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I fully planned this week to start work on a built-in shelving unit to organize the equipment in my media room. (Right now everything’s held up by a rickety-ass piece of crap I picked up when we moved in six years ago and needed something before the satellite guy showed up.) But alas, time won’t allow, and the project’s pushed to the back burner again.

That got me to thinking: What are the best ways to assure that I don’t wait another six years before I start the project?

I came up with a few:

Scale Back

Over the years I’ve come up with a number of awesome “solutions” for the media equipment rack dilemma. Originally, I intended to buy and install full cabinetry, complete with closed-in shelves on the bottom and slick raised-panel doors. When I realized that was out of my price range, I planned on building a veneer-ply/hardwood bookcase with behind-the-back-panel wire routing. (I intended to cut open the wall behind the bookcase and frame it up so I could access the wiring from the closet behind the media room.)

Of course, that’s not exactly a weekend’s worth of work. So when I didn’t have time to jump in and knock holes in the wall — or even clean all the crap out of the closet — I did absolutely nothing. If I’d have scaled back the project to what I tried to do this week — a basic painted-white bookcase along the lines of what you’ve seen Sean do recently — I’d have done it years ago.

Maybe that’s a key to getting projects — especially those around the house — done: Pick a solution you can complete in the short term. If you still want that badass stained-hardwood cabinet unit, do it later. In the meantime, your life improves.

Break It Up And Keep It Going

If I’d have started on the badass cabinet unit six years ago, working on the damn thing one day a month even, I’d be done now. And if I’d have spent $1,200 on it, I’d have had to cough up a whopping $17 a month to get the job done.

So maybe that’s another way to avoid stalling a project: Break it up into little pieces and plug away at it, doing a little bit every day/week/month until the project’s done.

Combine It With Other Tasks

What if I’d have made working on the project family/friend time? Sean and I could’ve shot the s*** over a beer (though probably not two) just as effectively while hammering together a shelving unit as we could playing Halo or watching Ocean’s 11. If I’d have converted even a small amount of screw-off time into shelf-building time over the last six years, I’d have a shelving unit.

How Do You Get Projects Done?

I’m out of ideas, but maybe you can help me out. How the hell do you get projects like this done — especially when the “just get out there and do it” gets nixed by bigger mortgage-paying responsibilities?

(Thanks, jason.leonard.peacock, for the sweet photo from Toolmonger’s Flickr pool.)


12 Responses to Making Time For Projects

  1. Jerry says:

    It almost sounds as though the real problem is “too many projects.” I get inundated with that sometimes, myself. When I have several projects to start on, I try to determine which one to do first by prioritizing them. Of course, I put those I cannot currently afford at the bottom of the list. Then, for each project: Who will benefit from this? How much will this be used? and other such questions. If the whole family benefits from it, that’s a great start! Some stuff just goes to the top of the list though – that leaky window, for example. Have to do that before the rains come to visit.
    If it’s just a single project that you can’t get started on, make a committment to do a small beginning step like measuring and drawing the project. Set a goal (before Saturday?) Add small goals that are easily attainable. After the plans are done, maybe set up your power tools to get ready for the job. Every small bit makes the whole project smaller and smaller. Also, once I get started, I leave enough project stuff laying around that it reminds and encourages me to get a little more done.

  2. jeff_williams says:

    I get projects done by prioritizing them but unlike Jerry’s response, I’m not a too many projects guy but a too many other things guy. I make my projects a priority by cutting out some other things that don’t matter as much. I spend an hour or two here and there in the shop and get stuff done. Maybe I don’t need to watch the game this week and just listen on the radio instead… etc.

  3. Steve says:

    I tell my (soon to be) wife about the project and include her in some of the steps (not ones invloving power tools or sharp things). Then she drags me kicking and screeming across the finish line. If I stop working on it, then she is driven enough to pick up a hammer. Then I have to do some work to feed her hunger for progress so she will stop before she gets hurt. She is very breakable and always in to much of a rush to work with her hands.

  4. Chuck Cage says:

    @Steve: Your (soon to be) wife sounds completely awesome.

  5. Steve says:

    @Chuck it’s not as painless as it sounds, but she is awesome.

  6. Patrick says:

    My technique is simple: I try to do as few projects as possible “for someone else” at home. Which doesn’t mean my projects don’t become gifts, it means my projects are exclusively things I’m interested in. Those other things: my wife’s hallway mirror, the bed frame for the master bedroom, leaky windows, oil changes, etc…those are chores, and while they get done, they ain’t projects.

    At work it’s the priority & man cave method: I prioritize the projects as much as I can (baring the get-r-done additions by other people) anc carve out a steady hour or two where I work on my babies. In the past two months my kids and I have installed seven garden plots, kept up an 11 acre school campus, created wildlife refuges….and my personal projects: lumber racks, reorganization of the woodshop, chalkboards, kickknacks and cigar box guitars. It’s not the perfect method, but it works for me.

  7. Yadda says:

    I use Evernote on the web to list and track my projects and other tasks. Working from a list helps me organize my time a litte better. I also get the added benefit of looking back at the end of the year at the list of things I completed. It gives me a sense of accomplishment.

    FYI, Evernote is a web based verions of Microsoft’s Onenote. Both programs are really great and categorizing and allowing you to search for saved data. I have lists of future projects, and downloaded plans amoung many other things.

  8. Throw out your TV! It’s amazing how much spare time that contraption eats up!

  9. jmudler says:

    Steve – we are married to the same woman! I love to start projects and she unplugs the TV and pushes me to finish.

    For me I simply take my salary (convert to hourly rate) and compare to what it would cost to hire someone. I do the jobs that I am skilled enough to match the quality of a professional and can do it for less. Doing something subpar or where I am not qualified will only cause conflict with my awesome wife, but cost much more in the long run.

  10. paganwonder says:

    Harald H has it right- well except for Rugby matches… and Top Gear…and that other show… But otherwise, TV is a time sink.

  11. Jim K. says:

    Well, having a kid this year seems to have completely messed with my usual prioritization methods for getting projects done. But that aside, I always have two sets of projects going. Those with deadlines and those without. If it’s a “need” project it gets a deadline associated with it just as if it’s a work project I’m getting paid for. If it’s a “want” project then it doesn’t. This has helped me avoid my own personal demon which is taking on too many projects. When something new comes up I look at it and if it’s a “need” and I can’t finish it by the time that it needs to happen by because of other “need” projects then I tackle it some other way (hire a contractor, buy something pre-made, etc.) I of course can shift projects around to accommodate new things that come up that are quickie projects, etc. But generally speaking this process has made me (and my wife) pretty happy.

  12. Mac says:

    You mean I’m not the only one who struggles with this?!? 🙂

    Prioritization is by no means easy, but is also not too tough. For me, people are first (kids, wife, immediate family, extended family, close friends, not-so-close friends, etc., etc.) Everything else, including projects, has to get in line.

    It’s the clock that frustrates me most; it’s hands move too fast. I usually use the 4-quadrant time management theory (urgent/not urgent, important, not important) and it helps.

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