class together typically for a short conversation about a concept or a longer demo like how to cut half-blind dovetails.
  • 10:00am – Cut dovetails, or mortise and tenon joints by hand (sharpening tools as needed), produce full-scale drawings of a project piece, etc.
  • 12:00pm – Lunch
  • 1:00pm – Mill lumber for an upcoming project, or glue up milled boards, or layout joinery, or cut joinery by hand
  • 4:30pm – Clean up shared spaces (this week I’m on bathroom duty!)
  • 5:00pm – Break for the day (or hang out and practice hand-cut joinery)

Did you notice that there’s nothing that includes checking email, making phone calls, sitting in meetings, or writing memos in that schedule? No. You show up. You do the work. You take a break to eat lunch (and maybe make coffee). You do more work. You clean up your workspace, and you go home. The next day it happens the same way all over again. If I’m struggling to get my chisels sharp enough to shave the hairs on my arms (which I am), I know tomorrow I will have more opportunities to try again.

Of course, we humans need routines. But, this experience is much more than the comfort of predictability. It’s an opportunity like no other to focus. Peter Korn (the school’s founder) asked us on the first day to turn off our phones because the kind of attention that fine craftsmanship demands cannot be sustained in the presence of digital alerts, notifications, and home screen badge updates. And he’s right. It’s been truly liberating to actually shut off my phone for most of the day, and it has enabled a level of focus, presence, and clarity that’s missing from my daily life in my normal context.

I look forward with great anticipation to the results that this newfound level of focus and concentration will enable. But for now, please excuse me while I go sharpen these chisels (again).

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