Galvin and Associates

Why it’s so Hard to Complete Small Projects



Most of us have a bunch of small projects at work and at home that stubbornly cling to our list of projects. They sit there and won’t move. If they remain on the list more than a few months we may feel a twinge of guilt. After that, they tend to get stale and we struggle find the motivation to work on them.


As I write this, I’m looking up at a nail pop on my ceiling. I’ve been looking at it for seven years. It’s not that hard to fix. It’s a small project. I have all the tools I need in my basement. Sure, I’m busy, but it’s not a big project. Many of us can name a couple small projects like this that irritate us.


Why do big projects get done sooner than small projects? Why do we tend to have so many uncompleted small projects? Why is it so hard to complete small projects? Here are a number of possible reasons and solutions.


  1. We don’t write them down

I sometimes fail to add small projects to my projects list. Now I know why. Internally, I resist making the list any longer because it makes me feel like I’m going backwards. I want a shorter projects list not a longer one. Antidote: Capture small projects on your projects list.


  1. We bury them on our task list

I was frustrated with some tasks on my daily task list that kept sliding over to the next day for weeks at a time. I finally figured out that they were actually small projects and needed to be moved to my projects list. I had quite a few small projects buried in my task list. Antidote: Pry small projects off of your task list.


  1. We don’t review our projects list

Ideally, we should all review a projects list when we plan our week. I sometimes rush the process and skip the projects list because I don’t have enough time to work on anything that week. But I could identify a small project to work on. Antidote: Review your projects list weekly.


  1. We underestimate the steps

My small nail pop repair project will require a lot of steps and take more than one day as I wait for the wallboard compound to dry. As I get into it, I may want to touch up a few other walls around the house. With larger projects, I take the time to do some planning. With smaller projects, I try to do it all in my head and I don’t see all the steps. Antidote: Break it down and count the cost.


  1. We lack motivation

I have small projects on my list I don’t want to work on. I disciplined myself to write it down, but sometimes I can’t find the motivation to get started. If this happens to you, talk about your project with others. Ask for accountability or assistance. Antidote: Increase motivation with positive peer pressure.


  1. We have a key dependency

Sometimes I can’t start a small project because my wife is not around to confirm a detail, like color. Sometimes I can’t start because of the weather. Often, we have to wait until somebody else’s schedule is open. Antidote: Negotiate the help you need.


  1. We have other priorities

Sometimes small projects have to wait because other projects are more urgent or important. Many projects can safely be put off until next season or next year. I split my project list into active projects and inactive projects. They are still on my projects list but for various reasons I can let them hibernate for a while. Antidote: Start taking action now or move to inactive project status.


Small projects don’t have to remain trapped on your projects list. You can find the time to work on them and you can find the motivation. Simply use the same steps to plan a small project that you use to plan a larger project. Which antidote will be most useful for you?

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