Helping you plan your home improvement project, from start to finish

Home Improvement Project Organization Tips

General Expertise
By on Dec 16, 2015
Home Improvement Project Organization Tips

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We've all done it. You're in a hurry to dig into a home improvement project, so you barrel off to the hardware store, home center, or lumberyard without first taking inventory of exactly what you need. Multiple trips later to the hardware store, home center, or lumberyard, the job is completed, but you're exhausted. The idea with the list that follows is that it forces you to think through every step of the job. In doing so, you'll be more likely to do the job efficiently. You'll eliminate unnecessary trips to the hardware store, or even to the toolshed or workshop.


Much like anything in life, preparation is key. The more you plan ahead, the smoother your project should be. Below are the steps you should take before every home remodeling project. 

  • Gather information, preferably from more than one source. 
  • Identify the processes involved (see list below). 
  • Identify tools needed. 
  • Make a sketch or a plan of the project. 
  • Prepare and protect the work area. 
  • Bring tools to the work area. 
  • Bring materials to the work area.


Every project needs tools and materials. Believe us, they make a world of a difference.

  • Make a list of all materials needed. 
  • Divide the list into what you have and what you need to buy.

From Start to Finish

No matter what type of project you are undertaking, there is a set of steps one must go through. While each step will largely depend on your project, most projects processes will have to go through the following steps: 

  • Carpentry 
  • Cleanup (dust and debris removal) 
  • Demolition
  • Drywall installation, taping, and finishing 
  • Earth moving
  • Electrical 
  • Finishing (staining, varnish, etc.) 
  • Flooring 
  • Masonry 
  • Metal fabrication (welding, brazing, riveting) 
  • Painting 
  • Plumbing 
  • Roofing 
  • Sheetmetal work 
  • Surface preparation (cleaning, grinding, sanding) 
  • Tile 
  • Woodworking

Example Project

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You want to install a wood post set in concrete by the edge of your driveway. The post will have a sign with your house’s number and your family’s name on it. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say that you already have had the sign made and the bracket it will hang from. Let’s also say that the concrete that the post will be set in will be flush to the ground, so there’s no need to build a form or be concerned about fancy concrete finishing.


  1. Gather information: If needed, look up how to install a post and concrete footing. 
  2. Identify the processes and their sequence: The job involves surface preparation, earth moving, carpentry (placing the post in the hole and bracing it), masonry, painting, and then carpentry once more (attaching the sign bracket to the post). Another option is to prepare the post and sign and install the completed assembly in the hole with the concrete around it. 
  3. Identify the materials needed: Post, bagged concrete, screws to attach the sign bracket to the post, sandpaper to smooth the post, primer and paint. 
  4. Identify tools for each process (below): 
  5. Carpentry: Square, pencil, saw, sawhorses, tape measure, safety glasses, extension cord, level (to plumb the post), drill, drill bits, screwdriver bits or screwdriver. 
  6. Cleanup: Brooms and shop vacuum. 
  7. Earth moving: Pick, prybar, shovel, wheelbarrow and rake. 
  8. Masonry: Wheelbarrow, water hose, hoe or shovel for mixing concrete and concrete finishing float. 
  9. Painting: Brush or roller, paint pot or roller tray, roller cover, paint stirring stick, rags and screwdriver to open paint can. 
  10. Surface preparation: Sandpaper, hand-sanding block or sander and dust mask. 
  11. Make a sketch or a plan of the project: Draw out the post and how far into the ground it goes. Determine the volume of concrete in its footing. 
  12. Prepare and protect the work area: Not much is needed here unless a shrub needs to be moved. 
  13. Bring tools to the work area: Get together your tools. Place them in the wheelbarrow. 
  14. Bring materials to the work area: Park the car or truck in a convenient location to unload the materials and bring them directly to the work area. 


  1. Post, sandpaper, primer, paint, screws, scrap lumber, and nails for bracing post in position, grass seed or grass-patch repair kit.

Processes (listed alphabetically; the sequence will depend on the job)


  1. Set up in garage. Prepare your tools and extension cord. 
  2. Measure post, mark it, and cut it to length. (Is that circular saw blade in good condition, or should you buy a new one?) 
  3. Mark the location of the sign on the post. 
  4. Drill pilot holes in the post for the sign bracket screws. 
  5. Attach bracket to post.

Cleanup (dust and debris removal)

  1. Sweep up sawdust and dispose of it or use a shop vacuum. 
  2. Clean concrete from wheelbarrow and tools. 
  3. Clean paint from tools. 
  4. Store leftover cans of paint. 
  5. Dispose of debris (rags, spent roller, paint cans). 
  6. Rock and soil have to go somewhere. Where?

Earth moving 

  1. Dig post hole to adequate depth. 
  2. Smooth soil around post before applying grass seed.


  1. Position garden hose. 
  2. Tear open concrete bags and mix concrete in wheelbarrow. 
  3. Position post in hole, brace it, plumb it, and place concrete around it. 
  4. Smooth concrete at base of post using the float.


  1. Open can of primer and stir. Pour into paint pot or tray. Apply to post. 
  2. Repeat with finish coat of paint. 

Surface Preparation 

  1. Sand post smooth with progressively finer sandpaper.
  2. There you have it. As you can see, an incredible number of processes have taken place to do this tiny little job. 

Copyright © Popular Mechanics 2001. Reprinted by permission. 

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