Years ago, I wrote a profile on automotive artist Ed Tillrock, best known as “The Pencil Specialist.” When I asked him how he takes on a huge, lifelike drawing, he gave me a memorable answer. “It’s like eating an elephant—you have to take one bite at a time.” I don’t remember if that line ever made it into the story, but it has definitely stuck with me.
Big projects can be daunting. Now that my roadster is running, I’ve been trying to figure out if I’m almost to the end or just getting started. When I go down to the garage, I can’t tell if the obstacles ahead of me are easy, hard, or somewhere in between. I’m not reinventing the wheel—I’m just building an early Ford hot rod.
Everyone has to start somewhere. I know folks in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s threw these things together without a care in the world. It’s not like that these days (at least not in my corner of the world). Some things have to be taken to machine shops and specialty locations. I’m not building a car to enjoy every once in a while—I’m building an honest-to-goodness daily driver.
In my work life, I manage all sorts of projects. I start with ideas, outline a scope of work, meet with stakeholders and collaborate with people to get things done. The other day, I was thinking: if that strategy works for work, why can’t it work for my hot rod, too?
In the past two decades, I’ve become an avid note taker and list-maker. On motorcycle projects, I usually take the ultra-traditional route and scribble a massive “To Do” list on a piece of cardboard. I tried that with the roadster too, but it was too simplified to ever seem like I was making progress. From there, I shifted to an ongoing list on my phone’s “Notes” app.
For whatever reason, that one fell by the wayside in the past few months. Then, as I thought about work, I started creating a master document outlining everything—and I mean everything—I needed to get the car on the road.
As the list came together, it all seemed way more manageable. Every sub-task became a new project. I organized what could be done at home and what had to be outsourced. I devised an order of operations and people to call. Just like that, I had a way forward.
And that got me thinking: how does everyone else go about this? Does anyone have any tips or tricks to bring a project from the idea phase to reality? I’d love to hear how everyone takes them on, one bite at a time.