Since his time at Mythbusters, Adam Savage has been running Tested, a maker YouTube channel that deals with all forms of nerdery. One recurring segment of Tested is Adam Savage’s series of “One Day Builds”. Savage is the embodiment of the maker persona, so it’s no wonder such a prolific builder would make a series like that.

I also can’t help but see how the concept of one day builds have almost infinite practical advantages for someone like him (and someone like me?). Based on the dozens of one day builds I’ve watched, they seem to offer the following benefits:

  • An interesting mix of projects. From movie prop replicas, to model builds, to lego builds, to organizing his shop; there’s a diversity of projects to keep his active brain interested. And it keeps me interested too. At a basic level I love how organizing your workplace, a little mise en place, is a one day build project unto itself.
  • Fits his maker persona and skill base. You get the sense from Mythbusters that Adam Savage is a person who doesn’t sit still. One day builds allow for rapid iteration and rapid problem solving, which I think is in Savage’s wheelhouse. It fits his unique brand of hyperactive and excited energy applied towards tinkering and fabricating ideas.
  • A time box for scoping projects. With one day builds, you’re not doing a week that turns into two weeks that turns into a month. You’re not doing an hour project that turns into a day. You’re doing a day project that may spill over to the next day. A perfect scope that’s great for content generation.
  • Bite-sized content for YouTube. One day builds gives you a steady stream of bite-sized content which is faster to capture, edit, and release. A one day build boils down perfectly into the 10-minute YouTube video format. Selfishly, I strategize that you could batch record a couple weeks worth of content then take a few months off. You’re never chasing your own tail drumming up content.
  • Bonus livestream content for Patreon. Supporters get a behind-the-scenes livestream of the one day build with a sense of satisfaction seeing a project completed over a single stream rather than months. As far as completing dopamine satisfaction cycles goes, this is high-value.
  • It’s the opposite of a highly produced Mythbusters episode. Savage said at one point Mythbusters cost around ~$10,000/minute to record. Camera crews, safety experts, explosives, and crane rentals add up. With one day builds, there’s no driving out to the desert to blow cement trucks up, no putting cameras on a car and launching them off a cliff. A one day build is Adam, an iPhone, and some GoPros setup for timelapse footage around the shop; a massive simplification in production.
  • Quantity Guaranteed. I imagine Savage has infinite project ideas rattling around in his head. Making space for satisfying one day builds seems like a good way to ensure you actualize a certain quantity of projects in your lifetime.

Alls to say, I think this format suits Adam Savage and I see mostly advantages with the approach. The biggest tradeoff is probably project depth, but depth can be a trap where weeks or months of toil gets swept into the garbage can. It’s not all loss, lessons where learned, but at a greater expense.

Last month I had the opportunity to do a proper one day build at work. We needed an internal tool to shape some demo data for screencasts and screenshots. Rather than hacking the database directly, I built a little UI tool to enable this niche request. Only one person will ever use it, but it worked great and gave me a sense of satisfaction that emotionally carried me for a few weeks.

There’s a great temptation to try and structure my work life into a regular series of one day builds. I wonder if this would work across a team for consistent delivery and/or content generation. Is it possible to scale this style of working…

Tempting as that may be, it’s worth noting that Savage says he doesn’t jump into one day builds. There’s a lot of pre-thinking and material acquisition that goes on beforehand. He won’t start a project until the mental dots align. Building a cadence on that foundation might be difficult. Perhaps that’s what project management needs though, a little less cadence and little more forethought.

Lastly, a quote from one of Adam Savage’s one day builds that I love:

Drawers are a machine that require maintenance.