A Five-Step Process To Finally Make Progress On Procrastinated Personal Projects

Being strategic will help you get stuff done without getting overwhelmed.

A Five-Step Process To Finally Make Progress On Procrastinated Personal Projects
[Photo: Flickr user jessie essex]

My husband and I bought our home in Pennsylvania in April 2011. I liked a lot about the house, but not the pink metal flower chandeliers in the kitchen. We managed to get a few rooms redone before we moved in, but not the kitchen. Then I was in that kitchen almost every day for over four years, hating the lights, and never doing anything about it.


We’re all busy. When you work full time and have a lot going on in your personal life, too, it’s easy to skip anything that doesn’t have to happen. And yet many personal projects don’t take much time once you decide to take action. This past month, a contractor switched out my kitchen lights in less than an hour. The key? I finally got systematic about tackling nagging projects. Here’s how to make progress in your life too.

Step One: Make A List Of Everything You Hope To Get To “Someday”

I love productivity guru David Allen’s concept of the “Someday/Maybe” list. What projects would be nice to do at some point? You don’t need to hold yourself to anything on this list, so go ahead and get it all down. I’d like to get new furniture for the basement. I’d like to purge the garage of the boxes that never got unpacked when we moved. I’d like to have a dinner party. You don’t need to sit down and create this list in one fell swoop. Simply keep a list going on your phone or in a little notebook, and add to it whenever you have a few minutes. You’ll probably think of a lot of items during the first few days, but eventually the list will grow at a slower rate, which is good. A slow-growing list is a list that can eventually get shorter.

Step Two: Flag Things That Are Time Sensitive

Some items on your list have to happen by a certain point: ordering holiday cards, organizing your taxes. Look at your list and make a note next to these items. Then look at your calendar and assign the projects to the appropriate weekends before the deadline.

Step Three: Assign Yourself One Optional Project Each Weekend

After you’ve plotted out the projects that have to happen at certain times, assign yourself one other item off the list each weekend. Booking Thanksgiving travel is time sensitive; cleaning out the garage and bringing old sports equipment to Goodwill is not. Both could go on your to-do list for the same fall weekend. But this is key: Only assign yourself one optional project. Even if your list is long, life is long, too. Pace yourself.

Step Four: Think About When It Might Happen

If you tend to have relaxed weekends, Saturday morning is a great time for projects. If you need to run errands, the stores are less busy than they will be later in the day. Your project may be done by lunch, and then the rest of the weekend is yours. If your weekends involve multiple children’s soccer games and birthday parties, then you’ll need a bit more strategy. Map out the 60 hours between that 6 p.m. Friday beer and 6 a.m. Monday alarm clock. When will fallow time happen? I made a long-delayed photo book recently while my kids watched Saturday morning cartoons.

Step Five: Don’t Get Carried Away

Obviously, if “buy a winter coat” is on your list for this weekend, but “buy a new pair of sunglasses” is coming up, and you see a great deal while you’re at the mall, you can knock off the additional item. But don’t set yourself up for failure. There is no point in putting things on your to-do list if you’re not going to do them. Indeed, it’s counterproductive, because then your to-do list becomes a source of stress, rather than giving you a sense of victory. The upside of putting just one optional project on your to-do list for each weekend is that when it’s done, it’s done. You don’t worry about what you should be doing every other minute, losing precious downtime as you wonder if you should tackle something else. This method ensures that there’s a time for all of these things, and now is not that time. You can watch TV or nap in the hammock, guilt-free.


About the author

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at