The Space Between

tools-2536159_640I’ve needed to update the workbench in my shop for a while now. The same one has been in use for years and it shows. It’s banged up, stained, and bit too small for many of the projects I’ve been working on lately. It sits next to my table saw, but because of how the saw’s motor is positioned, there’s about a foot of unused space between the two. This “space between” is a black hole. I can’t use it for anything, and it manages to suck up dropped tools, materials, and (inevitably) my time. Recovering this space represents a significant improvement in my workflow.

We’ve all got some “space between” that we work around. In some cases, it’s literal space like the square footage between my saw and workbench. In others, it’s figurative space – chunks of time that exist between productive parts of our day. In either case, we have a choice. We can choose to utilize this space, disciplining ourselves to leverage the time and resources available to us to improve. Or we can choose to waste the space, squandering the opportunity to make things better and suffering the negative impact created by the void.

But what does utilizing the “space between” look like? How can we take advantage of the little chunks of time that might seem insignificant and unusable? Here are a few ideas.

  • Brush up on your product knowledge.
  • Take advantage of a training opportunity to enhance your leadership skills.
  • Brainstorm potential solutions to customer service gaps.
  • Organize or reorganize your workspace to increase productivity.
  • Create a new resource to benefit the team.
  • Engage in conversation with a customer or coworker to build the relationship.
  • Research an aspect of your industry that lies outside of your scope of responsibility.
  • Practice/roleplay rusty skills to stay on top of your game.

There’s always a use for the “space between.” We just have to identify one and act on it.

This weekend, my daughter and I took advantage of the nice weather and an extra day off from work to tackle the workbench situation. We fabricated a new top that spans the unused space behind the saw. The new top we built is thicker and protected by a few coats of finish to improve its durability. In addition to eliminating the gap, we increased our usable work area by over 50%. Work pieces coming off of the saw are now better supported, making use of that tool much safer. And we did it all without impacting the normal workflow or other operations within the shop.

What I didn’t count on was the impact of this decision on my attitude. Addressing the “space between” has renewed my appreciation for the workshop. I’m excited about using my bench and creating new projects. I’m looking forward to getting my hands dirty and will be less likely to take shortcuts having experienced what making just a small improvement can do.

And, as you can imagine, I’m looking for others wasted spaces to utilize.