10 Tips to Help You Focus on Home Improvement Projects

Motivation is hard when you're facing a home improvement project. Cris is here to help you get unstuck. (Photo: SweetOnVeg/Flickr)If you have a home, I guarantee that you have home improvement projects to do. Whether maintenance, upgrades, or repairs, there's rarely a time when the list is empty. Some homeowners find the motivation to complete home projects easily, while others stop, start, restart, or generally procrastinate. There are a variety of reasons why you might have trouble following through; not surprisingly, many are emotion-based. Sometimes you have to do some inner work before there is a prayer that the outer work will actually be completed.

Try these tips, both psychological and practical, to help you focus and follow through on home improvement projects.

1. Look at why you are doing the project to begin with.

“There is a conflict inherent between what we want and what we think is OK,” points out Kevin Blanchard, MSW, who practices in Greenfield, MA. Blanchard goes on to say 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.” 

2. Prioritize.

“Thinking on paper and on a calendar is helpful when you have a list of projects,” suggests Marek Tresnack, LMHC, who also has a practice in Greenfield, MA. “Set up a plan for a month, a week, and a day.” 

Another idea in terms of prioritizing would be to rank your list based on the following:

  • critical safety issue: a project such as replacement of dangerous electrical wiring obviously must be done right away

  • specific time-line: preparing a room for a new baby, for instance, should be completed by a specific date

  • routine (but necessary) maintenance

  • projects that will 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 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 take care of some work that she just couldn't complete 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 advises: when you begin a project, try to not create too many smaller tasks. “Even the most multi-tasking CEOs focus on one thing at a time, following through without letting anything disrupt them.” Tresnack reasons that the mind compartmentalizes each task and every time we fully complete a task, a part of our mind can relax. “It’s like having too many windows open on your computer, your mind gets slower and slower. When you have accomplished something the mind can breathe, rest, and let go of it.” 

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,” defines Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson. “Study after study shows that when people think about their goals in terms of what would happen if things go wrong, they procrastinate less.” 

6. Have attainable goals.

Similar to prioritizing, assess your resources (including your time) carefully before starting a project, to 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 clarify my vision of the project. This tends to reduce what I think of as the “looming” aspect of the project, making it 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 create an image of not only what, but how much needs to be done, I sometimes become too overwhelmed to actually do the project.

Case in point: One of my rooms had wallpaper I hated. When I peeled 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 inclined towards introspection, Tresnack recommends sitting down before you start a project and trying 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 describes procrastination as creating 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,” affirms Tresnack. It’s important to stop and relish what we have accomplished before moving on to the next project. If you feel deeper satisfaction, the next project tends to be 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 party is not a new idea, but it’s a fun one. Not only can you get the project done faster, you can also build on the feeling of making work seem less like work.

Cris Carl writes for Networx.com

Updated July 18, 2018.

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