Start the New Year by Freeing Yourself of UFO Guilt

by Colette Herrin

A conversation with my friend Jane about why we were stuck in neutral when it came to our creative process made us realize that we both had incredible guilt about the UFOs in our studios.  Both of us experienced a heavy feeling whenever we walked into our studios.  It was a feeling of things being just barely under control.  I had the feeling that any minute my studio might explode and I would be found days later in the middle of it all.  We knew we had to unload this burden in order to become productive again.

First step: We had to find out what we were dealing with.  Jane cleaned out her studio and found over 100 UFOs; I counted 72 in my studio! No wonder we felt stuck.  Jane went to work and devised this wonderful system.

The system uses two sets of numbers to evaluate each project. Adding the 2 numbers together will provide the final number. It works like this:

The first set of numbers represents the amount of time a project will take to finish.

1 = <2 hrs (less than 2 hrs)
2 = ½ day
3 = 1 day
4 = <week (less than a week)
5 = week or more

The second set of numbers represents the level of need or importance you place on the project:

10 = need immediately
20 = need soon
30 = need sometime
40 = want to do it
50 = can let go of this, but not right now

One of my projects is a green silk purse. I estimate that it will take me two hours to finish this purse and I really need it now.  So the final number assigned to this UFO is 12:  2 for time it will take to finish + 10 for the level of need.

NOTE:  If there is no date-sensitive need (birthday or other special occasion), then the project is a 40 or a 50.

Now to get organized. Place each UFO in a clear bag that has a tag or label inside (I use 3” sticky notes).  I number each project by the year — 1401, 1402, 1403, etc  — and the final number from the above-explained system.  This number is circled. As the bags are sealed closed, the project is added to a master list. I have this list on a clipboard in my studio so I can easily access it. My list of projects looks like this:

Project # Description Time to Complete Level of Need Final tag number Date Completed
1401 Green Silk Purse 2 10 12
1402 Angel Placemats 3 50 53

Store projects by Level of Need Number.  I have plastic boxes marked “10 Projects”, “20 Projects”, and so on.

Now you are ready to put the system to work.  When you have some time before an appointment for instance, look through your list and find a project by number that will fit the time frame you happen to have available.  Let’s say I have 3.5 hours in the morning before I have to be somewhere.  I can do project #1401 – Green Silk Purse because I rated it as taking me 2-3 hours to finish.  The fact that I need it immediately also comes into play.  I can start this project and not worry about being able to stop in time to leave for my appointment.  I just set the timer and get to work.

When I am finished with a project I line through it on my list and write the date I completed it.  Once you finish your first project under this system  –  OH THE JOY!!!  You get excited and set goals for the week for how many projects you will complete.  I have been doing this since March of 2005 and have completed over 300 projects.  Everything from sewing on a button to making a quilt count.   Things like cleaning the refrigerator have been known to show up on my list also.

Note: As you are going through your UFOs and discover a project that you doubt you will ever finish disassemble the package, put the fabric in your stash and file instructions or patterns. Put a line through the project on the master list and “LET GO” in the date completed column. Just for fun, put a tick mark at the top of the list to indicate those projects that you let go of.  You will find that this system helps keep down the clutter in your studio, gives you a real sense of control and incredible satisfaction.

That’s the system! You can work with it easily at this point or you can take the system one step further. Here’s what I do:

Each project has its own index card.  At the top of the card in the left hand corner is the number of the project.  In the right hand corner at the top are the three numbers assigned during the “grading process” followed by the title of the project.  My index card would look like this:

#1401                                                                  2         10        12
                               Green Silk Purse

I can fan through my cards very quickly and find all of the “2s” for instance and work on them during my three-hour mornings.  Or I can fan through and look for “10s” so I can get the most urgent projects completed first.

After a project is completed, I update the master list then I record the completion date on the index card.  The index card goes into my file box behind the tab labeled “DONE”.  It is very encouraging to watch that “DONE” portion of the file grow as time goes by.

I take a picture of each completed project and file it electronically in “Things I Have Made”. This is an easy way to document all my projects and another source of satisfaction.

The burden is lifted, my spirit feels free and I am at peace to sit and sew with a real sense of excitement and expectation of good things to come. You can achieve this sense of well-being too. It really works. So, get busy and free yourself of UFO GUILT!

Special thanks to Jane Koura for her great idea and for sharing it with me.

4 thoughts on “Start the New Year by Freeing Yourself of UFO Guilt

  1. Very very organized and logical. I just wonder how you slot in spur-of-the-moment new projects. Sometimes that kind of energy is too good to postpone.

  2. That is a fabulous system. I like to blog about my completed projects; I’ve had a bad year for getting any projects done and my blog shows that because I’m not posting. But in the past I love to scroll through it and say “Hey, I forgot, I got that done!”.

  3. I just went through some and gave them to the guild. We have a quilt show every 2 years and we always have a silent auction consisting of donated items. Many of them will be kits, patterns, books, quilts, sewing machines etc. I gave them one project that I had begun as a block of the month at least 6 years ago. it was Eleanor Burns The underground railroad. I actually did two of them. Most of the blocks were finished and their were the kits for the rest. I also put the book in. Matching to The list above , it definitely was a 5-50. I never was going to do it. Hopefully someone will want it and it will provide the guild with extra money for bringing in teachers. Moving a yer ago helped clean out stuff too. sometimes I look at fabric I bought and all I can say is What was I thinking. that gets given away too.
    I have been selling books on amazon and have actually made some money. I do have a bin of the projects that are top on my to do list. I really don’t have a lot of UFO’s or “works in progress”,which is how I like to refer to them. I do have another small quilt Begun in a class. will have to think about that one.


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