10/6/2019 ☼ Maintenance

After leaving Google in 2008, I spent the summer helping to run a woodshop and furniture studio at the Anderson Ranch Art Foundation in Snowmass Village, Colorado. Every Sunday morning the shop crew did maintenance before heading to the tawdry delights of nearby Aspen.

We sharpened every chisel and handtool in the shop (benchgrinder and successive water stones), cleaned out, vacuumed, and oiled every powered machine and checked their blades, emptied the sawdust collectors, restocked all the consumable bins and shelves. Looking closely at the shop every Sunday morning promoted a kind of attention that was impossible to summon during the rest of the week.

Maintenance embeds attention—always in short supply—in routine, and forces awareness of the extent to which chaos has taken over a system. It takes the form of practice: Routine inspection of the system and rectification of any problems discovered through inspection. This is true whether the system is the physical facility of a woodshop, the social structure of a team of interdependent workers, or the physiology of one individual’s body, and whether the maintenance a Sunday routine deep-clean of equipment, a periodic team check-in, or a daily yoga practice.

Maintenance catches problems when they are still small, and small fixes are easier and cheaper than big ones. Maintenance reveals patterns of use and non-use, which allows a system to be refactored for either greater efficiency or efficacy.