Progress is Progress… even if it’s only 5 minutes

posted by Andrea | 05/24/2018

progress

Today’s post is an updated version of a post I originally published almost exactly 4 years ago… however, it’s something I need to remind myself of almost every day of my life, so I figured a few of you might appreciate the “reminder” as well!! 

Last month, over Dave’s spring break, we did lots and lots of yard work (read more about it here). One of the projects we tackled during that week was raking the leaves and other debris out of ALL our planting beds.

It felt so great to have that large project crossed off our list so early in the spring, and our planting beds looked so nice and neat with all that junk out of the way. However, as we raked the leaves out, we noticed hundreds and thousands of tiny little green “nubs” poking through the leftover mulch.

After a closer inspection, we realized we had thousands and THOUSANDS of teeny tiny Maple trees sprouting in almost every square inch of all our planting beds!

Apparently this year (or maybe last year) had the perfect conditions for the little “helicopter seeds” to spread out and germinate — and I’m fairly confident most of them came directly to our yard searching for a nice comfy place to land.

All our neighbors have them, my parents and their neighbors have them, we see them everywhere when we go for walks, but seriously, after ALL the yard work we did last summer, this was definitely not what we wanted to see popping up first thing in the spring.

But never-the-less, we were faced with the task of pulling thousands of tiny maple trees from our lovely planting beds.

maple trees

To be perfectly honest, I was initially really upset because that’s pretty much the last thing we had time for.

I thought about spraying them all with Round Up, but so many of them were close to our new plants that I knew that wouldn’t be the solution. Plus, I’m not sure I’d like the look of thousands of dead maple trees anymore than thousands of living maples trees. 🙂

I also thought about just covering them up with more wood chips — but we were pretty sure they would just end up growing through the wood chips eventually (and we’d have to pull them at that point).

So, we just decided to start pulling them out… ONE…BY…ONE.

It was VERY overwhelming for me in the beginning.

Part of me wanted to wait until Dave and I had a whole afternoon to work on our little maple tree project. However, with little kids, it was hard (probably impossible) to find 30 minutes, let alone a whole afternoon.

Sometimes I would get a solid 30 minute chunk of time while kids were napping or playing contentedly outside. But many times, I only pulled for 5 minutes at a time… and that was it.

I’d pull for 5 minutes any time I got back from running an errand, Dave would pull for 10-15 minutes after he got home from school, I’d pull for 10 minutes after dinner, we’d pull for a few minutes after they went to bed (before we tackled everything else on our to-do lists).

Did we make a ton of progress in those individual 5-10 minute chunks of time?

ABSOLUTELY NOT! 

But we DID make progress. 

It took several days before we even saw any sort of noticeable progress — and it took a good 2+ weeks of heading out there multiple times each day (and doing more on the weekends) before we finally finished.

But we did finish!

Looking back, it was actually a really easy and “brainless” project. It took no skill or expertise to pull the tiny seedlings from the ground — in fact, Nora even “helped” me a few times. All I had to do was “bare down”, “buck up”, and actually decide to do it.

Our planting beds are maple-tree-free (for now) and we’re hoping that the massive amounts of Preen we spread will keep them relatively weed-free all summer long!

It wasn’t extremely enjoyable to pull all the seedlings, and it’s certainly NOT how I would have chosen to spend my time, but I’m so glad we’re finished and can enjoy our yard and all our hard work from last summer.

As I was bemoaning the fact that it was taking SO stinkin’ long to finish our maple tree project, I started thinking about the fact that this is EXACTLY how so many people feel about a large organizing project.

We don’t know where to start.

We are totally overwhelmed.

We don’t have the time to do it all at once.

We don’t think it pays to do it in tiny chunks of time.

We think it would be easier to simply purge all our stuff and start over from scratch (a.k.a. Round Up)

We might try to cover up the problem (not with wood chips, but maybe by shoving it in a storage bin or container) but that doesn’t really fix it.

We procrastinate.

We do nothing.

Sound familiar?

There are so many times in our lives when we are faced with a big, overwhelming project that we don’t have time for. Maybe it’s organizing a filing cabinet, cleaning out the garage, tackling your bins of baby clothing, sorting through years of photos and memorabilia, or finally digging to the very back of the refrigerator! 🙂

Yes, they seem like big projects up-front. Yes, it’s a lot easier to put them off until later. Yes, it’s easier to make excuses for why we’re too busy.

But the reality of the matter is…

We all have 5 minutes.

We can all get started.

We can all make progress.

We won’t ever have the satisfaction and instant gratification of those one-day TV makeovers, but with continual progress, we CAN all finish our overwhelming project!

What’s your overwhelming project right now?

UPDATE: I just wanted to show what that planting bed looks like now, 4 years later — not too bad! 

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56 comments

  1. Luba @ Healthy with Luba

    05/25/2018

    Andrea, wow, that certainly sounds like an overwhelming task.

    It reminds me of my week. I had tons of business work, housework, and helping others work to do. In spite of all that, I took some time here and there to do what needed to be done, and by the end of the week, it was a blessing to look back at all the progress. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    but it’s finished now — woo-hoo!
    glad you had a productive week as well!

    [Reply]

  2. Tracey

    05/24/2018

    Oh my gosh, Andrea! This post couldn’t have come at a better time!!

    First, I’m sorry for all the weeding you guys have had to do!

    Second, thank you for the inspiration and reminder that we don’t need big chunks of time to make progress…

    My wonderful Dad’s 80th birthday party is the end of June, and for months I’ve been wanting to go through photos (hundreds of old prints and 1000’s newer digital photos) to put together a slideshow. It is so overwhelming, as had been life recently, and I just keep putting it off. The dreamed-of “free day” is just that, a dream. Between work, family, etc, I just need to use little pockets of time here and there and at least get something done!!

    Photo work usually falls to the bottom of my to do list, even though it’s one of my most treasured things. That’s why I’m faced with this monumental project now.

    Baby steps……..

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh my — you get going on those photos — try to do 15 minutes tonight and see what you can accomplish!

    [Reply]

  3. Paulette

    05/24/2018

    The quote that always helps me: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Great post, Andrea!

    [Reply]

  4. Kristi

    05/24/2018

    Love this way of thinking. My home office has become a dumping ground over the last few months as I started a part time job outside of my home and just have not spent as much time in it. Just last night I told myself to just go in and move the things to donate from the office to the car. It took all of 10 minutes (I will drop off the donations today) and just with that one small thing it already looks better.

    On a totally different note, what did y’all use as edging for your beds. It looks high enough to keep the grass from spreading into the beds, but low enough that you could go along with a mower and not have to weedeat around it.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yay for purging some of the stuff in your office!

    as for our edging, yes, it’s exactly what you said — tall enough to prevent grass from getting in and mulch from getting out, but short enough to simply mow over. It’s professional-grade metal edging. It is a bit pricy, but worth it in my opinion!

    [Reply]

    Kristi Reply:

    I will have to check into that in our area. Thank!

    [Reply]

  5. Rebecca @ Unexpectedly Domestic

    05/24/2018

    I definitely needed this reminder, Andrea! Sometimes I can get SO overwhelmed about a big project that I forget to just get started, or that progress can be made even in tiny increments. Also, I can’t believe it’s been 4 years since the original post, because I definitely remember reading it then. Time sure flies! Thanks again for being the common sense voice we all need : )

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    you are not alone — getting started is almost always the most challenging part for people (myself included)

    [Reply]

  6. Candis Gannes

    05/24/2018

    Thank you for the reminder! My overwhelming projects are finishing my college degree in my thirties and a huge organizing project. Both projects I approach with the mind set that I need tons and tons of time available to get anything done of make a dent whether its homework or clearing a space in the room. Thanks for reminding me that I can make progress in both areas in small increments.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    well good for you Candis! And no, you probably won’t ever find huge chunks of time — so just keep plugging away in your “spare” time between everything else you do each day.

    [Reply]

  7. Kim

    05/24/2018

    Andrea, I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy your blog! It seems like the web is so full of fluff, but you give practical info 5 days a week. I’m in a different season than you, but I have my grandkids often, so I can even still use some of your little people info. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your talents and practical tips!

    [Reply]

    Paulette Reply:

    I completely agree, Ann! Practical and sensible. I love this blog and have been following her since 2011.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    thanks ladies!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much Kim!

    [Reply]

  8. Angela

    05/24/2018

    Weeding for a few minutes here and there every day is the story of my life! I have lots of flower beds and our acreage is in the middle of farm fields so there are weeds galore. Luckily I enjoy putzing in my flower beds (otherwise I wouldn’t have them.) Tell me more about Preen though…I’ve never used any weed control products. Do you need to keep it away from your plants or is it smart enough to only kill the weeds?

    [Reply]

    Ann Reply:

    It keeps SEEDS from germinating.
    So It is SAFE for ESTABLISHED PLANTS. Do not use Preen until AFTER your seeds have sprouted & are 2″ tall. I love it in my flower beds & if I remember right, you need to reapply it after 90 days.!

    [Reply]

    Ann Reply:

    I should’ve said until your flower seeds are 2″ tall. Of course, the goal is to PREVENT weed seeds from germinating at all.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, exactly!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh my word — you MUST buy Preen! All you do is sprinkle it throughout your planting beds (after you put mulch down – if you’re putting mulch down) and then wait! it prevents seeds from germinating, so you never get weeds! Of course, some will still pop through — but significantly less than if you didn’t use Preen. It’s amazing.
    Also, you’ll need to reapply every 90 days. They sell huge containers at Costco for a pretty good price!

    [Reply]

  9. Jennifer

    07/31/2014

    Andrea,

    This post really hit home for me! I work full time, am in school, have a husband and a daughter that will be starting her senior year in August, a mother with health issues and am battling new health issues of my own. To say I have”no time” is an understatement and I am feeling EXTREMELY overwhelmed by everything I have to do. This post gives me hope. THANK YOU!

    Jenn

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    WOW! Jennifer — it sounds like you have a lot on your plate right now!
    I’m sure you’ll need to let a few things slide and go undone just to save your sanity — but hopefully my 5-minute tip will motivate you to keep plugging along on the things you do need to get done!

    [Reply]

  10. Carol

    05/07/2014

    I needed to see this today. Our overwhelming project? We’ve sold our house and we’re moving! Even tho we aren’t packrats (anymore!) I still feel overwhelmed. In three weeks we have to have everything packed for the movers. You reminded me… how do you eat and elephant? One bite at a time! Thanks! 🙂

    [Reply]

  11. Laura

    05/07/2014

    We have these every year. We don’t lay down new mulch until helicopter season is over and they have all fell. We then rake off the top layer of old mulch that has a bazillion helicopters on them, after that we then lay down the new mulch. It saves me the pain and headache of seeing millions of tiny maple trees. This is just the beginning, then after about a week you still see some of the helicopters sprout and you have to hand pull them. Weed killer does NOT work. You must hand pull them, if you miss one (usually it happens where it buds up right where a bush or plant is) then you really have to pull it, they can take root when they are about 4-6 inches tall. I’ve had to dig them out because they were so well stuck in there! Every, single, year…ugh! We wait until the first week of June to spread mulch to try to make sure all of the helicopters have already fallen and we try to get them out of the beds the best we can. Oh, just the joy of trying to have pretty landscaping:) Hopefully you don’t have this every year like us. Do you have a maple tree that sheds helicopters? If so, you may be dealing with this for years.

    [Reply]

  12. Tania

    05/06/2014

    Hi Andrea, your garden is looking just so beautiful, you and Dave must be so proud, your planning and hardwork has paid off just brilliantly. I just love this post on progress. I am far from being the organised person I want to be, but I am working on it, and I tell myself often, any progress is better than none at all, and often do something while I am waiting for the kettle to boil, or pasta to cook and those sorts of things. 15 minute increments work really well for me too if I have a bit more time – and sometimes I will work at several things just 15 minutes at a time over the course of a day and always end up surprised at how much I get done. Progress is progress for any amount of time you spend doing something. Thanks for such a great post.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Tania! The landscaping really is coming along and we are happy with the progress so far.
    And yes, you’re right 15 minutes at a time really does add up!

    [Reply]

  13. JJ

    05/06/2014

    Love this! I have 7 bushes that needed pruned with shears. I have 2 kiddos under 18 months, and getting extra time to do almost anything can be challenging. I even got one bush 1/2 way pruned, while the rest looked crazy. I left it overnight, because that was how it had to be. The next day I did get that finished. I only have one more left! I’m nursing as I type. Ha!

    [Reply]

  14. Jen

    05/06/2014

    Thank you for this inspirational post. I was able to write four thank you cards for our wedding that just happened. It seems so overwhelming but I do feel better having a few more finished!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Oh that’s a good one Jen — those thank you notes can be SO overwhelming. Congrats on the recent marriage 🙂

    [Reply]

  15. JoDi

    05/06/2014

    Oh dear, that’s like my worst nightmare! I love yard work but HATE weeding with a passion! I think I would just cry if I walked outside and saw that. Love you analogy though! A little bit at a time really does make a difference. 🙂

    [Reply]

  16. Tara

    05/06/2014

    We (hopefully) just finished our large and overwhelming project…pulling up bushes at the end of the driveway, pulling up tarp that has been there since long before we moved in, and getting up/finding someone to take the millions of tiny rock/brick chips they had down. Then planting grass! It was also frustrating, back-breaking work. Your beds look much better!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Wow — that’s a lot! We’re just starting our yard work for the summer. Thankfully we both really enjoy doing yard work (and Nora loves being outside) so it’s just Simon we have to get “on board” yet!

    [Reply]

  17. Dana

    05/06/2014

    I have decided this is the summer that I will clear out the 30+ years of dead or cut tree branches that line the edge of the woods behind our farm house and burn them (unfortunately I can’t just burn them where they sit because the whole shelter-belt would be engulfed, and probably our house too!). We farm, so I have very little time to do yard projects besides cutting the grass, but it needs to get done and I am the only one who will do it! I figure a few hours a week will get a least a third of it done this summer…

    [Reply]

  18. Beatriz

    05/06/2014

    Right now I am concentrating on a little strip in my front yard where the mailbox is and I don’t want to do it. Am replacing the sort-a-grass with cobble stones and drought tolerant plants but it’s a lot of work 🙁

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh I LOVE cobble stones. They don’t go over well with our Michigan winters though 🙁 I’m sure it will look fabulous once you’re finished!

    [Reply]

  19. Katherine

    05/06/2014

    Organizing and getting digital pictures into albums. Barf.

    [Reply]

  20. Melanie Delude

    05/06/2014

    Right now, our big overwhelming project is the installation of a raised planting bed for our vegetable garden. We have drawn up the design, calculated materials cost, and now it just needs to get DONE! I am hoping I can convince hubby and kids to help work on it this weekend as my mother’s day gift 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    We’re actually hoping to do this too. We’re starting really small with just one 4’ish by 8’ish planting bead near our driveway. We have the supplies left over from another yard project last year, we just need to do it (hopefully soon). I think Nora will love being able to grow her own veggies 🙂

    [Reply]

  21. Jennifer Moore

    05/06/2014

    Amen to that post! 8) I am such a perfectionist, and so I find it very challenging to only work on something for five minutes at a time. I want to complete a task it from start to finish. Often times when I so focused on the task at hand, often other things get neglected. I know it frustrates my husband. And it makes way more work for me in the end. I really, really need to work away at things… Great post!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Jennifer. People don’t believe me, but MOST of my organizing clients from the past are “perfectionists”. People automatically assume that perfectionists have perfectly maintained homes — but often times, it’s the opposite. They spend so much time working on one tiny project (because it’s never good enough) that nothing else gets done.

    Based on what you said in your comment, I’m guessing you can relate 🙂

    You can do it, just keep telling yourself “progress not perfection”!

    [Reply]

  22. Lydia @ Five4FiveMeals

    05/06/2014

    So true! Five minutes. Five dollars. Five pounds. It’s all progress.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes Lydia — I never even thought to make the analogy to money or weight loss. Those are both great examples too!

    [Reply]

  23. Jen

    05/06/2014

    We have been invaded by the maple saplings as well! Thanks for the much needed reminder and motivation that five minutes is five minutes and it’s five minutes closer to being done with the project!

    [Reply]

  24. Jenni/Life from the Roof

    05/06/2014

    Oh my goodness, just this morning I was working on planting beans, corn, and squash in one area of our garden, and had to toss tons of those propeller seeds out. What you experienced was what I DON’T want to happen in our garden! Yesterday you could hear the rattling in the air and watch them all spinning their way into our garden. The irony of it is that we have none of those maple trees in our yard, but two in our adjacent neighbors. I don’t really like those trees – the root systems spread far and wide, but that’s just life with nature around you, I guess.

    Almost any project feels overwhelming right now. I am in my 3rd trimester (30 weeks pregnant), my husband is busy finishing up finals/law school and then will be studying for the bar, and I am homeschooling two of our three boys ages 6 and under. And did I mention that we have tons of family coming in in 9 days for my husband’s graduation, so our house (which is owned by his father) needs to be in tip-top shape for guests? I’m trying not to stress – I just made a list this morning of the things that need to be done, and am trying to work down the list. I also try to work according to energy levels – it is much cooler and I have more energy in the morning, so right now I’m trying to get my projects done then and give myself permission to rest a bit more in the afternoon/evening. And admittedly, I’m letting the kids watch more tv right now just to get things done. 🙂 I’m also trying to go to sleep earlier, knowing that I will kick myself later if I stayed up and sacrificed precious sleep for no good reason once the baby is here.

    [Reply]

  25. Verity

    05/06/2014

    I relate to this. It is so easy to do something when you can plan it, set aside the time, and have a whole chunk of time to deal with it. It is harder when you have to think outside the box.

    I had a 5 hour painting project that had been bugging me, but I have 4 children 4 and under and I did not want to get a babysitter to get the project done. Finally I bought some 50 cent brushes, and tried to spend 30 minutes on it during nap times each day. As soon as the first child got up, I’d simply throw the brush away and be ready to be with them.

    The project was done in two weeks. The small chunks add up.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Wow 4 kids under 4 and you still made time for painting. You rock!

    [Reply]

  26. Barb

    05/06/2014

    I need to tackle my filing cabinet and the backlog of paper I have from putting that project off. Thanks for the inspiration and motivation I needed to get going! 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yay for paper filing! I have tons of paper organizing posts on my blog too if you need a little more inspiration 🙂

    [Reply]

  27. Amy O

    05/06/2014

    What a good analogy, Andrea! I don’t have a million tiny maple saplings to pull up – but I do have plenty of other overwhelming projects that need to be tackled. You have inspired me once again.

    [Reply]

  28. Donna G

    05/06/2014

    I needed this post today. My rough spot is the ‘spare bedroom’. We put stuff there until we had a better place for it. I don’t like to go in there for very long at a time because 1) it’s overwhelming the amount of stuff in there! 2) I am overcome with memories and end up crying 3) I don’t know what to do with all of the stuff we have for the church 4) it’s hot in there for some reason 5) it’s easier to ignore it and hope it all goes away.

    Since my husband passed away in September, I have been forced way out of my comfort zone to make a LOT of decisions, one of which is getting closer: I don’t know whether I will stay here, in the house he worked so hard to provide for me, or in something smaller and more manageable. And whether I stay or whether I go, that room needs to be put in order. For my mental health I need to get things in order because I don’t function as well with disorder.

    When I get that done maybe I can manage to donate his clothes. But I’m really not ready for that yet.

    I do have working in that room for one hour on my to-do list. That means I will eventually get it done.

    [Reply]

    Katherine Reply:

    Donna, I’m really sorry to hear about your husband.

    I am sure you have been flooded with advice, so take this as helpful or throw it out– whatever suits. When my mom died, my dad was advised to hold off on any major decisions for one year. He cleaned up the house and donated things, but didn’t make any decisions about moving/job changes, anything for a year. I think that was a helpful “rule of thumb” for our whole family that first year.

    Again- so sorry about your loss. I can only imagine how difficult that would be.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    This sounds like a great rule of thumb Katherine. Thanks for sharing it here.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Sounds like you have a lot on your plate right now Donna. So sorry for your loss — I’m sure the grief makes your decision-making process feel even more overwhelming.

    I’m glad to year you’ve put a tangible goal (working on the room for one hour at a time) on your to-do list. Just give it time, it will be finished eventually and I’m sure it will look great!

    [Reply]

  29. Chris

    05/06/2014

    Will this be something you will have to do every year? 🙁

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    No Chris. This is our 3rd spring/summer here in this house and we’ve never had this problem before. It was just a crazy year last year and apparently perfect conditions for these maple seedlings to germinate.

    Hopefully not again for a long time!

    [Reply]