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5 Steps to Planning SMART DIY Projects

Updated on December 24, 2015

I don’t know about you but more times than I can count I would have a ‘eureka’ moment that inspires a great DIY project! What is the first thing I do in this situation? That’s right, I jump right in. The artist sense tingles causing my hands and feet to develop minds of their own. And more times than I am willing to admit, the finished product (if I even make it that far) just can’t mirror the magnificence I imagined. I pride myself on learning from past experiences and I must admit it took a while before I could effectively plan out DIY projects that makes the project simple and easier to manage. The technique I use is SMART, which the mnemonic acronym meaning: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. It is a technique popular within the project management sect however, in 5 simple steps I will show you how to apply this to any and all of your DIY projects to help you stay on track and follow through to the end.

Allow me to set the scene: it’s the 635th time you pass by that western wall of your home or apartment and this time is different. It is unlike any of the previous 634 times. That wall, that taunting bare wall, sitting 15’ x 9’ saying nothing besides “I am wall”. But today is special. You will respond… with shelves! And shelves it shall be right after you get some wood and gather your tools. And this will cause many o’ projects to be half assed and unfinished. So you have decided that the bland wall is to be seasoned with some wooden shelves. Perhaps to house your shot glass collection from an era when bedtime meant 3am. Regardless of what your plans for the shelves are, without a doubt it will end up being a bookshelf for your wife or girlfriend. Nevertheless, here is an alternative to this amassing arms technique:

Step 1: S-pecific

  • What are the dimensions of the shelves, what is the optimal depth and width for the intended purpose (Or books)?
  • What is the design?
  • What materials do you plan on using? Have you worked with these materials before? If not do some research to ensure it behaves in the way you intend for it to.
  • How many shelves and in what positions on the wall will they finally sit?
  • What finish will it be? Does that color match or at least compliment the rest of the space?
  • Try to envision everything about the shelf on the wall. Drawing it helps a lot with putting things into perspective.

Step 2: M-easurable

  • The project must be measurable. I can’t stress this enough. List all of the materials and equipment you will need to acquire (less what you already possess/own) and note their prices.
  • Another factor I personally frequently neglect to measure is TIME. It’s not a dire situation if you don’t measure time. However, you put yourself in a bad situation that can cause you to lose motivation all while the project site looks like a warzone. Also consider the order in which you complete the various sections of the project because there may be sections that are dependent on others.

Step 3: A-ttainable

  • For those who watch entirely too much HGTV for your own good, this is for us! You should confirm your ability to complete the project before you start. Some common factors that can prevent the completion of your DIY Project includes:

- Your lack of tools, materials, space (Verified in Step 1)
- It is beyond your skill level
- Time available is not enough to complete the project (Step 2)

Step 4: R-elevant

  • - When your artist senses tingle it’s really difficult to stay grounded in reality. Here are a few tips to help you stay grounded:

    • Is the time and cost within normal parameters? Now, what do I mean by that? Do some price research on similar products/shelves. Does the cost far exceed the cost if you DIY it? If yes, something is definitely wrong and you should probably revisit step 1. Defining the goal by being specific will help to ensure future development stay relevant.

Step 5: T-ime Based

  • This is the planning step that catches most people off guard. The way we usually set completion time goals is to come right out and say it. I want to finish my shelves by Thanksgiving or Christmas or whatever. At this point we would have already had an approximate measure of time all parts of the project should take to complete. Let’s say that time is 20 hours in total (yes these are some great shelves), not everyone has the same amount to free time, or “disposable time” – if that’s even a legitimate term. Thus you should identify how much disposable time you have to allocate to these shelves and on which days. You can go a step further and allocate specific times or days to the different segments of your project, which will serve as mini goals and boost or at least maintain your enthusiasm for the project.


And just like that the project is all planned out. You are aware of everything, from the tools you'll need to a full list of materials. You also know the cost and time to completion, and whether or not you are even capable of completing it. And that's the magic of making SMART Plans for your DIY Projects.

Extra Tips!

  1. If you have multiple projects you would like to take on, run them all through these five steps and put them in a notebook or an Excel/Google spreadsheet. This will allow you to see the full picture and you can choose projects by completion time, by difficulty or by cost. That way you don’t end up hosting Thanksgiving and that eight foot dining table you were building over the past two weeks isn’t quite complete.
  2. Let it brew! Designing and planning on day one and starting on day two isn’t something I would advise unless you have to. Keep thinking about it, re-sketch it and picture it in use. You would be surprised at how many awesome tweaks you can discover given a little time.
  3. Tell people about your projects! I know you’re excited, you know you’re excited so why not share it? It gives a tremendous boost to your drive and enthusiasm when someone validates what you are doing is just awesome (You already know you’re awesome, it’s just to inform the masses :)
  4. Don’t be afraid to have fun with your projects. Involve your friends and family. Some may be more helpful than others. You could have the not-so-talented ones paint… or maybe not. Perhaps they can help drill pilot holes… hmm scratch that. Umm, every great project could use an audience… and lemonade! ;)

Check out the poll below, which Step do you have the most difficulty with?

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    • Keino C profile image

      Keino Chichester 2 years ago from Brooklyn, NY


      I have a lot of filled theoretical holes in my backyard but for every 5 or so I have a great finished project to show!

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      You have pretty much codified all of my project disorganization. Sometimes we fail because we didn't envision the outcome properly, then the wife makes us scrap it and fill in the hole in the backyard. Great hub!