Existential Friday Newsletter

v47: Taking on and breaking down big projects

Indian Rocks Beach Florida

Earlier this year I had some realizations and made some decisions. One of the things I realized is that there are projects I’ve wanted to do that I haven’t done. I’ve carried some of them around with me for years saying “someday I want to.” After years of doing that I realized that someday really means “not today.”

The problem with someday is that it’s undefined. When does someday happen and what if that time never comes?

One of the projects I’ve been carrying around is building a hollow core, wood stand up paddleboard. Even though I’ve done a reasonable amount of woodworking and other types of building, the project seems big and kinda scary. A SUP can’t be completed in a weekend (at least not by me) and it’s much larger (physically) than the largest thing I’ve ever built. I also knew that if I built the board, I’d need to build a paddle.

After some planning and self-rationalization, I decided that it made sense to build the paddle first. The paddle was well within my realm of competence and seems achievable.  It will also introduce some new techniques and materials like fiberglassing wood and marine epoxy.

Something strange happened when I made the decision to build the paddle first . . . I actually begin to execute on it. In fact, I’m now staring at a wooden form for bent lamination, a stack of cedar strips, and around $100 of marine epoxy. What’s interesting is that my biggest challenge in the process, time or the perceived availability of time, hasn’t sidetracked the project.

Big projects can be hard to carry through. They sound great up front and they’re awesome to talk about, but they feel very different after a few weeks or months of work. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have about 15 new ideas queued up before you even begin the project you want to start. If I was a dog, ideas would be my squirrels.

After a month of slow and steady progress I’ve started to wonder why this time has been different. The only thing I’ve been able to identify is some type of achievable, weekly commitment. For example, this week I’ll rip the board, next week I’ll build the jig, etc.

Breaking down big projects into little steps seems overly simplistic and intuitive, but following through can be surprisingly hard. It’s easy to put projects on hold because things get busy or something else comes up and then 3 weeks pass and you realize you’ve forgotten about the project.

What projects have you been thinking about for years that you haven’t started? Is there some way that you could you choose one, break it down into something smaller, and start moving forward?


I’ve been thinking about this article from Jessica Abel. She talks about paying yourself first with time and embracing creative projects.



Did you know that Green Eggs and Ham started with a bet?


If you like retro tech, you’ll probably want to check out this article on the original iPhone prototype.


Mike Rowe has some interesting perspectives. This video was shared with me a while back and it’s definitely worth a watch.


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