Over the weekend, I completed a repair on an XBOX 360 with red rings. The project was a success and I thought a lot about how I approached this project — and how it could have gone better.

Take stock of your tools

Do you have what you need? Just as a good chef looks over the entire recipe before they begin, it is important to look through the entire process before you start.

In my case, I neglected to see if we had any solvent around so when I got to the step where I needed to remove old thermal paste, I was unable to proceed without a trip for rubbing alcohol.

The other danger is there could be a step that says “let this sit for a couple hours*.” In cooking, it can be a step reading “place in the fridge for 8 hours” but in my case, I needed to re-flow the motherboard with a heat gun then allow the board to cool undisturbed

Many times a project will have a step that requires you to do nothing more than wait. It could be waiting for glue or paint to dry, a motherboard to cool down, or your cake to rise. It’s important to know where the delays are and plan accordingly.

Allow plenty of time

This is one I always struggle with. I am tempted to start projects at 10pm or midnight thinking it won’t take that long. Then, around 2am, when I’m overtired and frustrated, I make stupid mistakes.

Resist the urge to start a project planning late in the day. Start fresh the next morning and make the time to complete it successfully. I completed my project over the course of about a week. I started on a Saturday afternoon and dismantled the console, then ran into my problem of no rubbing alcohol so I had to stop. Then I got busy and didn’t return to it until the next weekend. I picked the project back up Sunday afternoon when I had 4 hours free and completed the project without needing to rush.

Have a clean and stable place to work

I cannot stress the importance of this step. I needed to leave the Xbox dismantled for five days on our kitchen table. If I was trying to do this on my desk, or on the dining room floor I could have lost pieces or it could have gotten broken. It is vital to have a safe, secure place to work that won’t be disturbed.

Take special consideration if you have kids or pets. There is no assured defense against children and cats are infamous for their love of sitting places where they’re not wanted. To say nothing of those tiny screws making perfect play things.

Organize your parts

When taking apart something with multiple sets of screws or other small pieces, have a system for separating and organizing them. Many small screws can look nearly identical, until you get halfway through the project and realize you’ve used the wrong screw in the wrong place and now have to back track and replace them.

I have a screw organizer, but you can use anything with different compartments. I’ve even used an empty egg carton in a pinch. If you don’t have anything handy, grab a piece of paper, and apply some double-sided tape or make a loop of tape and stick your screws to it, especially if they’re very small.

For this project, there were only three steps requiring screws so I used a blank sheet of paper and drew circles and wrote down the step number of the walkthrough I was following and placed the screws in that circle.

With a little project planning, you can save yourself a lot of extra time, effort and making a silly mistake which could cost you. Make the time and plan out your next project. I always hear my father’s advice in my ears when I start any new project:

“Measure twice, cut once.”

(Photo credit: Measure Twice, Cut Once via sxc.hu)

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