5 Steps to Get any House Project Done Easily

Have you ever walked by something in your home and said “I really need to take care of that!” and then months or years later it still wasn’t done? Have you ever left something egregiously unfinished for so long that you stop even noticing it? Been there.

Whether it’s a miserably overstuffed closet you hate opening, an appliance that needs to be repaired, or some picture frames you’ve been meaning to hang for years, we all have a steady stream of things that just need to get done. (And yes all of these examples came from my real life of professional procrastination.) 

Some people are great at knocking out projects but many of us are not. We struggle. That struggle leaves us with long and growing to-do lists, anxiety, and stress. It also prevents us from truly enjoying our living space in the way that we should.  

As a former project and program manager with some serious type-A energy I have a lot of experience completing projects. However, there is something about projects in my own home that I will do anything to avoid. Something about these projects feels like too much work and when that happens my natural instinct is to avoid them. 

Resistance to completing tasks

When something feels like an overwhelming amount of work we develop a resistance to it, and that certainly happens to me. If you’re here, it might happen to you too.

But imagine for a second a different life where every project that needs to be done gets done. And they get done in a timely manner. Imagine how that would feel. Pretty good right?

Letting things pile up in our homes contributes to stress, anxiety, and a feeling of internal chaos. Doing the thing that needs to be done helps us be more calm and focused and takes some proverbial weight off of our shoulders. 

man sanding ceiling after installing drywall
Some people are great at getting house projects done, and others of us are not

So how do we overcome resistance and tackle our house projects? We make it easy!

This article walks through exactly how to do a project without triggering the section of your brain that wants to nope out because that project feels too difficult or complicated. This article shows you how to complete a project at home while barely even feeling like you did anything. 

It’s kind of magical. 

The process works regardless of how big or small your project is. If you need to do something very small like replacing a light bulb, the process works. If you are doing something huge like building a brand new house, it still works. 

I’ll walk through each step of completing your project and do a personal example along the way.

Make a Plan

When you take courses on program management the first step isn’t to make a plan, it’s to plan making your plan.  I don’t think you personally should plan your plan because that’s just going too far in a home setting, but the point stands that planning is extremely important.  

If you have a very small project you could make the plan in your head.  Personally I like to write my plan down for a very specific reason: It’s a tangible start to the project.  

Your plan is very basically:

  • The steps you need to take to complete the project…
  • broken down into appropriate sized bits…
  • in the correct order…
  • with a time frame

Making a plan is my personal favorite part of doing a project because I get to feel like I accomplished something while in reality I sat on my butt typing on my laptop.  I mean come on, that’s great.

Your plan does not need to be fancy. It doesn’t need to be on a computer. It doesn’t need to be pretty.  Fast and easy is just fine if that’s how you roll. 

Example

The project I will be using as an example is dealing with a pile of things I need to sell online. My pile has been growing out of control and increasing my stress level so it’s time to do something about it. 

Pile of clothes and camping gear to sell
I will turn clutter into money by selling these things I no longer use

Step 1: Write down the high-level milestones you need to do to complete your task.

In order to start doing something, you need to know what exactly what you are going to do. Think about the basic components or milestones of your project and write them down. We will break down your high level milestones later so there is no need to dig too deep at this time.

This step is simply making a list.

Example

My high-level milestones for selling my pile of things looks like this:

  • Decide what to sell
  • List items on an app
  • Ship when sold

Step 2: Break down the milestones into do-able sized bits

If you’re like me, your milestones still feel overwhelming and you don’t want to do them, so we address that in Step 2.

Step 2 is extremely important: break down each milestone into small pieces. The pieces need to be small enough that you look at it and say “yeah no prob, I can do that.”

As an example, how do you mentally react to the idea of doing the following two things?

  • Resod your lawn
  • Google “how to resod a lawn”

If you have to choose one of these things to do, which would you choose? There is a huge difference in the amount of effort these two tasks require. Resodding a lawn feels overwhelming, so it’s easy to resist and avoid. Opening a browser window and doing a google search, on the other hand, is relatively simple. If my task is the former, it’s not getting done. If it’s the latter, I’ll actually start the project.

If you look at one of your steps and you feel resistance to it, break it down into smaller bits.

Keep the following in mind:

  • If you don’t know how to do something, research should be one of your tasks.  
  • If there is information you need, finding that information could be a separate task. 
  • Do you have the right tools for the job? If not, acquiring them should be one of your tasks 

Task Breakdown

Task breakdown is ultimately about what feels right and easy for you personally, so the same project could look very different from one person to another when broken down.

empty google search screen
Opening a browser window can be a perfect, very small first step

I break things down into tasks so small they could be considered embarrassing, but going one tiny step at a time is truly the only way I can get things done. Here are some examples of my own small tasks:

  • Open a browser window
  • Get out the step ladder
  • Look up a phone number
  • Put the screwdriver in the kitchen
  • Dump clean clothes out of basket

These tasks are stupidly simple but they are real progress. And many small, easy tasks add up to a completed project.

overview of Mercari, found while researching selling platforms
Researching marketplace apps as one task

Example

My project breakdown looks like this:

  • Decide what to sell
    • Gather all the things in my “get rid of it” pile
    • Pick out the items I want to sell
  • List items on an app
    • Research marketplace apps
    • Choose an app and make an account
    • Take photos of first item
    • Research resale price for first item
    • List first item
    • (Repeat previous 3 steps until all items are listed)
    • Respond to potential buyers as necessary
  • Ship when sold
    • Find boxes or packaging for each item
    • Find stuffing material for each item/box
    • Print shipping label
    • Package up item
    • Drop off at Post office/USPS

Whereas my first list of milestones felt overwhelming, each task on this list is doable for me.  If it wasn’t I could break any of these tasks down even further. 

Step 3: Order your tasks and consider dependencies

At this step, we need to make sure we are doing our tasks in the right order. If one task depends on the completion or outcome of another task, you want to be aware of that and do the tasks with dependencies as early as possible. 

Do any of the steps in your project depend on something else getting done first? Put them in the correct order and note any dependencies.  

Example

My project steps do have dependencies (I can’t ship something until I sell it) but is already in the correct order. 

  • Decide what to sell
    • Gather all the things in my “get rid of it” pile
    • Pick out the items I want to sell
  • List items on an app
    • Research apps where you can sell stuff
    • Choose an app and make an account
    • Take photos of first item
    • Research resale price for first item
    • List first item
    • (Repeat previous 3 steps until all items are listed)
    • Respond to potential buyers as necessary
  • Ship when sold
    • Find boxes or packaging for each item → can do anytime
    • Find stuffing material for each item/box → can do anytime
    • Print shipping label → must wait for sale to happen
    • Package up item
    • Drop off at Post office/USPS

One thing I notice is that gathering packing supplies does not have a dependency on selling an item, so I can do that task before the sale and have the box ready to go.

water filtration system for backpacking packed up into a box
I can pack up shipping boxes before my item even sells. In this case packaging is not dependent on any other task.

Step 4: Create a timeline (optional)

If timing is important for your project you should make a timeline.  If it’s not important you might want to have a timeline anyway because it’s helpful in making time to complete the project. 

To create a timeline:

  • Estimate how long each milestone or task will take
  • Create a schedule for when you will do the tasks
  • Keep in mind that you may have an unexpected complication that requires extra time.  For example the ubiquitous trip to the hardware store you didn’t plan on which somehow happens EVERY SINGLE TIME.

If you have a deadline, look at all of your milestones and work backwards in terms of when you are going to do each one. Schedule the last milestone or tasks first, and then go to the second-to-last one and so on.

woman's hand about enter something into a planner on a tablet
Scheduling tasks on your calendar ensures you have time for them

Example

For my project, this is how I estimate the time involved:

  • Decide what to sell (1 day)
    • Gather all the things in my “get rid of it” pile 
    • Pick out the items I want to sell
  • List items on an app (1 week, maximum 3 per day)
    • Research apps where you can sell stuff 
    • Choose an app and make an account 
    • Take photos of first item
    • Research resale price for first item
    • List first item
    • (Repeat previous 3 steps until all items are listed)
    • Respond to potential buyers as necessary
  • Ship when sold (1 hour per item, can’t control timing)
    • Find boxes or packaging for each item → can do anytime
    • Find stuffing material for each item/box → can do anytime
    • Print shipping label → must wait for sale to happen
    • Package up item
    • Drop off at Post office/USPS

And this is how I scheduled it:

Sun the 10th:

  • Decide what to sell
  • Research marketplace apps and set up account

Mon the 11th – Sat the 16th

  • Photograph & list items (3 per day)
  • Gather packing materials

Sun the 17th onward

  • pack and ship items as they sell

While I physically could photograph and list more than 3 items per day, mentally I would burn out. To preserve my sanity I will schedule no more than 3 items per day to photograph and list.

Execute the Plan

You should now have a relatively robust project plan that considers dependencies, things you don’t know how to do and information you need. You should have tasks small enough that each one individually feels easy to do.  You should have, if needed, your tasks scheduled on a calendar.

Step 5: Do the Tasks

Start with your first task, and do it.  This task should be small enough that you don’t have any resistance to completing it. 

If at any point you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or resisting the tasks, revisit your plan to make the tasks smaller.

Check things off or cross things off as you go to show your progress and feel that sense of accomplishment. Keep going with small tasks until your project is done.  

You may, as you go through the small, discrete steps, find that you get a rush of energy and motivation to keep going.  If so, you’ve reached the enviable flow state and should fully take advantage of it to move your project forward. 

If you have a timeline, do the things you need to do according to the timelines, always breaking down anything that you resist because it’s too big. 

item listed for sale on mercari

Example

I successfully listed my items for sale on the app Mercari over the course of the week.

Limiting myself to listing 3 items per day was a good way to not get burned out on the project.

One task I struggled with was this one:

  • Print shipping label

This seems innocuous at first, but I don’t have a printer and have to make a deliberate trip somewhere to print a label. It’s something I hate doing and have resistance to, so I’m going to break this down into smaller pieces.

example of packing slip
A small task such as printing a label can always be broken down into even smaller pieces
  • Print shipping label
    • Email label from selling app to FedEx or Staples
    • Look at calendar and figure out when I will be near one of those places in the next 3 days
    • Put trip to FedEx on calendar
    • Drive to FedEx
    • Print label using code I received on my phone

By breaking an unpleasant task down into very small pieces I was able to overcome resistance to the task.

Tips if You are Struggling

If you are still struggling to complete your tasks, try the following.

  • Create external pressure for yourself, such as inviting people over
  • Break down your tasks into even smaller pieces
  • Schedule not just a particular day in which you will complete a small task, but the specific hour. 
  • Delegate tasks if you can
  • Sign up for coaching with a professional

Conclusion

Home and personal projects can pile up on our endless to-do list, creating anxiety, stress, and chaos in our lives. Even people who struggle can make their projects much easier to complete by following these steps:

Make a Plan

  • Write down high-level milestones
  • Break up milestones into small, do-able steps
  • Order the steps, considering dependencies 
  • Create an optional timeline

Execute the Plan

  • Do the steps, breaking down anything that feels overwhelming into smaller pieces. 

When you’re done, pat yourself on the back, enjoy your success, and move onto the next project. 

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