I ought to be able to do this myself

Liz Sumner Ease, Geek Tools, Motivation, Productivity Leave a Comment

Sometimes I get great satisfaction from figuring out how to do things myself. I once spent a ridiculous amount of time turning an old router into a wireless bridge to boost the signal upstairs. It worked! I also tried to teach myself programming so that I could build an app I had an idea for. (I’ve actually done this– unsuccessfully– several times).

Most of the time it’s because I’m unwilling to spend the money to go to an expert. Time? Yes. Dollars, no.

Some things I know better than to try myself. I don’t cut my own hair. I don’t fix my own car or appliances. I’m pretty good at basic plumbing, but don’t attempt other home repair.

I admire the heck out of my client, Jean, who describes how she spackles and seals and shims and sands her walls in preparation for painting. I’d make such a mess of that.

And I’m amazed by my friend, Tom, who regularly calls in experts to regrade his driveway or install a new exterior lamp or upgrade his water filtration system because he believes in proper upkeep. I tend to let things go if they aren’t an emergency. Tom has a very low tolerance for things not working as they should.

Here’s my rule of thumb for when to ignore a problem, when to attempt a do-it-yourself fix, and when to ask for help:


When there’s little or no pain or inconvenience and time won’t make it worse.


When you’re willing to trade your time, and peace of mind, for a sense of satisfaction and possible money savings. And when the quality of the result isn’t the top priority.


When you’re dissatisfied with current reality and don’t see it changing without intervention. When you don’t see viable solutions on your own.

Here is an illustration of what I mean.

In our house in New Hampshire we had a mysterious leak in the kitchen ceiling. It dripped and stained. After attempting a few fixes with silicone sealant we had a plumber in to try to figure out the cause. In the process of investigating he had to make a small hole in the ceiling, which we patched. It wasn’t gorgeous but it was good enough.

That winter the pipes froze and the subsequent repairs tore a gigantic, hideous hole in the ceiling. We couldn’t ignore it so we had it professionally dry-walled. Good as new.

Then the damn mysterious leak started again and they had to tear out the newly repaired  ceiling. Aaack.

So even though it’s nearly as ugly as it was before my husband and I ignored it because a) we aren’t house proud and b) we aren’t living there. So it’s back in the IGNORE category.  Soon, however, we will ASK FOR HELP and get the builders back to replace the same piece of sheetrock. It’s more urgent now because we want to rent the house and it needs to be a high quality job to attract renters.

For tangible things like home repair it’s fairly easy to recognize one’s limitations. Even though the incredible internet gives instructions for just about anything you’d want to know you’re not always going to be successful at following them.

Intangibles like Success and Happiness are harder break down into steps (though that doesn’t stop us from trying). David Allen has created an excellent methodology with Getting Things Done. That is my number one recommendation when you want to improve your productivity and do it yourself.

Sometimes a good instruction manual is all you need.

But if you’re not making progress on what you believe to be your most important goal; if you’re still dithering after multiple attempts to get clear and focused; if you think you can’t get started on your dream until you take one more training, then maybe it’s time to ask for help.

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