5 tips for a time-sensitive DIY job

Kyle Smith

The garage is a strange place. Some projects you tackle with all the time in the world, and others are on a deadline tighter than ten-year-old denim. Anyone that has rushed to wrap up a project understands the stress and frustration that accompanies a time crunch. That’s why I decided to share some tips from my latest experience in time-sensitive rebuilds.

The Six Ways to Sunday Honda XR250R was on the track at Gingerman last weekend and sprung an oil leak from the countershaft seal. That meant my plan of fun, back-to-back race weekends suddenly included a two-night, mid-week engine rebuild. Though I’ve been through this engine before, my familiarity with its innards wasn’t my main source of confidence; instead, my comfort stemmed from having been on deadline before with similar projects. Learn from my stressful clockwatching so you can tackle your next time-sensitive project with confidence. Here are five tips to make you a pro under pressure.

Have a plan

Honda XR250R gaskets
Start any urgent project with an inventory. Aquire anything missing now to make sure that, once you start working, you can keep working. Kyle Smith

When time is short, knowing exactly what you want to do—and, more importantly, what you don’t want to do—does much to keep you from wasting hours. Take a quick moment before grabbing tools to set your objectives and lay out how you are going to achieve them. Things certainly could change as the project progresses—that’s their nature—but if you have a plan laid out, you’ll have a much easier time adapting to surprises than if you simply tear into something, get derailed, and have to take a break to figure out what is going on.

Focus on organization

As the tools emerge and parts start to peel off, keep yourself organized. It’s tempting to lay bits and pieces willy-nilly on the floor or table as you remove them, but a “just put it somewhere” approach will only slow you down when you switch to reassembly and have to waste time searching through a parts pile. Not fun or efficient.

Spread out as much as you can. If you don’t have enough bench space, grab a piece of chalk and draw squares on the floor, labeling components in the order they came off. Taking the seconds to scribble and sort feels like a lifetime in the moment, but trying to find that one mount or spacer when you almost done is significantly more frustrating. I’ve been there, and I promise it is not a fun place.

Keep out distraction

crowd of friends with Model A
Welcoming a crowd into the garage can be a great time, but when on deadline it can be detrimental. Kyle Smith

We love a good garage gathering as much as anyone, but when you’re working on deadline, it is not time to have people over to hang out and bench race. An experienced helping hand can be nice and very welcome. However, you won’t have the bandwidth to teach as you go, or to supervise someone whom you don’t trust to do things exactly how you want them done. A plan is extra important should you have someone over to help. Be sure it is thought-out and clear.

It’s not just other people who could distract you in your own workspace. The large TV above my workbench is a thing of beauty and is often tuned into concerts or fun musical performances when I am wrenching on a project. This is not the case when time is tight. I’ll even switch to good jazz without vocals to keep myself from singing along and getting off on a mental tangent.

Write your list and cross things off

Your plan should include some milestones. “Rebuild engine” is a poor plan; one that includes steps such as “remove and inspect cylinder head” is better. This gives you guidance and also a feeling of accomplishment mid-project when you cross things off the to-do list. Embrace these moments, because they can recharge your mental batteries when your energy is getting drained by a large task. Breaking up a project into chunks also helps you time food or mental breaks to keep yourself fresh.

This list should also include specific data you know you will need. In the planning stages, take a minute to flip through the shop manual and jot down numbers like valve lash settings so that, when the time comes, you’ll have the information close at hand and won’t have to stop and hunt for it in the manual with greasy fingers.

Take the time for a final once-over

Honda XR250R engine
Kyle Smith

Tightening the last bolt feels great … but was that really the last bolt? In a flurry of work, it is extremely easy to skip the torque wrench or not run the proper pattern when tightening things down. When you think you are done, take a moment and go front to back—or top to bottom, or whatever makes sense for your task—and mentally put your mind to each part you touched while also physically checking that you did you job correctly. Nothing is worse than thrashing to get something done just to have it break again because of something you missed during a moment of autopilot assembly.

In a perfect world we would have all the time we need to get things done perfectly every time. The world isn’t perfect, though. Time marches on and deadlines exist whether we impose them on ourselves or are constrained by a past promise. My XR250R is back together, leak-free, and ready for the track not a minute too soon. With any luck, you will pull off your time-crunch project, too.

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