What’s on your home project list for this year? Have you written down your goals, or are you blissfully anchored to the Land of Procrastination?
Projects require planning, time, resources, and a category in the household budget to cover expenses. Even with conscientious effort in these areas the project languishes without a start date. At some point we must quit the planning and start the doing.
A January tradition in our home is puzzle working. We spread out the pieces on the 4’x4’ custom puzzle board, pop an old black & white movie into the DVD player, add a bowl of crunchy chips or trail mix, and the mayhem begins.
I’m OK with a 500 piece puzzle, might even make it through a couple of them, but then my interest wanes, and I’m ready to move to something more conducive to a dreary winter day like napping. Imagine my angst when Shawn pulled out the family heirloom 2000 piece puzzle. It’s a reproduction of Thomas Kincade’s “Mountain Chapel”, and it’s more puzzle than I care to unravel.
I start a puzzle with a check of the finished dimensions to assure myself there will be ample room for the pieces and the snacks. Not Shawn. She dumps the pieces in a pile and dives in.
For the “Mountain Chapel”, when all the pieces are pounded into their interlocking positions, the puzzle is 34”x42.5”. That leaves little space for spreading out the mess, sorting pieces, and savoring a variety of tasty snacks.
I will confess that hours on that puzzle were turning me into a grouch as my conversational ability degraded to a simple and oft repeated phrase, “I hate this puzzle!” Progress was glacially slow, and with 1937 pieces left to mate I declared the puzzle the winner. I quit.
Each time I passed through the room the unfinished puzzle drew me with its siren song.
I’ve conquered complex projects before. To succeed I must get my mind around the challenge and switch to engineering mode. Good engineers ask questions, “Why do I dislike this puzzle? What makes resolution difficult? How could the assembly be streamlined? What would make the task more pleasant? What resources do I need to achieve the goal?” Engineers who have no desire to be promoted ask controversial questions like, “Why are we wasting time on this activity?” That explains much about my career.
My investigation turned up these issues:
- The working surface is too low for all but ommpa-loompa-sized humans.
- Improper lighting creates extreme eye strain.
- Too many raw materials piled on the work surface make locating parts impossible.
With the issues identified I set out to address each in turn. I relocated the puzzle board to a card table, adjusted table lamps, and installed comfortable chairs oriented for clear line of sight to the TV.
This puzzle will be completed.
Don’t fear the project. Take note of the steps you followed on a successful endeavor in the past. Mix in the lessons you’ve learned since, and push toward the finish line.
Define the project requirements
Establish the puzzle border first. Project boundaries help contain the effort. Who has not experienced a “Franken-project” that came to life, expanded outrageously, and squashed the village?
Identify and secure resources
The puzzle board atop the card table lifted the assembly line to a proper height. The table was easily oriented for better lighting and relaxing movie viewing. Abundant snacks in close proximity reduced worker down time.
Seating around the puzzle board is a limited and hotly contested commodity. Individual selections are not permanent as the “move your feet lose your seat” rule does apply.
Pick the low hanging fruit first
Shawn was quick to assemble the “Thomas Kincade” autograph—red letters on a dark background. Completing easy sections builds confidence and momentum. The first program software engineers implement is often code that echoes, “Hello, world!” Oh, the exhilaration when the compiler and linker work, all code bugs are eradicated, and the monitor displays that simple message of accomplishment.
The puzzle image has obvious objects that provide perspective for the remaining sections. Get those obvious parts done, and bask in the glow of advancement. Feel free to embellish these as major milestones in any status reporting.
Sort and reprioritize tasks
I removed all the white pieces (sky?) and the blue pieces (mountains?) from the work surface. That turned a 2000 piece puzzle into a 1000 piece puzzle. The reduction cleared space on the table for assembly and mitigated the sense of impending doom. Proper project planning includes frequent sorting and reprioritization to lubricate the bearings of progress.
Take sanity breaks
Project constipation happens. If movement has ceased, take a walk or order a pizza. Often the missing piece which stumped you for hours will magically appear when you restart.
Always consider the team
Switch positions with your coworker when she’s stalled on a section of puzzle. Help find the piece she needs, and she may return the favor. There’s no i in team, and there’s no comfortable way to sleep on the couch should you value the seat with the best view of the TV above the joy of puzzling. “Move your feet or you won’t sleep” does apply.
Don’t give up. Keep pushing. How does one work a 2000 piece puzzle? One…piece…at…a…time.
We did it. Don’t fear the project. Break it into smaller parts, and follow simple steps. You can do it.