Making a summer project plan

We are in the midst of what I think of as The Dream Time.

Both Cane and I work in schools, so we are at the beginning of summer break. For some reason, the weeks between the end of school (in late mid-June) and the 4th of July always seem like not-real time. It feels like we have all the time in the world stretching ahead of us, and like we can do anything, because it will be this way for such a long, long time.

Once we pass the 4th, time speeds up and I’m acutely aware of the ticking clock, but right now all things feel possible.

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Proof that all things are possible: Our carrots are growing!

As we learned last summer, this can be dangerous. We can start way too many projects and end up frustrated and disappointed come late July when things don’t go as we thought they would during the dream weeks.

I found myself there last week, even though it is nowhere near the end of Dream Time.

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Cane got quite a bit done on our family room, but I didn’t do much more than snap a few pictures.

I was busy every day, and yet it felt like I was getting nothing done–nothing that I wanted to get done. I really wanted to do something–anything!–on one of our house projects, but I never seemed to get to any of them.

Cane and I kept talking about making a plan for our projects, but we never seemed to actually do it. I started fretting about having another summer like last year’s, in which Cane felt resentful because he was doing way more than his share of the project work, and I felt resentful because I was doing more than my share of the other kinds of work.

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The paint roller flung (yes, by me) in the midst of a melt-down last summer.

Looking at time differently

I decided to look at our time another way. Rather than thinking in terms of a list of projects to get done, I started thinking about categories of time. As I looked back at the week, I could see that we were using time for these things:

  • Household maintenance (laundry, groceries, cleaning, cooking)
  • Kid time (going to movies, going for ice cream, taking a walk)
  • Life maintenance (dental appointments, phone calls, filing paperwork)
  • Kid chores (this mostly means driving them places, and there’s a lot of that this summer)
  • Writing/social networking (here and for Purple Clover)
  • House projects (family room, deck, kitchen, garden, and more)
  • Couple time (kid-free, project-free, chore-free)
  • Exercise
  • Friendships/Socializing

No wonder I wasn’t getting to any projects! And personal leisure time wasn’t on the list at all–which probably has much to do with why I was feeling a bit cranky. I really want some time this summer to use these:

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This would be a great place to do some of the summer reading mentioned in our last post.

Setting intentions

I shared my list with Cane, and both of us could see that we have much more going on than we tend to think we do. For us, all those categories of activity are important. Some we enjoy much more than others, but we need to be spending time in all of them.

It was suddenly easy to see that there’s no way we can get done all the potential projects we’ve been talking about the past few months:

  • Finish the family room (paint the walls, built a desk, finish the shelving, figure out art)
  • Kitchen (paint the walls, build new table and benches)
  • Replace flooring in 3 upstairs bedrooms (tear out carpet, put in cork floors)
  • Deck (re-stain floor, paint rails)
  • Finish exterior paint job (two short walls)
  • Finish entryway (figure out stairs, paint door, finish painting rails)
  • Our bedroom (paint the walls, re-build the closet, new nightstands, new headboard)
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So, yeah: I did start tearing off wallpaper in the kitchen one night, even though we don’t have a clear plan.

This way of looking at time helped us come up with a list of project priorities:

1. Finish the family room. (It’s close to being done, and this room has a big impact on our family life.)

2. Stain the deck. (It’s necessary to preserve the wood.)

3. Get the exterior painted. (Also necessary for preservation.)

4. Kitchen projects. (Cane really wants to build the table/benches–post coming soon!–and I’ve wanted to paint the walls since we moved in. This one also impacts our family life.)

We might not get to #4, or we might not finish #4 this summer. The first 3 really need to be done, so they come first. I so badly want to replace the flooring in the bedrooms, but that project creates ripple projects in every room. I’ve had to let it go (for now).

Rather than trying to make some kind of complicated plan with charts and checklists and target dates, we’ve decided that we just want to be more mindful of how we’re spending our time.

We think we need to make general plans for a few days at a time, and to revisit our intentions for each day at the beginning of it. We think we’ll be doing well if we shoot for about 3 categories in any given day. More than 3 will probably have us feeling stressed. Fewer than 3 means we’ll probably start neglecting things we don’t want to neglect.

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This is what I woke up to in the kitchen Sunday morning. We need to acknowledge how much time it really does take to simply run the house, even without improvement projects.

How it looks in practice

I’m always up a few hours before anyone else, and that’s when I do most of my writing. That’s how Saturday started.

Then, Grace and I hit the gym in the late morning to walk on the treadmill and take a yoga/pilates class. (exercise and kid time)

Then we went to a picnic with Cane’s jiu jitsu community. (friendships/socializing)

At the end of the day Cane and I spent time doing some household maintenance (cleaning the kitchen and getting groceries) but we also spent a little bit of time hanging out with just the two of us in the backyard and later watching one of our favorite Netflix shows (couple time).

(I missed Freaks & Geeks back when it aired in ’99. I had toddlers then. We love this show set in 1980 as much for the period sets as for the way the creators nailed high school life then.)

As you can see, we had no project time at all on Saturday, so the plan for Sunday included some major project time:

We (mostly) painted the family room!

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But we also cleaned my car (life maintenance) and spent some time on housework.

We realized that many of our activities actually fit into two categories. I didn’t feel the need for any other exercise on Sunday, because painting the room involved a lot of that. Still, we think this will work best for us if we think of the primary category our activities fit into.

Why we like this approach

We like to be mindful/intentional, but we also like to allow room for spontaneity. A big part of UnDesign for us is letting things unfold. We think this approach to time will allow us to go in directions for the summer that we might not be able to foresee here in the midst of our June Dream Time.

However, we want to be a little less spontaneous than we’ve been in the past. When we just start doing things without thinking about how they fit into the larger picture of our life, it doesn’t go well.

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Grace still hasn’t really forgiven us for tearing up the stairs right before her party last year. Maybe because we still haven’t really finished them.

Seeing just how many demands there are on our time (even though we’re mostly off work) has been a huge reality check, especially when it comes to our home projects.

This is a little frustrating. We put off all kinds of big things during the school year, thinking that we’ll be able to do all of them when we have “the whole summer off.” Well, we don’t really have the whole summer off. We’ve got a writing deadline every Monday, and we’ve got at least one child here most of the time.

But that’s OK. It’s been good for us to see that although our daily activities are different during the summer, some truths remain regardless of the month:

  • We aren’t going to fix everything we’d like to fix all at once.
  • We’ve got plenty of time. Slow progress is still progress, and any progress is good.
  • Our house needs to serve our life–not the other way around.

And just to be clear:  We are aware of how fortunate we are to have so much time away from work every summer. In spite of being busy, there’s an ease to our days that we don’t get during the school year.

We need to remember that if we start feeling frustrated with our rate of progress, too.

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Yes, the barefoot DIYer was on duty again this weekend.

How about you?

Have any great summer project plans? How do you balance competing demands on your time? We’d love to hear how you make everything work for you.

And about the books: Let’s start with Susanka’s The Not So Big Life. My goal is to have it read by the end of July. Seems like that’s a more foundational book than the others. The different views of her work shared in the comments to the last post have me intrigued.

PS:  Sharing at The William Morris Project, our favorite place to share.