It has been three-and-a-half years since we bought our house. If you’ve known us through this time, you’ve heard us talk about our renovations and all the projects we’ve been working on, which seem to be never-ending. While we’re not done, we’re coming towards the end (we only have 10-15 projects left instead of an uncountable number) and can see the finish line in the distance. One of those projects was redoing our front and back yard.
When we first looked at the house, we knew it would be big project, but in true rookie fashion, we were optimistic that we’d be able to get all the projects done in short order.
We first focused on the inside, but in the last two years, we have finally started working on our landscaping. When we purchased the house, our front yard consisted of rocks and lots of them. The previous owners had taken all the grass out and replaced the grass with pebbles. Over time vines and undergrowth had been allowed to grow wild, ending up making a mess of the whole thing.
The back yard, while initially in a bit better shape, was just as much of a nightmare. Tall grasses were planted in the middle of the yard, which ultimately meant there were head-high grasses and vines in the center of the yard. Around the outside of the tall grass was Bermuda grass that with the right amount of neglect had really turned into Bermuda dirt. This meant some erosion and bare spots throughout the rest of the yard.
Two autumns ago, we seeded the front yard. Last fall, we seeded the side yard, and this spring, we seeded the backyard. Now, in year three, we’re “finished” but not finished. As the grass has started to grow, I’ve found myself staring at the finished project and enjoyed the handiwork that went into it. The days of moving rocks, clearing the brush, moving dirt, and leveling are behind us. All of the steps taken before have led to the product you see today.
But while I can and do enjoy the finished product, I’ve realized there are still things to do. There are some spots the grass didn’t take hold and need to be reseeded. The flower beds are sparse and not quite where we’d want them to be. There are weeds of all sorts that we could not treat because of the tenderness of new grass and seeds. There are the trees to trim, which we’ve attempted some on our own, but could really use a professional.
Despite all the hard work and success, there is still a gnawing feeling of things being incomplete. And as I thought of this tension between some progress but not complete progress, I realized how much this relates to daily life.
Don’t settle for good enough
Seeing a good product in my front and back yard has left me with a sense of accomplishment. I’ve felt the desire to sit back and relax and enjoy the progress. And not for the first time. As we’ve finished different phases of this project, I’ve relaxed and enjoyed some time off, only to realize months later how much more we really had to get finished. Because of these pauses, our house reno has gone on much longer than expected.
I’m not saying I shouldn’t have paused, but I let the pause derail me from full completion. If the pause in a project derails you, you miss out on the ultimate satisfaction of true completion. This application is wide-ranging in all areas of life: don’t let the satisfaction of partial success stop you from finishing the job, as true completion is a lot more fulfilling.
But also don’t focus only on the list
I know I just told you not to pause, but intentional pauses can be good. Through each project we’ve completed (painting, ceiling install, replacing trim, etc.), there has been the tendency to not celebrate wins because of what’s left to do. That means that the tiny victories don’t end up getting celebrated, leaving us beat down and frustrated and unmotivated to continue. So many times through this project, I’ve found myself swinging between the extreme of stopping too early and struggling to restart, or powering through immediately to the next project. I’ve even found myself working late into the night, unwilling to stop despite what I’ve accomplished.
Just as celebrating too early is bad, it’s also bad to not celebrate at all. You cannot let partial success gnaw on you and stop you from enjoying the progress. Focusing only on the list has resulted in many stages of burnout, which led to longer layoffs than what would have resulted from a slight break and celebration.
This is too common in business and life. We have so much to do, it is seen as lazy or weak to stop and celebrate a win. These celebrations are good for your soul, your coworkers, your friends, and your family. The celebrations help you take a breath and bring groups together, tightening the ties that will help them link arms and walk farther next time.
I reflected back on all the mistakes we made along the way and thought there had to be a way to combat these. Here are a few principles that can be applied in work and life to beat each extreme of settling for good enough or focusing through the pain until burnout.
Have a Master Plan
First, put together a master plan. It helps to know what sequence and finish lines look like. We did this at different points in our progress but didn’t do it consistently enough. On the front end, we put together a budget and ultimately a sequence of events. But in the daily grind of the work, I too often found myself just tackling the most convenient or easy option, or what just happened to be right in front of me. Sometimes it’s not bad to tackle what you feel like, as it can help keep you motivated, but too much of that leaves you feeling directionless which will lead to breaks and burnout. When you get to the end of a task and don’t know what’s next, it’s all too easy to stop and not start again.
With an intense project like a home renovation, starting a side hustle, or launching a new ministry, it can help to break your plan into phases so it doesn’t feel overwhelming. And give yourself permission to flex from the list when needed. But you can’t flex if you don’t have a plan to begin with. Which leads me to my next point.
Identify Stopping Points
Second, identify stopping and reflection points. These points are key to allow you to have a break to retool, but also to enjoy the progress you’ve made. Identifying breaks gives you time to take a breath and survey what you’ve completed. Maybe you had a plan, but the break helps you understand you need to revisit the plan and move some things around. Recently we were looking at our options in our utility room. We’d had a lot of plans and ideas, but a break helped us see the downside of these plans. While we’ve still not solved the problem, the break stopped us from making a potential mistake.
Breaks also allow you to enjoy your labor. While we’re not finished with our projects, our breaks have allowed us to celebrate and admire what we’ve been able to accomplish. It has also allowed us to bring others into the process and improve our final plans. Breaks and points of celebration also help stop you from burning out, which can lead to the work never getting completed.
Pay attention to your physical and mental responses
Last, pay attention to your physical and mental responses. If you’ve not reached a finish line you set out earlier, but can see yourself burning out, it’s okay to let off the gas. We are not robots and sometimes we over-extend ourselves. I’ve done this so much in our renovation process. As I’ve gotten further along, I’ve been more willing to take short breaks to avoid the long one that will come if I ignored my body’s response.
Every person responds differently to life’s challenges and projects, so there is no one right path for everyone. These are just a few ideas that have worked for us after four years of home renovation projects, and three of those years on our own house.
Now it’s your turn! I’d love to hear your ideas of how you stay motivated and organized on a long intense project.