Write a to-do list for your project, even if it’s a bit depressing

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The door makes that oh-so-solid thunk upon closing, you turn the key, and the engine catches right away. You drop the transmission into reverse and start out of the garage, excited to enjoy your first drive after that big rebuild. Then you see it—the 20-foot-long oil slick following you out of the garage because you didn’t tighten that one fiddly bolt. It was a simple step in the process, and one you could have sworn you didn’t forget.

But you did.

You can wake up now. That was only a nightmare. At least, it will only be a nightmare if you track your projects accurately. A running to-do list may seem like a double-edged sword; organization is great, but a litany of tasks makes the finished product seem hopelessly far away. However, it’s a challenge worth embracing. Here are five ways that a to-do list can make your time in the garage even more rewarding—especially if you have multiple projects running at once.

Budget your time effectively

Some of us have to set aside chunks of time to make meaningful progress. If you know you will have 30 minutes one night this week, look down your list and find something you can reasonably accomplish in that time. Leaving the garage with a project finished is always better than walking away from a job undone; you remember where you left off, and you’ve avoided the frustration of working and feeling like nothing really got done.

Order parts once

Corvair to-do list
That little addition of “parts on shelf” will certainly save me from ordering the parts again. Kyle Smith

I happened to be organizing the shelves in my garage last weekend and discovered at least three instances in which I placed separate orders for the same parts. Returns aren’t so bad, but none of us want to spend project car money paying restocking fees—not to mention taking precious garage time to run to the post office.

Leave a note next to the tasks on your to-do list to make sure that you don’t order things twice unless you mean to. On the flip side, you’ll also be able to glance at your list and see which projects still require an online order or parts run; you can then order components for multiple, smaller projects simultaneously and spend your time more efficiently.

See your progress

Here’s that double-edged sword. Writing out the to-dos for a big project can quickly become discouraging as you grasp just how much work it’s going to take. Cut through that gloomy cloud by crossing tasks off on a regular basis. The car might not significantly change in appearance for months, but your list will steadily shrink. That small act of crossing things off will keep up your motivation when progress is tough to see.

Keep yourself honest

Model A to-do list
My Model A needs a lot more than this, but I’ll admit I had forgotten about the bad front spring shackle since I wrote it down last fall. Kyle Smith

“Oh, I just need a good solid weekend of time and that’ll be done and ready to go.”

You’ve said it, I’ve said it—we have all been there. It’s often a lie. We forget about some fiddly task that eats up an hour, another job that consumes 45 minutes, and all those 15-minute projects that pop out of nowhere. You’ll set more realistic expectations for yourself when you know exactly which jobs are left to do—not just the tasks you wish were left.

Help you sell

Corvair Project
Having a list of what is good and bad on a car like this can really help sell a buyer and help them understand what they are getting into. Kyle Smith

Maybe the project becomes too big for you, or you simply need cash to pivot to something else. Selling a project car will be significantly easier when you can confidently tell a prospective buyer: “I have done X, Y, and Z, but here is the list of things I know need to be done.” With that information, the buyer knows exactly what they’re getting into; a project might look like a mountain and actually be a molehill.

Making to-do list for a project is a small time investment that can keep you sane as you navigate the oily mess of a project car. Personally, I’ll do anything I can to have more fun and to avoid frustration. You’ll always experience both feelings, but why not minimize the worse one? Especially when it is so easy to do.

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