Email Answer: Finding The Motivation To Tackle DIY Projects

Q: Dear John (no it’s not a Dear John letter) and Sherry. I’m begging you (on bare knees in front of laptop now) to write a post that teaches the following: HOW… HOW, I beg you, do you find the motivation and… ENERGY to take on such things after work?! Or even a whole weekend cooped up in a bathroom? I BEG you, please, how do you get that mind-set to get things done?! And after work! It’s incomprehensible to me but I would love to be that person. If you bottle it, I’m buying ten. I know this isn’t a motivational/self-improvement blog but I think your attitude to get things done so consistently does have a place. Please? Purty please? Luv luv LUV your blog. -Anna in Sydney

A: We’re not going to lie. Fitting in our constant DIY undertakings is definitely is a challenge. We know all about being short on time (I’m usually tethered to the computer from 8am-8pm and John has a full time job downtown) so we do almost 100% of our projects on nights and weekends (and many of them over holidays as well). Sometimes it just comes down to making the decision to put off the fun stuff like going out to dinner and hanging out with friends in the name of crossing things off of our to-do list.

But of course, just like any strict diet that won’t work for the long haul, we’re all about rewarding ourselves with outings and vacays when we finally finish something that we’ve worked hard to accomplish. We’re just super passionate about our home, so we’re weird enough to think that painting or demo-ing sounds like a good time… but we know it’s not everyone’s idea of fun. And sometimes we dread projects like you wouldn’t believe but we tell ourselves that we have to do it sometime, so we might as well bang it out and then go out to dinner the next day to celebrate (instead of dragging it out and having it hang over our heads for months).

Working in these little “accomplishment rewards” can definitely keep things feeling more balanced and keep you feeling motivated- and of course you’ll be full of self-congratulatory pride for a job well done- so that also comes into play (once you paint one room you’ll feel so good it’ll be easier to embark on the next one than it was to pick up that paint brush the first time).

And sometimes setting a goal and working towards it is easier than you think- especially if there’s something oh so sweet waiting for you at the finish line. For example, declare that if you complete five things on your list you’ll treat yourself to a mini vacay in a nearby city for the weekend or that you’ll finally order that pretty Etsy print that you’ve been drooling over. I guess it’s sort of like doing anything else that takes time and effort (losing weight, studying for finals, etc)- it really takes drive and motivation to stay at it. So anything you can do to push yourselves forward and encourage each other along the way can really make all the difference.

We also have another idea for ya… maybe you should start a blog. We find that we’re motivated to do more and work harder just so we can share our results with people who are chomping at the bit for pics and details. Maybe that will help motivate you as well? Not that anyone really has “extra time to start a blog” when they’re working on their home, but we didn’t think we did either (two years ago when John started this whole thing I was completely uninterested) and just look at us now!

Or maybe you can find another way to motivate yourselves by sharing your progress- like creating a super easy Flickr album with before & after photos and sending the link to friends and family once a week to share your DIY hardships- and all the glory that comes with them once they’re blissfully completed. Even privately documenting your process just for yourself can be hugely motivating. For example, you can take “before” photos of your entire house and put them in an album with a blank sleeve after each one that’s just waiting for an “after” picture. It definitely won’t happen overnight, but as you slowly start adding after photos and seeing exactly how far you’ve come you’ll be amazed how empowering, motivating and rewarding it can be. Heck, we’d even call it downright addicting.

And a lot of times when you head into each project your attitude can make all the difference. Just like if you’re training for a big tennis match or going to a job interview, if your internal monologue is saying things like “I’m going to fail- this is going to be a disaster- I’m so bad at this stuff- this will take me forever…” then you’re probably setting yourself up to fall on your face from the get-go.

We like to go into each project in a positive and optimistic state of mind. Just the act of putting on some music, having full bellies, and generally embarking on our next home improvement adventure in a good mood can make all the difference. Of course we’ve also learned that having unrealistic expectations is the fastest way to never want to pick up a hammer or a paint brush again. So even when we take on a should-be-simple task, we never say things like “this should only take a second” or “we can totally bang this out before our dinner plans in an hour” because those assumptions can really amp up the stress of the situation and make any small ten minute snafu seem like a major disaster since you went in with such unrealistic ideas about how the process would go. Instead we like to set aside large blocks of time when we know we can really dive into something (again with full bellies and some good music playing to rally our spirits) and then we often find that we’re pleasantly surprised by how smoothly things can go (instead of expecting everything to be effortless and being disappointed when things don’t magically happen in a matter of seconds).

In short: you definitely have to put in the time to get things done, but don’t forget to reward yourself and document your achievements along the way. And having realistic expectations and going into each project with excitement instead of dread can really make all the difference! Plus tackling one room at a time or breaking projects down into nice little manageable “bite-sized tasks” can definitely take the fear out of something that seems way too huge and ominous. Does anyone else have other secrets to staying motivated and keeping their to-do list in check without going crazy? Do tell.

Psst- Learn more about keeping your house sprucing projects more manageable by decorating in stages – and check out some of our biggest-bang-for-our-buck upgrades that were surprisingly simple to accomplish.


  1. Cassie says

    I really like this post. Mainly because motivation is the biggest DIY home-improvement roadblock for my husband and me. Also, we have trouble with coming up with an actual plan to act on. For instance, we know out guest room is not up to par with the rest of our house but just have no idea what to do with it. This blog has definitely given us a lot of inspiration. We love it!
    John and Sherry, will you keep up your blog and projects once the little lady arrives? Maybe she’ll have to learn to be a little helper. :-) And by the way, the nursery is darling! Love it!

  2. Stephanie says

    Loved loved this blog post. Thanks for the tips. I have to say that the first photo was really blinding though….so much so that I had a hard time reading / focusing on the text above it. Love you guys!

  3. says

    I’ve always wondered that about both of you – where you find the motivation to work on home improvement projects. But if this is what you love, and it is what your jobs are about, and you have an audience following your projects, then it’s such a productive and effective way to merge work+play and therefore to stay excited! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Matt says

    Guys, thanks so much for this. My wife and I have a lot of things we would like to accomplish on our house as well, but we find lack of time and motivation to be the keys to failure. We are both bloggers already, so it could be an opportunity to document – but I think the self rewards could be the best advice yet!

  5. Jen Z. says

    great advise Sherry! I make a To-Do-List, but I also break that to-do-list down to the actual project list. So when we were doing our Family Room (which was a huge project for us), I broke it out into the supplies we need and then another list of the actual product. Step by step in order of what we needed to do first before we could do other things. We would only work on this project on weekends, so on Friday night or early Saturday morning we would sit down and talk about the next thing we had to do and how much we thought we might be able to do on Saturday and then on Sunday. Of course checking off each small task as they are done makes you feel great. For me, taking before and after pics and posting them always made me feel good. I also love to shop ;-), so when I saw a sale and it was something I knew would go well in the room, I would buy it. This process saved me a lot of time and heart ache in the end. Once the room was done, we were able to put up all the decor and buy the furniture that we couldn’t buy until we were done. In the end when our families came over and saw what a great job we did, it felt so great to hear their compliments.

    And whipping up a “mood board” of your own or having YHL do one for you is always a great way to start a project. It helps me every time we start a project. That is how I get motivated to do a project in the first place. ;-)

  6. says

    I totally agree with your suggestion to start a blog! The community of housebloggers is SO ENCOURAGING! Everyone cheers each other on and offers suggestions and tips. It’s like having an extra extended family of people who are doing the same thing you are. The hubs and I felt like we were the only young couple spending all of our nights and weekends covered in plaster dust and up at 1am re-plumbing, but once we got into blog land we discovered there are so many others doing the same thing. It’s inspiring!

  7. Lori says

    I think your advice to “Anna in Sydney” is spot-on. Great job with ALL your DIY projects and the positive outlook to get them all done!

  8. says

    It is definitely hard to work after your real job, especially after a long day of dealing with teenagers (which is usually a lot of fun, but some days are … not as fun)… But what helps us a lot is this:

    We pop in a tv show on DVD, such as Friends, Ugly Betty, or The Office and then agree on how much work we have to do before we can reward ourselves with a show. Like, for example, when we painted our guest bedroom – we taped down the room (which takes forever), watched a show, painted the walls, watched a show, did the ceiling, watched a show, and so on. Of course this would be good for a weekend day but it works in smaller doses after work.

    Hope this helps some of your readers! Those who love tv, that is.

  9. Hannah says

    Talk about the right post at the right time. I just want to tell you guys that you are so inspirational. My husband and I are touring homes right now, and I have to say that I recall the advice that you’ve generously shared on every tour. I remember that I can change cosmetics, and I try to look past the eyesores and try to picture the home that I can create. It has been a complete blessing to find your blog. It brings us hope that we can have the home that we dream about, and we don’t have to be millionaires! And it reminds us to not try to rush through the process, but to enjoy the ride. Thank you soooo much! :)

  10. sonya says

    Everything you say is SO true. Thank you for the inspiration! I’m going to try the “reward yourself” concept for getting things done – what a great motivator. I tend to punish myself mentally when I don’t do enough!

  11. amelia says

    great post! definitely finding motivation is the hardest part of any DIY project. I find that once you just take that leap and start “doing” it just gets the ball rolling. Most of the time projects seem to big to handle or you think they require too much energy, but everytime my husband and I finally say,okay, lets just do this, the project always ends up being fun, fast and turns out great! Plus you feel a great sense of accomplishment when you can show your friends & family what you’ve done. Thanks John and Sherry for being an inspiration and a motivator as well!

  12. says

    Thank you so much for sharing this. My husband and I also have a major fixer upper and I get so unmotivated when I look around and EVERYTHING has something that needs to be done. I think the rewarding yourself and recording your accomplishments can help. I have a blog too where I talk about some things, but I think that I could kick it up a notch. Now it’s just about getting my husband motivated too. lol (and no he’s not a blog person like John, he’s not really an internet person at all really). Thank you for sharing!

  13. says

    I couldn’t agree more! My husband and I are making updates to our own home, we’ve been their for 5 months and I believe we are really making head-way! We did create a blog and our blog does get us motivated to do things. I am a planner so I still have to make lists of things to do for the month and hope it gets done. What kind of camera do you use? My pictures never seem to look great. Anyways, You guys really inspire me and I am so happy that I found your blog! Keep it up!

  14. says

    I agree on the tip about starting a blog. Even if only a few people read it. There’s just something that keeps you going, knowing that someone out there is waiting to see your finished project. Right now I’m working on redoing my sons room, and I can promise you I would have put it off for much longer if I didn’t have a blog.
    Thanks for all the great tips!

  15. Adriana says

    You are both SUCH an inspiration. I follow your blog everyday and always look forward to new posts. Thanks for sharing all your ideas and motivation!!