With everyone spending more time at home, many people are embarking on home improvement projects that, alas, never seem to get finished. Like that half-painted laundry room or the closet organization system that’s still sitting in its box. We all have them. So why is it so hard to follow through to get them done?
“While the fabulous remodeling shows on TV transform a space from disaster to dream in under 30 minutes, in reality, there is much to consider when attempting this feat in your own home,” says Dawn Mahan, founder of PMOtraining.com, which helps teach people the fundamentals of successful project management—whether that’s at the office or around the house. “People just want to jump in and get started, and then wonder why they find themselves at The Home Depot 47 times.”
So what home improvement projects might benefit from pre-production prep? Mahan suggests that redecorating a room, cleaning up the garage, remodeling a bathroom, landscaping, or pretty much anything that doesn’t involve one tool and 10 minutes could all benefit.
“If you have something that is bothering you about your home and you have an idea for how it could be better, it will help you accomplish your goal by applying a few professional project management techniques,” says Mahan. “That way, you can get what you want, when you want it, for a cost you are comfortable paying, all while keeping your blood pressure in check.”
Here’s how you can keep your DIY dreams from lingering in limbo, whether it’s a new project or one that’s been sitting half-done for months.
Step 1: Define clearly the problem you are trying to solve
The first step for setting your project up for success is to clearly define the problem you’re trying to solve.
“I find that most people start with the solution and not the problem,” says Mahan. “Step 1 is the most important, because if you don’t define the problem and instead jump to the solution, you may end up with an outcome that doesn’t actually solve your problem. You also risk overengineering the solution, costing you in time, money, and aggravation.”
Mahan suggests that to get to the root of what you are really hoping to accomplish, ask yourself “Why?” until you’ve isolated your true objective. For example, let’s say you want to remodel your kitchen. Ask yourself “Why am I feeling like I need to remodel my kitchen?” and also perhaps “What specifically about the kitchen don’t I like?” You may discover that you don’t hate your whole kitchen, and instead just dislike the countertops, which would be a much simpler thing to replace.
Step 2: Decide what ‘done’ looks like
Once you have defined the problem you’re trying to solve, deciding what “done” looks like is much easier to accomplish. And this step is important, so don’t end up tinkering to death.
One way to start this conversation would be to finish the phrase “Imagine if…” Work through the conversation until the reply to your “Imagine if…” statement is the equivalent of, “Oh now that would be wonderful!”
To make the vision clearer, you can gather pictures of what you want, from paint strips to Pinterest boards, then place them in the area you want to improve. Once you’re sure that your ultimate vision is clear, you’re ready for the next step.
Step 3: Prioritize your five delivery objectives
Now that you know the problem you are trying to solve and what the desired outcome is, it’s time to think about the transformation process.
“Like any makeover, you can spend a little or a lot of money,” says Mahan. “It can take a little or a lot of time. It can require a little or a lot of pain.” But money, time, and strife are not the only things to consider.
Mahan suggests that you rank your delivery objectives—budget, time, quality—from 1 (highest importance) to 3 (lowest importance). Focus on why each objective is in its position, because that will inform your decisions in both planning the project and keeping it on track.
Here’s what to ponder to ensure that expectations are set in the beginning:
- Budget: While you do need to think about how much you are willing to spend, the question here is about how important cost is in getting what you want. If you have an unlimited budget, cost should be No. 3 in your ranking. If keeping this project as cheap as possible is your top goal, then cost is No. 1. If you are willing to spend more money to get higher quality, then cost ranks below quality, and so on.
- Time: Are you willing to wait longer to pay less? If so, time will be lower than budget in your ranking. Are you willing to take extra time for something to be done right? If speed is more important than a cut corner or two, then put time higher on your list than quality.
- Quality: How important is perfection to you? “Is an eighth of an inch off going to drive you crazy, or can you live with it?” says Mahan.
Step 4: Plan for the unexpected
“Before you start the project, imagine what could go wrong,” says Mahan. “Then think, ‘What could I do differently to avoid that from happening?'”
This isn’t about full-on disaster planning; rather, it’s a way of avoiding setbacks and preventing damage to other parts of your house while you’re trying to improve it. Returning to the hated countertops, for example, visualize them being removed and think about what could get damaged in the process (e.g., the wall, the sink, the electrical sockets, the cupboards, etc.). Then do a little research on what could preemptively be done to avoid the damage from occurring.
Step 5: Take small steps and celebrate each one
Step 5 is all about challenging yourself to think as tiny as possible. For instance, can you do a little something to move your project forward each weekend? Can you break your project into baby steps and celebrate each one?
“By breaking a complex project down into tiny steps that can be accomplished in the time you have, you can feel great about your progress toward your vision without stressing yourself out,” says Mahan. “Even better, put these tiny moves on the calendar such that you can see how long it might take you to get it done.”
Seeing the schedule with a few place holders for the unexpected prepares your mind for how long you have to live with the current project in progress, and when you will feel that sigh of relief when your space is transformed.