The 20-minute projects that take much longer

tractor in field

As I was walking out the door, I could hear her ask … how long is this gonna take? Twenty minutes, I replied.

At that moment, I could practically feel her eyes roll. My daughter knew the routine all too well. She also knew that the rest of the afternoon was going to be consumed by my best efforts to solve a problem that she didn’t think needed to be fixed in the first place.

I remember admiring my dad when I was a kid. He could sit down and draw up plans to do just about anything. He was a project manager, so his job was to determine what went where and how much he needed for every single project. My dad was able to figure out how many nails and pieces of wood he needed to buy, to build a shed. I bet he couldn’t guess how many nails I bent in half and lost.

Honestly, I’m not that gifted, skilled, lucky or even capable of that kind of planning. My dad used to say that failure to plan was a plan to failure. I’m sure if he was alive, he would be over here trying to assist me in all my projects. He’d probably still be trying to convince me about how the early bird gets the worm.

To his dismay, I would explain that I thought of myself as a little higher on the food chain and wanted to give the bird a chance to gain some weight from those early worms. Then, at just the right moment, like a wild cat … I could pounce on a big ol’ fat bird. Despite his disapproval, I thought it was clever.

My dad’s planning skills were not an inheritable trait — either that or it skipped my generation or maybe just me. When I try to draw something out that I can envision in my head, it looks almost as bad as the finished project. Imagine a Picasso painting merged with ancient hieroglyphics … and that’s just my handwriting, detailing my bill of materials.

I’ve learned to just accept this about myself, and when you consider that it is probably the only flaw that I can personally admit to; well then, I’m doing pretty good.

Voicing her disapproval, my daughter began reciting an unabridged list of everything that was supposed to take only 20 minutes.

Then my oldest son, James, chimes in … yeah dad, remember the transmission fluid change on mom’s van. That was supposed to take 20 minutes and turned into two hours.

He says it like I wasn’t there. How could I forget? I just wanted to do some preventative maintenance on the van. The manual said that it was a sealed transmission. It also suggested taking it to the dealer for service. But, this guy on YouTube made it look so easy that I practically had to do it myself.

I usually spend the first 10 minutes of any project convincing myself that I can do it. I usually make some comments about how much money I can save while calculating the time I can invest in other areas of my life, since I’m not sitting idle at the car dealer.

Once I conjure up the confidence to begin the project, I spend 30 minutes or so running into town buying the necessary things. Usually, I only have to do this twice, but occasionally more trips are warranted.

I then take time to gather tools I think I need and carefully prepare to exhaust what little patience I have searching for the tools that some careless version of myself misplaced. It’s an exhausting process and my 20-minute projects usually consume entire afternoons and occasionally turn into days and weeks. After working for weeks to tune up my dad’s old tractor, it sits idle in the yard. I drove it so fast the uninsulated grounding wire shorted out on something and burned up the wiring harness.

And just like that … my plans for the summer were made!

Get our Top Stories in Your Inbox

Next step: Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.



We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.