When my husband and I got married two years ago, we registered for a wood-burning pizza oven. What that really meant was money to purchase bricks and whatever supplies we needed in order to construct an oven. My husband did piles of research and decided that he wanted to build an oven inspired by ancient versions unearthed in Sicily (from where, coincidentally, some of his relatives harken).

We hoped to have the oven done by our first anniversary. Alas, no. We are busy people and there are always all sorts of other things to do.

While not an enormous project, we are both creatives (I’m a designer and he’s an architect), which means we both want it to be perfect, and that means it’s really hard to get started…and finished. And we (read: my husband) were going to do ALL of the work ourselves, from excavation to laying the keystone.

So we made a commitment to build it in time for a big family event: my husband’s brother’s wedding in Oregon this August. His very large Italian family would be descending upon our humble home, which is command central for all family activities.

I love my husband dearly, but he is not a planner. Neither am I, to be honest. But being the most plan-y of us two, I’m the one who does it. Besides that, I love to get s*&% done. Which nearly always means a bit of planning and organization. And maybe I secretly like planning a little bit. Especially now, since I have Cardsmith! cardsmith.co

And I have learned a good deal about planning and project management from my co-founder at Cardsmith, Monica Borrell. For example, start from the end and plan forward. And a mediocre plan is better than no plan at all. And reduce scope if you can’t change the date. Don’t have more than three things to do on your list at once. And so much more.


A few months before the due date, we committed to building the oven. The first step was to create a plan in Cardsmith with my husband. We used the grid to create a calendar, with a cell of the grid representing each day that we had left to construct the pizza oven. We started at the end, adding the events that were set in stone (literally). The first is called “mandatory resting”, which occurs after all the bricks are set. This is an entire week so that your oven can dry out properly. The oven must stay dry and no fire can be lit inside. The resting phase is followed by the “cure fire” phase, another week, where every day, you build a fire and make it a little hotter every day. Only after these two phases could you actually use the oven to bake pizza.

Originally we had wanted to also build a patio, completely finish the exterior of the oven and more. But as we were created the plan, we realized that we were out of our minds thinking we could get all of that done in time. So we decided to do the bare minimum that we needed to be able make delicious pizza: just the base and dome. Which in the end, was plenty ambitious.


We blocked out the rest of the activities, not getting too specific, except for the week in front of us. We discovered that we needed to hustle! Not panic, but it was definitely time to get cracking. And as we worked on it, things shifted (as they always do), and one the of best things about Cardsmith is that it is easy to recalibrate your plan and add in more detail as needed. Because it’s flexible and visual, it’s actually fun and satisfying to use. Which means that my plannning-avoidant husband engaged with it. At the end of every working day, we would check our plan to see how we were doing, and then refine the plan as necessary.

And it worked. The oven was online just in time!


What did I learn from this?

  1. You need a meaningful concrete finish date to work towards. Something that can’t change AND that you are emotionally invested in meeting.
  2. You also need a concrete idea of exactly what you want to accomplish. If you know what the end looks like, it’s easy start at the end and plan backwards.
  3. A little planning goes a long way. If you make the effort to get some kind of plan in place, and have a tool that allows you to shift that plan as necessary, it’s not onerous; in fact, it is empowering.