Thursday, May 5, 2011

Unfinished project Thursdays

I have a little problem. It’s the kind of thing that I should mention when a potential employer asks for my biggest weakness. Instead of pathetically trying to frame one of my strengths as a weakness, I should say this: I apparently have a complete and utter lack of follow-through. Yup.

Here are some of the projects that are currently hanging out waiting to be finished:

Nakashima-inspired table for the foyer. I have the design in my head. I have the walnut plywood. I have the big beautiful slab of natural-edge walnut for the top. I have removed the bark, filled the big knot in the wood, and sanded it to a fairly smooth but not-quite-smooth-enough finish. This has all been leaning up against a cabinet in the garage for more than a year.

Pillows for the living room. I have the pillow forms. I have the fabric. They have been sitting on the chair in my master bathroom for about 9 months.

Putting together John’s new-to-us desk. It’s in place, but not screwed together. It has been that way for about 6 months. Bonus though, because now we decided his new office will be in a different room, so we would have had to take it apart again anyway. Sometimes procrastination works in your favor. This is a bad lesson to learn.

The great shredding and filing project of 2010. Last year, I went through John’s filing cabinet and Rubbermaid filing bins and touched every single piece of paper in them. There was stuff from the 70’s. I found his ex-wife’s dissertation. I found dry cleaning receipts from the 1980’s that he has been carting around for three decades. Almost everything from 2003 and earlier was recycled or shredded. It was exhilarating. Nothing feels as good as shredding stuff and getting it out of your life forever. I made new file folders. I filed everything—new stuff in the filing cabinet, old stuff in the file boxes. And then haven’t filed a single piece of paper since. I also have not yet put the file boxes back in the garage. They have been living in the office, serving as a horizontal surface to pile crap on for probably about 6 months.

Kiddos’ bedding. I have the fabric and the measurements. I already made their duvets and pillowcases. I just need to make the bedskirts. The bedskirt fabric has been sitting on top of my jewelry armoire for about a year. I hope they don’t outgrow their toddler beds before I get around to it, because I was really hoping to get a great photo of their two fabulous coordinating beds when I finished.

My novel. Words written so far: 65,000. Words written in the past few months: 0.

This is not my to-do list I’m giving you. This is the list of things that are indefinitely stalled. The Nakashima table project originally stalled because winter hit (no, not this past winter, the winter before) and it got too cold to work on it outside. But it’s warm now. So any day... I’ll be out there sanding and cutting and ordering the mid-century turned wood legs... any day now...

Here’s the thing. I have loads of energy at the start of something new. Like *cough* this blog. It’s new, and shiny, and distracting. It’s a project. I love projects. I have been feeling the need for a new project, and this blog is less expensive than the runner up, which was guitar lessons. (No, I do not currently own a guitar.) But come on, wouldn’t it be cool to play the guitar? And wouldn’t that guest room look so much better with a headboard? And wouldn’t it be amazing to write a novel and get it published? And won’t that Nakashima table look fabulous in my foyer? And wouldn’t it be so f-ing cool if this blog eventually monetized or I got some awesome paid writing gig from it? Yeah, that stuff would all be super badass. You know what ingredient is missing from all of those plans? Follow-through.

I think I need to institute ”unfinished project Thursdays” or something. Once a week, I pick a project. ANY project. And make progress on it. Even a small amount. I remember at one point, my dissertation was a stalled project. One of my office-mates put up a sign in our office. It said, “What have you done TODAY to finish your dissertation?” Apparently I was not the only grad student capable of filling their entire day with e-mail, supervising research assistants, teaching, administrative minutiae, and screwing around on the internet. I have a PhD because of that sign. I wish I remembered which officemate put it up (Hey Saskia and Mikkel, if you’re reading this, please take credit if it was you. I owe you one slightly tarnished PhD. Luckily, you both already have one so you don’t need mine, because I don’t think they’re transferable.) Every day, because of that sign and its mercilessly mocking, I would spend 10 minutes doing one data analysis, or spend 30 minutes writing one paragraph. And then I would stop and go back to teaching undergrads or supervising Master’s students or going to symposium talks or screwing around on the internet. Because I could tell the sign, “Shut the hell up, you inanimate disposable object with the uncanny ability to fill me with self-loathing. I totally re-did that ANOVA with socio-economic status as a covariate. I can play minesweeper now if I want.” Now instead of minesweeper, it’s laundry. And instead of supervising students, it’s supervising three-year-olds. And instead of every day, it will just be one day a week. But things will eventually get finished if I do at least a little bit of work on them once a week.

Not Thursdays though, because that is preschool in the morning and ballet in the afternoon. Maybe Fridays. Tomorrow. Tomorrow is always a good day to start a new follow-through plan. Definitely tomorrow.


  1. Until I saw the last paragraph, I was going to ask which project you were working on today. Nice wrap-up to the post, but are you really going to work on a project tomorrow?!! Which one? Inspire the rest of us to crawl out of our slacker holes.

    I'm focused on undoing work procrastination this week, but since you posted this, I'm going to send a personal email I've been putting off for weeks because I don't think I'll like the response.

    I AM going to check back for your response!

  2. You forgot the digital albums for the babies. That one is on my list as well. :) Even if I finished mine now, I couldn't afford to get them published. I have wood 1/2 stripped and finished studio with outlets just hanging with wires. You are not alone. :) I like the idea of one day a week. We could post updates on here to cheer each other on. Oh, and there's the studio. :) We can make some progress on that this summer, too. :)

  3. C-Dub, not sure what I will do tomorrow, but I will do something! Maybe just putting the Rubbermaid filing bins in the garage. That will take approximately 2 minutes. Why has it taken 6 months? Unclear.

    Rebecca, yeah, right, the digital album. There's stalled and then there's just plain abandoned. If my novel is a car by the side of the road with a white T-shirt flapping out the window, the digital album is a rusted chassis in a field that has been stripped for parts and has some Virginia Creeper growing up over the top of it.

  4. You are my people, Pam. We should all band together and take over the world someday. Maybe when I'm done with one of my 3 novels stuck at 50,000 k.

  5. Rusted chassis. Heh. What's my rusted chassis?

    Rehanging all my photographs in the living room? Changing out the family photos in the loft so they include my nephew (who's 2 years old)? But I look so young in those photos!

    Maybe planting an herb garden so I'm no longer ripped off for $2 a bunch for three sprigs of thyme. But that would only count if I had the plants wilting in my garage, since technically it's not only an unfinished project but also an unstarted one.

    Oh, duh. It's remodeling my kitchen. Five years of talking about it and planning it and all I've managed to do is upgrade the appliances.

    I did send my email, though, which took all of 1 1/2 minutes.

    I used to subscribe to emails from Fly Lady (, who I found quite inspirational, although I never put any of her tips into action. You could apply her principles to anything - take a project, break it down into tasks, and spend 15 minutes (with a timer! no more than 15 minutes!) a day working on it. It's a great theory, no?

  6. I decided my one thing to do to complete a task lately is to just pick the next person I talk to who lost a job, is looking for a job or needs money and offer them some cash to help. My bookshelf has all the new books added in instead of sitting in front, the touch up paint got done, herb garden was planted.

    Now, I am looking for someone to help with the photos... but, I think my budget is not thanking me... and I don't have that sense of accomplishment - just a feeling of helping someone in need...