10 Tips on How to Make Time to Work on Your Sailboat

One of the biggest challenges that I read about in the many emails that I receive from subscribers is finding time to work on their sailboats. We all live busy, modern lives and as much as we would like to spend more time restoring and improving our sailboats, there never seems to be enough time.

We procrastinate, hoping for a better time when circumstances will be more favorable. More often than not, we simply never get around to it.

We can even begin to feel guilty or discouraged about working our sailboat, to the point where we make excuses to not work on it. What once was a joy can become a chore and a burden. We might even stop sailing as much because something needs fixed. From there, emotional gravity can pull us down to the final step, selling the boat to be rid of the burden.

I used to be a huge procrastinator. If something needed to be done but I could come up with a reason to not do it until later, that was good enough for me. There a lots of problems with procrastination but one of the biggest is that we can never achieve our really significant goals if we habitually put off regularly investing time in them. It’s also called the tyranny of the urgent — responding to the loudest noises around us instead of greater needs, always letting the squeaky wheel get the grease.

I’m not a master of time management yet but I have put some principles into practice in my life that have really helped me to use my time more wisely. As a consequence, I get a lot more done, I get more important things done, I’m more productive with my God-given talents and abilities, and I enjoy life more.

I’d like to share some of those principles with you in the hope that you too can get more out of life. These principles aren’t revolutionary secrets, they’re mostly common-sense and you might be living by some of them already. If you are, I hope you pick up a couple of new ones that you can use to fine tune your own time management. It’s never too early to renew our resolve to live a better life and I hope these encourage you to do just that. If these principles are news to you, then you have the most to gain by resolving with yourself to be a goal-reacher, not just a dreamer or a talker.

#1 Finding time is a myth

We hear it all the time, “I need to find time to ________.” How has that worked out for you? Don’t look for time, you won’t find any more. We each have the same amount of time in a day and we don’t accidentally lose time that we can find again someday. Instead, make time for what matters from what you already have.

#2 Set priorities

This is a tried and true tool used by all successful goal-reachers. Make a list of your priorities and abide by it. Write it down somewhere you will see it often to remind you. If you’re left-brained, you’re more logical-thinking and organized and you probably do something like this already. But maybe you only do it on a small scale like a daily to-do list. Do you have both short-term and long-term lists? If you’re right-brained, you’re more impulsive and imaginative and you might think that a priority list is constraining but it doesn’t have to be if you see it as a set of actions that you GET to do instead of things that you HAVE to do — a whole collection of activities that you can throw your imagination at.

#3 Do the next right thing

Sometimes we can grow weary of plodding along toward a goal when the footwork isn’t rewarding and its hard to see the end of the tunnel. At other times, we can become so overwhelmed by the sheer size or complexity of our task that we succumb to the paralysis of analysis and we don’t know what to do next. In times like these, I’ve found it very helpful to ask myself, “What’s the next right thing?” and then I do that. No matter how small or insignificant it might seem, it often leads to the next thing, which leads to the next thing, and soon I’ve got my momentum and motivation going again. Chop the problem down to a more manageable size. You might only need to get your mind off the big, complicated problem long enough to see the small, simple solution right in front of you.

#4 Don’t put things ahead of people

However you put these principles to work, always put people first, starting with family. Don’t spend your precious time on things at the expense of your relationships. That might mean that you don’t get as much done on your sailboat as you would like, but it also means that the people who matter in your life won’t get short-changed by your ambitions. And don’t fool yourself by justifying it with the delusion that you’re doing it for them if it’s only your ambition. Remember, when your time comes to its end, you won’t be wishing that you had spent more time working on your sailboat. You’ll be wishing you had spent more time making memories with those you love. If you can combine the two, even better. To that end, make ways to include them in your projects. Delegate tasks that they’ll enjoy doing, that let them use their talents and abilities. And don’t just look for ways, make ways even if that means doing a project only so that you can include them in it.

#5 Know your limits

The limits of your abilities, your financial resources, and your available time. You don’t have to DIY everything to be a stingy sailor. The wise skipper is more interested in reaching the goal with quality and integrity than bragging that they did it ALL themselves. A case in point is the bottom paint job that I describe in What to Expect From a Professional Bottom Paint Job. Before the storm that led to that, I fully intended on stripping and painting the bottomsides of Summer Dance myself to save money. I knew it was going to be a time-consuming, filthy job but I was going to do it anyway. Maybe it was providence that our sailboat got so damaged that the insurance company paid to have the bottom repainted. If not for that, I would have pressed on to do it myself and we would have lost the rest of the season’s sailing and a lot more time. I can’t claim that I did it myself (although I did supervise and learned a few things) but I’m more grateful for the time we spent sailing instead. It would have been a good decision to let the shop do it regardless.

#6 Work smarter, not harder

It can be tempting at times, when your to-do list has grown instead of shrunken, to just set aside a block of time to get as much of it done as you can. To just dive in and plow ahead with the hope of getting caught up. I don’t know about you, but when I do that I usually wind up with a couple of small projects finished but several others partly finished because I didn’t get organized before I started. Marathon work weekends are great if you are prepared. If not, they can become chaos.

It’s best to plan ahead, think through all the steps of each project to be sure you have the tools, materials, and supplies that you’re going to need to do the project right, and then finish the job. I also find that it helps to make sketches of what I’m going to do. It forces me to think about every part and connection. More than once, I’ve discovered that I had forgotten about a shackle, the right fasteners, or how something would work together with something else already in the same place or nearby.

I also like to order parts well ahead of time, not just in time. Not only does it avoid project delays due to late shipments, but it also gives me time to test the fit and function of parts before assembling them permanently on the sailboat. Few things are as frustrating as finding out at the last minute that some part is the wrong size.

It’s also wise to work on the right things at the right time. If you lay up your sailboat for the winter like we do here in the Pacific Northwest, you have plenty of time to work on just about everything. If not, pick the right season to do certain projects. For example, spring is a good time to do organization and storage projects that you’ll use all summer. Fall is a good time for outboard motor maintenance before you store it for the winter. The dry days of summer are a good time to wash your sails so that they can dry completely.

Also think about piggybacking projects together that are related. For example, if you will be rebedding the chain plate bolts, that is a good time to add a coat of varnish to the bulkheads that they connect to. Since you will already have them partially removed, why not go all the way instead of repeating the process at another time?

#7 Henry Ford was right

He was a pioneer in manufacturing efficiency and invented a production line that reduced the time it took to build a car from more than 12 hours to two hours and 30 minutes. You can maximize your productivity too to get the most out of the time that you do spend. If you have a series of steps to do multiple times, instead of doing each step in turn one series at a time, do the same step for all the series’ at the same time. You’ll save time by not switching back and forth between tasks and tools.

For example, if you’re installing new wiring, instead of completing each conductor one at a time, cut all the wires to length, then strip all the ends at the same time, crimp on all the terminals, apply all the heat shrink at the same time, make up all the connections, and finish with all the labeling. You’ll be finished faster and have more consistent results. The same principle applies to many other projects: sewing cushions, refinishing brightwork, rebedding hardware, and so on.

#8 Slow and steady wins

It might not always win the race but it can sometimes help you to win the prize of finishing a big project that seems to never end. When you get discouraged by seeing little visible progress and you don’t have much time to make a difference, ask yourself  “What can I do right now, however small, to make progress?” and then do that. Every step forward is progress, one less step you’ll have to take. Even if you can only spend 30 minutes twice a week refinishing your keel or sanding off bottom paint, by the end of the month you will have put in a half a day of work when you didn’t have four consecutive hours to spend. And that’s enough time to make a big dent in almost any project.

#9 Kill your TV

Perhaps the biggest time waster in our modern culture is the television. According to a recent Nielsen report, the average American watches more than five hours of live television every day. And you don’t have enough time to work on your sailboat? Seriously?

When our family moved into our current home over 23 years ago, we made a bold decision to not put the television in our living room where our family spends most of our time in the evenings. Instead, it went downstairs in a family room. That was one of the best things we’ve ever done for our family. We spent a lot more time interacting with one another, playing games, and everyone became avid readers, which translated into better grades in school for our daughter.

And we didn’t miss a thing that was important; just the opposite. We did more of the important things before it was too late. Our television viewing was much more intentional and it still is. We only watch the quality programs that we want to see and then we turn it off and go do something else instead of mindlessly absorbing whatever the next program happens to be, not to mention the countless advertising messages.

The time that has been freed up lets us take on much more beneficial activities. This website is a case in point. It wouldn’t exist if I spent 5 hours watching TV every day.

At the end of your days, you probably won’t remember a single TV episode but you’ll wish you had more memories of time spent with your family on your sailboat. Turn off the TV, get the sailboat fixed up already, and go sailing with them!

#10 Trade time

You couldn’t buy more time even if you had Bill Gates’s money. You cannot borrow time from somebody else or from the future. If you can’t make more time in your busy schedule, maybe you can trade time. What else (golf, video games, other hobbies) would you be willing to sacrifice even for a limited time so that you can get your sailboat seaworthy? Try it for one month. Set some priorities (#2), get organized (#6), start in, and then keep doing the next right thing (#3). You might be surprised at what you can accomplish!


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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Graham Jones, Lake Texoma says:

    Excellent article! Should be on lifehacker.com also.

  2. bhawrysz says:

    I kept scrolling down but didn’t see you quit your job!? Attached is a picture of my Venus 22, I bought it last December, I probably could have sailed it this year as is but decided on some interior work to be completed instead. I do need a lifestyle change to get the project done. I enjoy your blog.

    1. Work and career – there is that too, huh. Not much we can do about that unless we’re workaholics. So no, haven’t quit my day job yet!

  3. Jerry Chopik - Toronto says:

    Good article. Great tips. Thanks. A couple of points reminded me of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. As I read along I was wondering if you would touch on TV… and you did!

    Three months ago I unplugged my TV over what in my opinion is constant mindless programming with non-stop shootings, stabbings, murders, rapes, kidnappings, beatings, torture, and the totally one-sided North American-biased fear-mongering news coverage.

    I’m certainly not the first person to get up, march over and yank that cord right out of the wall socket. And admittedly, unplugging the boob-tube has been coming for some time as I was never a big TV watcher to begin with. But I gotta say… THAT actually felt great. A little scary at first when I tossed the cord onto the floor, but in an odd way also instantly energizing as in “OOoooo-K! So now what?”

    After a week of mild withdrawal (slight unrest; some fidgeting) I found myself migrating to things I’ve been putting off for years because I thought “I just didn’t have the time”. Biggest example so far: Sailing!

    Always wanted to learn how to sail. And also to learn how to single-handle a large sailboat. So after a few months of researching locally-built boats (in lieu of TV watching), three weeks ago I dove in, bought a sailboat and began learning hands-on. [Gulp!] With the help of some YouTube videos I got underway and this past week I completed a number of single-handed dockings… pretty much crapping myself each time I was coming in to the dock, but hey… I got back in one piece and didn’t wipe out any of my neighbors! Only one sprained ankle, and not to worry, I’ll be able to buff out those hull scrapes during the off-season. I have a LONG way to go before I could consider myself anywhere near a competent sailor but I’m on my way!

    And the $700 per year I’m saving by not having a TV cable bill has been added to my annual sailing budget. Bonus!

    Looking forward to your next post.

    1. Good on ya for kicking the habit, Jerry. Best wishes mastering your sailboat!

  4. Luke says:

    Tip no. 11, don’t start Grad School in the middle of a full restoration.

    1. Hehe, now THAT’s ambition for you, folks!

  5. Curtis Townsend says:

    I really enjoyed this post. Thank you. I like to live life as a creator, and not a consumer. To be a consumer is to surf the web without a reason, watch too much TV, play video games, etc. To be a creator is to make memories with my wife and kids, refit my Catalina 22, remodel our house, etc. When I have a choice to make about what to spend my time on, I ask if the activity will cause me to create or to consume. This helps me make a wise decision. The problem still is that there is still so much that I want to create. These tips you posted will help with that area too.

    Thanks for your blog.

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