Have you ever found yourself collapsing onto the couch on a Sunday night just wondering what happened to the weekend? Maybe you didn't make any progress on your basement finishing project and you're starting to wonder if it's even an achievable goal?
I'm with you, I've been there too. With three kids, activities and family obligations, every weekend is vital because you may only get 1 to 2 free per month. After twice going almost 3 weeks without any progress I decided something had to change if I was going to accomplish my goal.
So I dissected the past weekend, hour by hour, to see where I could have squeezed out some more time. It turned out that I could save a lot of time by making sure my available weekend hours were super productive. Here are my top seven tips, from that analysis, to help you make your basement finishing project, or any DIY project, a success.
Buy materials and tools during the week.
- If you're ordering a tool online then be sure to order it on Monday, or Tuesday at the latest, so it has time to get to your house before the weekend. If you've never used the tool before, practice using it on a weeknight. (check out the basement tools page before you buy a tool!)
- Go to the hardware store on Wednesday or Thursday during lunch or after work. If you must go on the weekend, try going later on a Friday night or really early Saturday morning. You'll avoid the crowds and you can get excellent customer service. It may sound a bit lame but I use to come home on Friday, hang out with the kids and help put them to bed and then head out to Home Depot around 9:30 or 10 at night.
Map out a timeline of the time you'll have.
Map out the hours for the upcoming Saturday and Sunday. Try to group things together so you can find a block of 1.5 to 3 hours to work on the basement. If you do this on a Wednesday or Thursday you may be able to shuffle things around. Setting up and cleaning up eats into your time, so go for fewer big blocks of time, like 3-4 hours, instead of small one hour chunks.
Read basement finishing books, instructions and manuals ahead of time.
If you're going to start the electrical stage that weekend, read the electrical books while you are sitting with the fam watching tv. Read them cover to cover a couple of times until the concepts sink in.
This way when you are down in the basement on Saturday morning your brain is already primed with that base knowledge and you just need the book for step by step instructions or reference. You can also read during your break at work, or listen to an audio podcast during your commute. (my podcast plans are under way, sign up for the newsletter to be the first to know when it goes live!)
Communicate your plan to your family and friends
- Be sure to tell your family that this weekend you are going to be working on the basement from "x am to x pm". This way if some new plans or distractions come up they will already know your status.
- If you use a shared calendar with your spouse (highly recommended!) put those blocks of time on the calendar. Label it something friendly like "Building a wonderful basement for YOU." Email your friends to let them know that Saturday afternoon is basement project time and any activities should be set for the morning or at night.
- It should also be pretty obvious to the people in your house that you're planning to work on the project over the weekend when you are bringing home basement supplies mid-week and reading manuals at night. (aka step 3)
The first few months of my basement finishing project were a bit... how do I put this delicately ... challenging?? Yes, we had a new baby and I love him with all my heart. But, I also had a new mitre saw, air compressor and nail gun. Guess who doesn't like the sound of framing at 7am in the morning, you guessed it, a mom with a newborn.
So I had to really think about when I was going to be framing, my work window shrunk to about 9am to 6pm, after which I had to stand down. If you're on the plumbing phase then you need to consider the fact that you may need to shut off all of the water to your house. Dinner time and bath time, not so good.
Rhythm work or Mind Work.
Consider whether the block of time when you'll be finishing your basement is going to be rhythm work or thought work (mind work). If you're going to spend 3 hours framing and you already know how to do it then it's probably not a big deal if your wife sends 2 kids down to the basement with you while you work.
But, if you're going to be doing electrical work for the first time ever, you may not want people talking to you or asking you questions while you're trying to stay mentally focused.
Expect the unexpected, then take a break.
I remember when I was learning to wire a 3 way light switches and just couldn't figure it out. I ran all this wire for about 2 hours and then hooked everything up and realized I had done it totally wrong. I wanted to break something right at that moment.
Instead I decided to take a break. I had planned on working 2 more hours but my head wasn't right - so Jenn and I went out to dinner instead. The next morning I re-read the chapter on wiring, clearly realized where I went wrong, and went back down and tackled it in under an hour.
There's an awesome side benefit to going through this type of project, which at first I didn't even realize I was gaining.
I found myself using these same time planning techniques at work. My days were much more productive because I was preparing for meetings and projects much more judicially. I became a better project manager because I saw mis-steps as learning opportunities and finally figured out how to focus on a project and see it through to completion.