If you have a home, I guarantee that you have home improvement projects to do. Whether relating to season, maintenance, upgrades, or repairs, there is rarely a time when the list is empty. Some of us find the motivation to complete home projects easily, while others stop, start, re-start, or generally procrastinate. There are a variety of reasons why you might have trouble following through on projects. Not surprisingly, many of them are emotionally based. Sometimes you have to do some inner work before there is a prayer the outer work will actually be completed. Here are a few tips, both psychological and practical, to help you focus and follow through on projects.
1. Look at why you are doing the project to begin with.
“There is a conflict inherent in what we want and what we think is OK,” said Kevin Blanchard, MSW, who practices in Greenfield, MA. Blanchard said that people can have many reasons for wanting to do a project, one of which is to give others a certain impression of you or you feel you must to make your partner or others happy. “Some people want to be seen as someone who has freshly painted walls. Or is it your wife or mother’s idea? You have to ask yourself what you really want to do,” said Blanchard.
“Thinking on paper and on a calendar is helpful when you have a list of projects,” said Marek Tresnack, LMHC, who also has a practice in Greenfield, MA. “Set up a plan for a month, a week, and a day,” he said.
Another idea in terms of prioritizing would be to make your list based on whether it’s a critical safety issue, routine, has a specific time-line, such as creating a room for a new baby, or would simply improve the value or look of your home.
3. Be realistic regarding your skill-set.
I don’t think I’m alone in the notion that in order to save money, I have to do just about every project in the house myself. Yes, I’ve even managed a lot with the help of detailed books on repairs, but there is a point where you simply need to hire a professional, especially for code-heavy or dangerous work like electrical work. You will save time, money, and a great deal of stress. A colleague of mine who lives in New York City hired a plumber recently to do some work that she just couldn't do herself after wasting hours trying to DIY the job. It was worth it; she's no longer showering in ankle-deep water.
4. Pace yourself, multi-tasking doesn’t always get more done faster.
Tresnack said that when beginning a project to try to not create too many smaller tasks. “Even the most multi-tasking CEO’s focus on one thing at a time, following through without letting anything disrupt them,” he said. Tresnack said that the mind compartmentalizes each task and each time we fully complete a task, a part of our mind can relax. “When you have accomplished something the mind can breathe, rest, and let go of it. It’s like having too many Windows open on your computer, your mind gets slower and slower,” he said.
5. Become “prevention focused.”
“Prevention focus is a term psychologists use to describe what happens when you think about your goals in terms of what you might lose,” said Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson in her blog “Peeling back the Onion.”
“Study after study shows that when people think about their goals in terms of what would happen if things go wrong, they procrastinate less,” said Halvorson.
6. Have attainable goals.
Similar to prioritizing, assessing your resources carefully, including your time, and prior to starting a project, will help flesh out what’s realistic. I’ve learned that when I lay out what’s really needed in terms of materials, time, and cost, I’m able to then have a clearer vision of the project, which tends to reduce what I think of as the “looming” aspect of the project and it becomes easier to move forward. Having attainable goals also helps me budget my time, another resistance-reducer.
7. Try to avoid perfectionism.
Perfectionism can lead to the noblest cause of procrastination. When I have created an image of not only what, but how much needs to be done, I’ve sometimes become too overwhelmed to actually do the project. Case in point, I had a room that had wallpaper I hated. In peeling off the wallpaper, the backing was left behind. In a 100-year-old house with plaster walls, getting the backing off and the room skim-coated and painted ended up taking nearly three years. In wanting it perfect right away, I just couldn’t get started.
8. Let go of the fear.
For those of you who are inclined towards introspection, Tresnack recommends sitting down before you start a project and try to focus on what about the project may be making you afraid. “If you are procrastinating, sit for a moment and look at what your fears are about the situation. You may even want to write about it,” he said. Tresnack said that procrastination creates an “emotional cloud, which makes things harder to accomplish.”
9. Celebrate your successes.
“Every time we accomplish something it gives our mind a little boost,” said Tresnack. It’s important to stop and relish what we have accomplished before moving on to the next project. If you feel more satisfaction, the next project may feel more enjoyable.
10. Make projects into social events.
There are always a lot of small projects that need to be done. But for the bigger projects, make it an excuse for a party or a date with your significant other. Having a work a party is not a new idea, but it’s a fun one. Not only can you get the project done faster, but you can build on the feeling of making work seem less like work.