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Here's A Simple Way To Beat Big Intimidating Projects

(Images: Andrew P. Collins)
(Images: Andrew P. Collins)

Putting a project car together or keeping an old car running can get overwhelming. In the quest to restore my 1975 International Scout, it seems like every time I start something I end up half-starting 10 things and finishing nothing. So I’ve devised a simple system to stay focused and organized.

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It’s not rocket surgery, just a series of lists. But my new lists are special, streamlined, and they all have neat little piles of corresponding stuff that helps keep my mind and hands from wandering.

1: Make A Punchlist

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First, I break my big restoration into tiny tasks. Like building a new center console, or remaking my dashboard in wood, or installing a set of auxiliary fog lights. Easy, afternoon-able stuff.

Each task gets a scrap of paper with a title like: “CENTER CONSOLE PROJECT”.

On that paper, I write all the tools and supplies required to complete said project. In the case of the console that includes wood, wood stain, L-brackets, a hinge... I’m still filling on this one out, but you get the point.

2: Gather Gear

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Once I’ve mapped all the gear I’m going to need to get something done, I put the piece of paper and said supplies in a pile on my office floor.

This, obviously, happens after a whole bunch of runs to O’Reilly Auto Parts and Culver City Industrial Hardware and maybe the Home Depot if it’s not Sunday morning; God help you if you go to Home Depot on Sunday morning.

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The pile is key as it serves multiple purposes. For one thing, it minimizes the amount of trips I have to make from my office to my garage (it’s far). But the pile also precludes me from starting too many parallel projects (I only have so much floor space) and perhaps most importantly, it mitigates the intimidation factor of restoring the entire truck.

“Sure, there are a million things to do, but for now all I need to worry about is this little pile.” Do one pile a weekend and eventually the truck will be done. Right?

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3: Go To Town

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After everything’s organized, ideally on a Saturday morning, I’ll take stuff down to the garage or street parking spot I’ve secured and start attacking whatever it is I want to do.

If my list was good enough, I won’t have to slog all the way back to my tool chest a couple hundred steps away and everything will go nice and smooth. I would say “of course there’s usually another auto parts run involved” but honestly, since starting this specific list system, I’ve been pretty good at opening and closing work orders within a weekend with minimal side trips.

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That’s it! This simple system has helped me finish the first phase of my graphics kit, repaint my rear bumper and recover my sun visors so far. Next I hope to get those new headlights installed as soon as the yellow lens paint I ordered arrives.

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The military uses the phrase “mission creep” to describe that feeling of “while we’re changing the air filter, we might as well clean the throttle body,” and a few hours later you’re elbows-deep in your engine getting your intake manifold ported-and-polished.

The average DIY mechanic might not expand their objectives that rapidly, but anybody who likes to tinker will confirm that it’s very easy to get distracted when you’re messing around with a project car.

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My system basically boils down to “divide and conquer” and organize. Give it a shot on your next job! In the meantime, tell us how you prioritize such tasks.

Jalopnik Staffer from 2013 to 2020, now Editor-In-Chief at Car Bibles

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DISCUSSION

dmanbluesfreak
DMANbluesfreak

A piece of advice for anyone reading this article who also has a garage. Get a whiteboard. Buy one on craigslist for $10 or something.

Then take your “work order” as Andrew called it (I really like that, makes me feel like a real fabricator/mechanic) and transfer it to the dry erase board when you start a project. Then you can easily take notes and check off boxes without having to get your scrap paper back out and getting it all greasy/dirty/oily by the end of the project.