We all know those big-huge projects that somehow end up in our laps from time to time. They may be work-related projects our boss demands, or they can be goals we set for ourselves – like losing 15 pounds, finishing a degree, or writing our memoir. A recent one of mine was getting new gravel for the entire backyard – which involved 10,000 pounds of rocks.

The project seemed like a great idea at the start, since the backyard had balding areas and could use a color and texture boost. I merrily reviewed gravel colors and prices online, mapped out where the new rocks would go, and then ultimately headed to the Tucson location of Green Valley Decorative Rocks to finalize my order for delivery.

Delivery required a 5-ton minimum. No problem! I just made it 3 tons of gravel and 2 tons of river rock. “I’m so excited,” I kept telling the guy at the counter. “This is so exciting!”

The man looked at me somewhat oddly, as if it were weird to get excited about 5 tons of gravel getting dumped in the middle of your driveway. Now I know why.

At the project’s start, I was full of vim and vigor, diving in with unlimited gusto. Then the grim reality of the sheer scope of the project began to set in. Since giving up wasn’t an option if I ever wanted to use my driveway again, I instead tapped into a few tips and tricks that helped me achieve ultimate success.

Look at what’s done, not what’s left to do

After four full sessions of moving rocks, the pile out front didn’t seem any smaller at all. It was the same colossal mountain it had been hours before, as if the gravel had magically regenerated itself every time I hauled another load to the back.

Just my luck. Instead of getting a magically regenerating pile of vanilla-flavored coffee or money, I get a magically regenerating pile of rocks.

The trick here was NOT to focus on the 9,500 pounds of rock still left in the driveway, but the 500 pounds I had already moved. Since I had already started spreading the gravel around the backyard, I could refresh my enthusiasm by heading to the back to see how cool they looked – before I’d head back to the front for yet another load.

Keep your eye on the prize

Gazing at the finished areas in the back also helped me envision how glorious the entire backyard would look once the Great Gravel Project was complete. I gazed quite often to refuel my resolve. Every wheelbarrow load made me one step closer to the ultimate prize of brand new gravel gracing the entire backyard garden. Sigh.

Focus on what you’re learning

Every project teaches us something. The Great Gravel Project taught me:

  • Wheelbarrows like to topple over on their side when not properly balanced
  • Plastic buckets crack at the bottom when you stuff them full of river rocks
  • Years of weight lifting comes in handy for more than just cool-looking shoulders
  • Writing about back injury prevention the week before was the best assignment I could have had
  • Gravel dust tastes like a rotting coffin when it corrodes the back of your throat
  • My body can only take so much before it starts to tremble
  • Hire people for gravel projects

Turn it into a game

When I have trouble getting started with work projects, I often play the timer game. I set a timer for 30 minutes and go full throttle, seeing how much I can get done within that half-hour time period. Trying to go fast with gravel is begging for chaos and injuries. So I tried a few different games instead. 

Repetitive or monotonous tasks – like doing dishes, pulling weeds, or shoveling gravel – are particularly ideal for practicing mindfulness and meditation. One of my pals used to talk about making his “spiritual salads,” where he would pay acute attention to each and every move he made with each and every ingredient.

For the Great Gravel Project, I combined a counting game with a mindfulness game and a rock-hauling-boot-camp game. This made it more attractive and tolerable, although I still won’t call it fun.

The fun came at the end, when all 10,000 pounds of rock was no longer heaped in the driveway but was spread keenly about the yard. One last tip is to reward yourself for a job well done, and I get a reward every time I look at the yard. No more bald spots. No more ugly brown crap gravel. And 2 tons of river rock making quite a striking statement. Check out the mini-gallery at the bottom of the post.

No, I wouldn’t take on another gravel project. But there are sure to be other big projects down the road. Just treat them like a marathon, not a sprint, and you’ll have a much smoother ride on your way to the prize.

new gravel rynski yard

Want help with gravel projects? Please don’t call me for that – although I’d be delighted to help you reach your goals with life coaching.

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