How to Start Making Progress in Your Garden

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A garden traditionally has always meant quite a bit of work. How do we overcome the “I have so much to do and where do I start” syndrome? Are there ways to push away procrastination and start making progress?

Raised Beds
Raised Beds – finally built after procrastinating too long!

What Doesn’t Work (for me)

There are ways to try and get organized to get work done in your garden. Here are some I’ve tried and found that they don’t work for me.

Make new year’s resolutions

But we know people break them, sometimes only days or weeks into the new year. You really need to be disciplined to follow through on resolutions and make them stick all year through to make any kind of progress in your garden.

I find it especially hard to start any new year’s resolution in January in the Northern Hemisphere but especially garden related ones when the weather is not ideal (cold, rainy, snowy, cloudy) or you can’t do much because the ground is frozen. If you are in the Southern Hemisphere this might be easier although January is in the middle of your summer.

Make a long to do list on paper or in a notebook

I have a few lists written down in a small notebook. However it is daunting mainly because I can’t re-sort it and can’t easily find tasks based on criteria (e.g. something that doesn’t require purchases, something I can do in 15 minutes or less, etc.)

So what do I typically do? Add more to the list than I actually accomplish and can cross off! So the list grows and it is even more daunting.

Make a long list in the World’s Greatest Organizational App

That mobile or desktop app in my opinion does not yet exist. Most of the apps I have tried have not completely met my needs and I’ve abandoned them all.

The main issue with these apps is that you end up spending lots of time initially figuring out the app, setting up categories and then typing everything in. Hopefully you have the data backed up otherwise you could lose everything if you lose your device or need to reset it.


This means simply going out into the garden and do what you see needs to be done. This can be very overwhelming if there are lots of things that need attention. And you may end up not prioritizing the important things over the things that you feel like doing (more on that below).

Solutions to Start Making Progress

Here are some ideas that have worked for me.

Get outside as early as possible in the morning

Once you are outside doing some work, you should be able to work all morning and just stop for lunch (well and other breaks depending on how much coffee/tea you drank with breakfast). If you get outside too late, you end up having to stop for lunch after only an hour or so of work and not make much progress.

If you need some advice on how to rise earlier so that you have more time to garden, check out the Zen Habits post The Most Successful Techniques for Rising Early I’ve applied some of Leo’s techniques myself and they work well.

Sometimes if I realize I’m running late in the morning to get out into the garden I cut my losses, do something else and then head outside after lunch when I have those uninterrupted few hours.

Carve out some 15-minutes-here, 20-minutes-there breaks

It is amazing what you can get done in just 15 minutes before work, before dinner (if someone else is cooking) after dinner, while waiting on visitors or family members who may be late, etc.

Fifteen minutes every day of the year works out to over eleven 8-hour days of working in the garden! That’s a substantial amount of time. Add on another 5 or 10 minutes each day and you can see how much work you can get done.

Keep in mind though that you should factor in preparation time, especially in inclement weather where you need to dress to be warm, dry and not worry about getting your good clothes dirty. And remember to leave time to clean and maintain your tools!

Have things prepared ahead of time

Often you will find you can’t do a task because you don’t have something on hand – eg. potting soil, seeds, etc. or the lawnmower blades need sharpening. Know what tasks depend on other things and what don’t and keep a running shopping list and a running maintenance tasks list.

Keep a simple to-do list of specific tasks

Don’t write down “weed garden” because depending on the state of your garden it may take two full days. Instead write down “weed rose bed”, assuming your rose bed is not half of your yard! These types of micro-tasks that you can get done in a shorter period of time will give you a great sense of progress.

For larger projects use the same idea: write down the various steps that you need to accomplish first and keep those steps manageable. In my work I am a project manager and a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is crucial to the success of any project as it breaks down work into specific achievable tasks with start and end dates and resource allocations.

Try to avoid making any decisions about what to do more than once

This goes back to the list mentioned above: make your list in the order that you plan to do the tasks in and then try not to waver from that list.

Sometimes you really can’t blindly work from task to task as some tasks can’t be done if the weather is inclement but there are ways to accommodate for that – I use WP beside the task in my list for “Weather Permitting” and try to have then some alternative tasks that I do if I can’t work in the rain (using power tools for instance is usually not a good idea when it is raining!).

Don’t get caught spending tons of time researching how to do something

While the internet is a great resource (Google, YouTube, forums, etc) it can suck time away from actually doing tasks and making progress. Do a bit of research and then try some things out – if it doesn’t work then maybe some more research but if it works the first time you saved yourself some research time.

Try to focus on doing those tasks that save you time in the future

You want to pick the ones that have the most impact now. Some examples: weeding while the weeds are small and the soil is wet from spring rains or after irrigating, protecting crops from pests with row covers, seeding early so that seedlings have more time to grow strong before being transplanted out into the garden.

Procrastinate on these tasks and you usually will end up working harder, spending more money and having less success.


Hopefully that will give you some ideas of how you can get started in your garden.

Please share any techniques you use to get out into the garden and make some progress in the comments below. And Happy Gardening!

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