Deciding which one thing to do can be harder than getting that one thing done.

Yesterday was a day of careful attention to small details.

I'm particularly proud, in a peculiar way, of the effort that I made to unclog a slow drain in the bathtub. This particular drain has been draining slowly for months, and it's stumped me before. I've tried boiling water, a plastic drain snake, baking soda and vinegar, and a plunger, and none of it worked.

The key bit which I didn't use before was a screwdriver. The particular tub in question has an overflow hatch which holds the drain plug lifter, and by using a screwdriver I was able to disassemble that hatch and remove a gizmo and then, once all the pieces were apart, I could use the plastic drain snake to get at the hair clog. (Ew.) About ten minutes after starting work on the project today, the drain ran free. Hooray!

How hard can it be to clear a drain? Well, the challenge is to have the right combination of the time to work on it, the necessary tools, the insight as to what all you might try new that you hadn't tried before, and a determination not to allow a temporary setback to slow you down. Don't have a screwdriver? A quarter and a vise grip make an adequate substitute. That fancy drain snake you tried before didn't work out so well? Visit the hardware store and see what other designs there are.

What makes this project different from most is that it had been waiting months to complete, months where I stood in the shower with the water accumulating wondering how I was going to fix the problem, months where various other attempts to fix didn't work out so well.

I suppose that a lot of problems we run into look like this. The head on approach with a simple set of tools fails to fix the problem, we're frustrated by the results, and then the situation languishes for a long time without any headway. Some day you look at the problem with fresh eyes and get an aha! insight that transforms the issue from one thing into something completely different, and the fresh attack hits the transformed problem and it clears up quickly.

The unsuccessful problem-solving of the day was a friend's snow blower, which had sat for an entire winter last year unused and thus we think has bad gas in the tank. The obvious approaches of trying the electric starter and the pull starter failed to result in the motor catching, and so the best guess is that draining the gas tank and refilling with fresh fuel will be the right way to solve the problem. This of course transforms the problem from "start the snowblower" to "refill the gas tank of the snowblower" and assumes that all of the starter motors work just fine and they do seem to.

I really should be able to tackle more straightforward tasks head on. There's a temptation to write down the task before addressing it, and then turning the written down task into something which is a subject of some endless refinement. So often it would be easier just to decide to tackle something and do it than to sort through an infinite list of possible tasks saying "no, not now, later" over and over again. It is not always obvious which things are straightforward and which will take hours or weeks of work.

Often the best way to get something done is to simply say that you're not going to stop until it's complete, sit down, get comfortable in working on it, and then grind through the problem until it has reached a single satisfactory answer. Deciding which one thing to do can be harder than getting that one thing done.

 

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