The 90% Rule

by Katy on February 18, 2011 · 25 comments

My mother has a friend who shared with her a 90% rule that really resonated with me. I’m probably going to get it wrong, but it goes a little something like this:

The first 90% of a job is easy, it’s the last 10% that’s a real bugger.

Sure you made dinner, served dinner and cleaned up from dinner; but there’s still bits of dinner all over the floor that need to see the business side of the broom.

Yes you spent an entire month sanding, masking off and then painting your house; but the swatches of oversprayed paint will mock you for years to come. (This, sadly is a personal example.)

The post I wrote about last week onΒ Completing The Cycle dovetails nicely with this aphorism. When starting a task, it’s important to follow it through to the very end. I highly doubt I’m the only person who runs out of steam before a project is completed, although I’m always amazed by people who exist in a 100% capacity. (My next door neighbor Beau is a 100% guy, and I’m in constant astonished at his ability to follow through on his projects.) Frankly, I operate at 80% more often than not.

Does that last 10% (or 20%) of a project dog you? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Jude February 18, 2011 at 10:58 am

My husband is very handy around the house: he can fix anything. But he’s never learned to put tools away or shut doors or drawers. Isn’t that odd?


Anne Weber-Falk February 18, 2011 at 11:29 am

UGH! Does it ever! The last 10% of the kitchen, bath and bedroom redo is still not done. And do I want to have it finished? Yes. And do I feel like getting up right now to do it? No. Alas, maybe that final 10% will be done in the spring.


Jessica Wolk-Stanley February 18, 2011 at 11:32 am

I’ve been thinking a lot about this myself lately and have consciously been making the effort to follow through on tasks. What I’ve noticed is that in the beginning, the follow-through is more difficult, not just because I am trying to adopt a new habit, but also because there is detritus of failed “follow-thoughs,” cluttering our home. But I am starting to see and feel a difference. Unfortunately, I am also MUCH more aware of my DH’s unevolved attitude towards completing the cycle. Rather than nag (because we all know how well that works), I am trying to be a good example to my family, so they can grow accustomed to this New Normal. Then I’ll start nagging.


Grace February 18, 2011 at 11:35 am

I’m more like a 30% person. I am really really good at planning and starting things, but everything after that…


Su Madre February 18, 2011 at 11:47 am

You may append to this the well-known fact that the amount of time and energy expended THINKING about the uncompleted task (not to mention TALKING about it!) is usually much, much more than it would take to actually complete it!


whistplerpotpie February 21, 2011 at 9:54 pm



Katherine February 18, 2011 at 12:01 pm

I am totally with Su Madre– if I just jumped up and did what I was thinking about doing, it would be done in half the time. The 90% rule is certainly true for me.


Stephaie February 18, 2011 at 12:43 pm

We have been sitting on rickety folding chairs in the dining room for almost two month because after all that painful, intricate sanding, we just don’t seem to have the gumption to stain and finish the chairs!!


Bluefrog February 18, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Absolutely. I quilt, and every step except the last is fun. Picking a design, making templates, cutting, piecing, and quilting I will do without a murmur of complaint. It will take months, because I hand quilt, but that’s OK. Binding the edges is miserable work—all the good stuff is finished; the design came together the way I wanted it to, or I wouldn’t have gotten this far; I’ve been working a looooong time; and I still can’t use it until the binding’s on. Nothing but teeth-grinding determination gets it done. I do enjoy the finished product, though.


PigPennies February 18, 2011 at 5:01 pm

We over sprayed when painting the garage door – in 2008. We painted the entire two story house by ourselves, trim and all, and then never got around to the 4 brush strokes it would take to be 100% done. What is that?! And Jude, I have a contractor husband who can’t seem to close a cupboard door to save his life! The kitchen can be essentially clean, but it looks like a wreck because every door will be ajar. At least he (usually) shuts the fridge πŸ™‚


Crystal C February 18, 2011 at 8:03 pm

I can relate!!! My husband says I have a lot of quit in me!!! I always have 80% done no prob, but that last 20 % will haunt me for YEARS! For example my half torn down wallpaper border in the master bedroom. Has been in that state for 4+ years UGH! I wish I was like my sister in law putting my house on the market. That sure makes you get all the projects 100%!!!!!


Shannon B. February 18, 2011 at 8:35 pm

This is SO true for me, even on smaller “projects.” My kids leave for school Monday morning and I tackle the giant mess that was left over the weekend in the family room. I hit that 90% mark, almost everything’s put away and cleaned up, and I totally fizzle out. Then the little bits sit there the rest of the week until we hit the weekend…and then it starts all over again. I won’t even mention the areas of the yard that were heavily mulched last year and the one blank area with the bag of mulch still sitting there…


Christopher February 18, 2011 at 11:02 pm

“The Devil is in the details”.


Rachel Gillespie February 19, 2011 at 2:08 am

Yes!!! Thanks for sharing – glad to know I’m not the only one afflicted with this. πŸ™‚


Sara February 19, 2011 at 3:06 am

the key to performing a song well… a good beginning and a solid ending, you can do whatever you want in between cause 90% of people wont notice. Finish strong. I actually find myself being the opposite type of person a lot of the time. I often find myself finishing other peoples left over bits of projects. I really enjoy starting new ones too. Its the middle I have a hard time with.


Shannon February 19, 2011 at 4:29 am

I absolutely relate to this. I have many craft projects sitting in boxes or bags at 80-90% done. Reorganizing any room in my home gets 80-90% done. Simple chores like cleaning out the truck, picking up the bedrooms, putting the groceries away always seem to get stuck around 90%

The only place I consistently get things 100% done is at my job, and that is only because I need a paycheck. And it can take forever to complete the last 10% of those tasks.

Does anyone have some practical suggestions for making yourself complete that last 10-20%?


Heather February 19, 2011 at 7:36 am

I even find this true in my hobby. I have a small basket of knitting that just needs to be finished. It is the old 10%. I sometimes call it the “look shiny!” syndrome. I am allured by the next thing.


Dmarie February 19, 2011 at 7:51 am

actually, getting started is my hardest obstacle. So I tell myself to just do one little piece of the whole then often I’m able to plow on. Like when writing a paper, I’d make myself go ahead and write that first line or paragraph no matter how crummy, & that would get the whole thing rolling. Or if kitchen needs cleaning and I’m feelin’ lazy, I tell myself I can just empty the dishwasher then go do something else for awhile. Often I end up just digging in ’til it’s done.


Jay February 19, 2011 at 11:39 pm

I’m a lawyer, and it ALWAYS feels to me like the last 10% of work I have to do on a case takes 90% of the time.


Slowish Food February 20, 2011 at 3:55 am

I’m a fairly prolific knitter but counted up six sweaters I’d abandoned when I’d lost interest or gotten to a tricky part requiring concentration. So this year my deal is to finish all of them rather than buy new yarn. Right now I’m almost finished with a cardigan named for a character in “Lord of the Rings,” if that gives away its age. I abandoned it when I unexpectedly got pregnant with my last child and was too first-trimester sleepy to concentrate. That baby will be three years old next month, and the sweater pieces have been wadded up in the back of a closet for years.


Rowena February 20, 2011 at 5:56 am

Yes, yes, and yes. Last year I made a concerted effort to finish projects and I’m so proud of all I got done that I’ve continued into 2011. My advice is to track every step forward–91%, 92%, 93%, etc., and pat yourself on the back liberally for every step forward.


Cyndel February 20, 2011 at 6:07 am

The 90% rule applies to me the most in the kitchen. I’mm scrape all the plates, load the dishwasher, run the dishwasher, and wipe down the cabinets, but I always put off doing the last pan or dish that wouldn’t go in the dishwasher. I just hate that part πŸ™‚


Elaine February 21, 2011 at 7:08 am

I *always* do that on projects I don’t really want to do. If it’s something I do want to do, I have trouble getting started. I’m old enough to know how much work it will be (although it seldom really is all that much work), and I procrastinate like crazy. I get that from my dad – we were both world-class olympic putter-offers.

Once in a while, I do get to the end, and I firmly resolve to always see things through. (Did you ever laugh so much you couldn’t type?)


Madeline February 21, 2011 at 7:19 am

I have had brief moments of living in the 100% lane but it never lasts! It does feel great though,when I manage to FINISH STUFF COMPLETELY! So why do we revert to old lazy habits? I have some art projects at 80%, my recipes file drawer is at about 75% of organized for the past 5 years and my clothes closet is always 80% cleaned up/ current.
OK,so you’ve inspired me!


Jean February 23, 2011 at 9:24 pm

Some kind of deadline seems to be the only thing that works for me, even if I have to create one..for house or yard projects, my usual answer is to have a party or a cookout. Lent helped me a lot last year with decluttering…I took on a Forty Bags in 40 Days challenge. You could sell it, trash it, donate it, send it to the recycle center…but 40 bags had to leave between Ash Wednesday and Easter. It was amazing how such a physical cleansing also became spiritually cleansing! This past Advent it was shedding guilt…a whole list of things I’d felt nagging guilt over got tackled-projects finished, letters written… it was an amazing amount of progress in a short amount of time.


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