By Dawn Shuler
A couple of Decembers ago, we completely remodeled our office, including custom-building a cabinet to take the place of an unwieldy, blocky, and inefficient computer armoire. We knew it was a big project, and we tried to take into account everything we could, especially the needed downtime to tear apart the office and put it back together (with so many pieces of computer equipment and peripherals, no small thing).
There were times when I just wanted to give up. “It’s not so bad the way it is now… It will be easier to just leave it the way it is. Will this really help my business?”
Deep down, I truly knew I would be happier, more productive, more energetic if our environment was more supportive, beautiful, and efficient.
Here’s what I learned from this project, and what I have since applied to any big project I’ve decided to take on, in my personal life as well as my business.
1. Everything takes longer than you think. We thought we would have the cabinet stained and sealed by Christmas so we could use the enforced downtime around the holidays to tear apart the office. Well, Christmas in and of itself was a time-consuming season, and building something from scratch took much longer than we had anticipated. We didn’t even get to staining until the first weekend in January.
LESSON: Don’t be surprised when you don’t meet your initial project goals.
2. There is prep time involved before you can even take the first step. Before we could start building the cabinet, we needed to decide what would be housed in the cabinet, design it accordingly, buy materials, and then buy more materials we hadn’t even thought about. The actual building seemed to start around step 4, not step 2 as one might imagine.
LESSON: Think about everything you need in as much detail as you can.
3. Sometimes the unexpected comes along. Because staining and sealing is somewhat messy, we placed the cabinet in the carport and took advantage of an uncharacteristic 55-degree day in January. Well, later that night, huge winds came up and knocked the cabinet over. Repairs were now in order.
LESSON: After the initial shock of the unexpected wears off, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move forward.
4. Work expands to fill the space. Since we had to move everything out of the office anyway, it seemed perfect timing to repair the walls where the defunct heating system used to be. Easy-peasy… sand, paint with Kilz, paint with the wall color, and then install new baseboard and trim. Suddenly, the project got bigger.
LESSON: Just because something seems like a great idea and efficient, doesn’t necessarily make it so. Realize you’re adding to the project timeline and adjust accordingly.
5. You have to be flexible. We didn’t make our Christmas-New Year’s deadline, and there was no sense in beating ourselves up about it. We had to make do with what we had. We tried to do as much on the cabinet and office project during the first full work week in January, with the plan on finishing everything up by the following weekend. We had our new plan as well as an attitude of “We’ll readjust if need be.”
LESSON: The more flexible you can be, the more you’ll enjoy the project. Frustration will be minimized.
6. Plan as much as you can, but know at some point you have to take action. Plans are great… heck, you need them, especially if you’re designing and building furniture! But you could plan to death, trying to think of everything possible before starting. Just start (especially because of #7)…
LESSON: You have to actually start sometime!
7. Plans change; accept it. All sorts of things can make plans change. Unexpected variables (see #3), timelines that now need to stretch (see #1), and feature creep (see #4). If you can build margin and extra time into your original plan and timeline, be as generous as you can. And then when plans change, gracefully accept it, adjust, replan, and then go onto the next step.
LESSON: If you can, just multiply your original timeline by 1.5. That helps deal with any changes that might come up.
8. Don’t try to plan every single step. If you know every detail of what is involved in a project, you probably wouldn’t do it. Just the cabinet is a huge project, and if we had known all the steps – all the hours it would take – the sore arms from four hours of staining just one coat (out of three) – we might not have done it… Because when you “know” all the steps, you think it’s impossible. So, you just have to trust that you can do it, and take the first step, and then the next. And so on.
LESSON: Have faith that you will get this done!
“According to the laws of aerodynamics, the bumblebee can’t fly either, but the bumblebee doesn’t know anything about the laws of aerodynamics, so it goes ahead and flies anyway.” ~ Igor Sikorsky