Simple Steps to Finishing What You Start

by | Productivity Advice | 29 comments

Do you wish you could have a stack of completed albums like this?

Melissa Shanhun

I started scrapbooking with grand plans for many albums – just like you did. Two years later I finally dared to print my first pages, and held my first completed album in my hands, and I was so thrilled. In the following two years, I finished 5 albums and a stack of other layouts. Seeing my husband excited to show them to our friends and my little girl leafing through the pages inspires me to do more.

Today I’m going to share with you the methods that I’ve used to get my albums finished. Some of these are gleaned from my own experience and some I’ve gathered from inspiring scrapbookers including Noell Hyman, Katie Nelson and Liz Tamanaha over the years.


At first glance, starting an album seems easy. But how you start can make the difference between completing the album or having it sit unfinished in the cupboard.

I am creating a book for my daughter, about her 2nd year, focusing on her developing speech and the cute little ways she has of saying things. My main motivation for this album is to document *her* at this precious stage of life. What motivates you? Frame your album with this in mind and keep it front and centre while you complete the album.

Planning my album is always secondary to finding my motivation for it. I find this way I only start on albums that are really important to me.


Get a head start by gathering what you have. Start where you are. What do you already have that is ready for the album? Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

Do you have photos you want to showcase? Select the ones you love and copy them into a folder on your desktop where you can’t miss them!

Choose as many of your photos as you can at the start of the process, and keep them all together so then you don’t have to hunt for them when you have a few spare moments to scrap.

Paper scrappers – print out all of your photos. Are you happy with 4×6? Great! If you want a variety of sizes with minimum fuss – see Noell’s tips on choosing and printing unusual sizes.

I usual scrapbook digitally, so I put my photos into an album in Picasa.


Do you have a story to tell? Collect the words for your story. In my case I flicked through my Memory Logbook and stuck a post it note on relevant pages.

Other ways to collect words you’ve already written could include

  • Starring relevant emails in Gmail or flag them in Outlook
  • G through your Evernote, OhLife or Memento notes.
  • Look at the captions in your photo metadata
  • Look through your diary, notebook or the backs of receipts in your handbag

Decide if you want one story per page or if you want to break it up over multiple pages. If you are including lots of stories in one album you could scrap the first page of each story with more detail and embellishment and use divided page protectors for the follow up pages as Melissa Stinson does.

Do you have a stash of memorabilia you want to include? Gather it together and plan your pages around them.

If you are a digiscrapper, there are two main options:

  1. Decide if you want to scan or photograph the items and add them to a layout or
  2. Add a couple of pages with coordinating papers and just stick them in the album next to your digital pages after the book is printed. I recommend this option if you have a place to store the items until the album is finished. It saves the time it takes to scan them.

Do you want to use certain supplies for your album?

Collect them all together, whether they be digital supplies, paper products or whatever. I suggest storing everything in one container so you easily work on your album, if you are all digital, just copy and paste everything in one folder.

Most scrappers have plenty of supplies, so when hunting through your stash, give yourself a time limit – use the kitchen timer and quickly look through your inspiration folder, kit previews etc.

Move on

Once you have all the bits for one category, go onto another category and pull together those parts of the album. You are on your way! As Mary Poppins (or Aristotle) says: “Well begun is half done!”

Here’s my temporary storage for everything to do with Emily’s Words album. For my album I’ve followed the words-first approach, and for photos I used what I had and captured a couple of still frames from some videos I’d taken of her.


Get out your box of goodies and play! You’ve now got the bulk of things in one place, words, photos, supplies. If you are feeling inspired to just start – go for it!

If you are like me and need a jumping off point, why not try some…

Templates or sketches are a time-saving starting point for scrapbook pages. Three of my albums used either quick pages or templates as their base. But don’t run to the stores looking for an album. Remember that Project365 set you bought last year, the baby album you used for nephew’s first birthday? You can get started now with something you already have! Why not re-purpose a page design you created yourself?

The album template pack I’ve chosen is an 8×8 Shutterfly-ready template pack from Amy Pearson, called Gigglewords. It was released back in September 2008, and I’m only just using it now! (this product is no longer available).

Don’t like to use templates? Noell Hyman recently wrote about her technique where she uses the dominance of the photos to determine the layout for her photo heavy mini-book.

Make it easy
I have learned over time that done is better than perfect! I am learning to use Katie Nelson’s great idea about thin slicing which basically means not over-thinking every decision. To make it easy on myself – I’ve decided to have minimal embellishments, with some Kitchsy Digitals fabric flowers I’ve been longing to use and some textured white cardstock for the background of every page.


Now we are that that point of having our pages started and all the goodies collected, we just need to complete everything. Sounds easy right?

Staying inspired to work on you album is the most challenging part. Having the first few pages of the album come together in a short time can give you some motivation. I find that a deadline also spurs me into action. Even if it’s just setting a timer for 15 minutes and trying to finish one page by concentrating on it fully for that period of time.

Cutting out the distractions can help. Turn off the phone, shut the door and close your email and twitter and just scrap! Enjoy it!

Remember it’s fun. If the idea of a deadline isnít your thing, remember how you enjoy the feeling of scrapbooking and how it does make you happier.

Think back to what motivated you to start this album, and how much you’ll love looking through it when it’s done. Knowing Emily loves looking at her little collection of scrapbooks helps me.

Why not ask for help? In my case, my husband takes our daughter to swimming lessons on Saturday so I have about an hour of peace and quiet for scrapbooking.

Have you made a couple of attempts at this album and have a hodge podge of un-coordinated pages? Why not try Liz Tamanaha’s deliciously simple solution: put a full size image on the facing page. I used this technique in Emily’s first year album.

Even Lain Ehmann, the queen of simple and speedy scrapbooking, bit off more that she could chew with last year’s December Daily album. But this July Lain decided to breathe some life into the project by finishing the pages she’d started and re-purposing the rest of her album.

For a digital scrapbooker like me there’s one final hurdle. Printing.

There are lots of photobook printers, or you can print pages individually, once you’ve chosen a printer you still have decide on a size, cover typer and more! Decisions, decisions. If you want some unbiased reviews The Daily Digi provides several great posts.

I on the other hand have a very scientific method for choosing photobook printers. I just go with whoever gives me the best deal at the time. Often that’s Shutterfly (but is has to be a GREAT deal as the postage to Australia is $13.99), and I’ve also been happy with the results I’ve had from MyPicTales and Snapfish Australia. I printed my first album at 8×8 due to the lower cost, and I liked it so I kept going with it. My 12×12 albums also seem a little more intimidating to pull out when your friends come over for coffee. I told you it was scientific!

Before you print, it’s great to get someone else to proof your album. I find that uploading your layouts up on your blog, Flickr or Facebook make it easy to send through some links to your family and friends. Having someone else look at it is great way to find spelling errors, etc. Why not send your Mum an email and ask her to look through it. I’m sure she’d love a sneak peek!

I recommend using Wendyzine’s actions to get your photobook printed perfectly. I’ve used her actions for photobooks printed by Shutterfly and MyPictales and I’ve been thrilled with the results. Wendy explains more at the Daily Digi. You can also check the printer specifications on their websites. Working them out may make your head spin, which is why I love Wendy’s actions!

When you’ve come to the end of the project and your album is in your hands, take some time to enjoy it. It is a great accomplishment, and you now have tactile proof of your scrapbooking. Well done!

You can see my album here:

Click here to view this photo book larger

What’s your tip for fuss-free albums? You can share them in the comments below.

Melissa is a scrapbooking educator, specialising in live online and in-person training. She loves scrapbooking and shares her passion through inspiration and training at

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  1. grannymike

    Thanks so much for this article. So many good suggestions, so many good links. Thank you for including them so I can read more about each subject. I think the one that spoke to me most was “done is better than perfect.” I agree that finishing a project can be hard, but I seem to waste more time trying to come up with the “perfect” start/plan (not that I’ve ever found one). I have many, many years of scrapping and playing “catch up,” so I hope to remember “done is better than perfect.” Thanks again. I love your Shutterfly book as well.

    • Melissa Shanhun

      Thanks for your kind words – I am thrilled with how it turns out and can’t wait for the printed version to arrive! (hopefully in a couple of days!)

      I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my article, here’s to getting it done!


  2. Carol

    Funny, I chose the word “complete” this year for my word to live by. It has helped me complete a ton of projects. This past week I have really tried to complete a Disneyland book from a trip a year ago. Yay.

    • Melissa

      Carol – my word last year was complete (& simplify lol I couldn’t even simplify down to one word at that point!).
      I’m glad to hear you are finishing a book. When you have it in your hands it will be so thrilling! Yay!

  3. Cindy

    I’ve definitely got some ‘unfinished in the cupboard’ so thanks for providing some inspiration. It’s good to let go of perfection – I felt guilty at first printing out those Shutterfly books compared to my paper scrapping and although I miss the bulk and the textures, I have to admit it gets it out there faster and my kids really enjoy being able to look through them – and that’s the point, right?

    • Melissa Shanhun

      Oh, yes that’s the point! My little girl has her own copy of 2 of the books I’ve made and absolutely loves them. That in itself is a big motivation for me to make more!

  4. Kim K

    I have many traditional scrapbooks, but have not really completed one using my digital layouts. Thank you for reminding me that I created them to print and share with my children, as well as, my digi friends.

    • Melissa

      Thanks Kim, great point! In the digi-community we sometimes forget to share them with others don’t we!

  5. Michelle D.

    I am a terrible scrapbooker! I love taking pictures but then I am at a loss as to what to do with all of them. I never know where to start. Thank you!!

  6. Jen Evangelista

    I love your album idea for your daughter and the templates you are using. I tend to just do individual pages and throw them together, LOL. Maybe I’ll get inspired to try a “theme” album. Thanks for the great post.

  7. Terra

    This is such a helpful article. I wish I had a stack of completed albums but the task seems so daunting. I especially like the suggestion to use a full photo on opposite pages. I really think that this suggestion is the one that will finally get me creating albums.

  8. Barbara

    I agree–getting that first book printed or getting your first batch of single layouts back is the best motivator of all! You will realize just how beautiful and meaningful your stories are when you can really share them!
    It is A LOT of work to get a photo book printed if you wait until the sale hits, so if you know that you need a complete book for a graduation present, Christmas, etc. make a separate folder and get scrapping!

  9. Lisa H

    Great article! It has given me inspiration to actually begin my granddaughter’s album. I will be checking out all the links. Thanks.

  10. PatriciaD

    If you make a goal for yourself and try to stick to it (make a page a week, month, whatever) at least you’re further along than if you’d never started.
    Great post…inspiration…tools!! Thanks!

    • Melissa Shanhun

      Patricia, two of the albums in the photo above were done 1 double page per month, as part of a challenge πŸ™‚ So they took me the best part of a year to finish. Now I’m a lot faster at scrapbooking, because the more pages you do the more tips and tricks you pick up. I think that setting goals and seeing the pages getting finished is awesome!

  11. Laura S

    I go through my pictures and make lists. Numbered lists, with two columns for right and left side (as I typically wait for a completed set of layouts before getting a photobook printed). Seeing pages get highlighted off as I complete them is rather motivating, as it also makes it easier for me to see what I want to scrap and how close to being done with a project I am. Although I will admit, having a project 50-80% done when that 40% off Shutterfly coupon comes around is a big, big motivator.

    • Melissa Shanhun

      Thanks for the practical tips Laura – that’s a great way to see your progress!
      Oh yes, there’s nothing like a time limited offer. For Emily’s first year album, I did 6 pages in 5 days and stayed up till midnight processing all the layouts to get it finished off! (Oh and staying up till midnight is not a common occurrence around here!)

  12. pocket folders

    Pretty insightful tips! For those who have passion for crafting, those aforementioned ideas would surely be an inspiration. That memory logbook is really interesting, not the usual craft that you’ll be hearing of.

  13. Lynea Ford

    Great post. I am mostly a digi scrapper but I have found that finishing a digital album is harder for me because I don’t have the progect visible and in the way. It would be interesting to know how many other digi converts have found this.

  14. ava-j

    Hi Melissa, thank you for sharing so many tips with us. Your daughter Emily will surely treasure the beautiful books you’ve made for her.:) Hugs!

  15. Suzanne

    Thanks for the tips! I actually had one photo book that I was able to finish after 1 LOOONG year! I already forgot which kits I was using for the project! But I learned that I get motivated mostly by: knowing FOR WHOM and WHY I am scrapbooking and when I get hold of my photo books!

  16. DoggiNo

    I’m planning an album as a Christmas present for my cousin and I’m already stressing about it. I want to include all the pages I made with pictures of her kids and get it printed (of course). I’ve never printed anything so far. The tip about adding the full page picture is awesome because I do have a mix max collection of pages. Thanks so much !

  17. Gayle

    Love your printing tips especially. I love digital scrapping but find printing can be expensive. Thanks for all the info!

  18. Julie

    Thank you for this very timely article! I was going to give a shutterfly album to my mom for Mother”s Day this year when they had a good deal. It never happened. I didn’t even get one page done (digitally). I seem to be a perfectionist that accomplishes nothing because I’m afraid it would be good enough. I agonize over every little detail and definitely need a timer; one that yells at me and tells me to get back on task. I will be bookmarking this page! Thanks again.

    • Melissa

      Hi Julie – thanks for your kind words. Perfectionism gets us in our way doesn’t it!

  19. Stacia

    I actually have a bunch of photobooks that I’ve made…but have never printed even a single digital scrapbook page. I’ve only completed a few because it’s so long between times when I get to digiscrapping, I forget half of what I need to do in PSE and have to re-learn. Argg. And then printing – hard to figure out local prints and haven’t wanted to pay for specialty website printing yet (where you can get 8.5×11 pages, etc.)

    Loved this article and have saved it to read through again later, including going to the links. Thank you!

  20. Lindsay

    I usually scrapbook my vacations and other specific events, so I try to stay organized during the trip/event to make it easier at home. We take a file folder to hold all the brochures, maps, souvenir photos, etc. we pick up along the way. Since we take digital photos, I also cull and edit during the trip, so it’s all about sitting down and putting it together when I get home!

  21. Noell

    This article is a great resource and system, Melissa! Thanks for including me in it! I definitely appreciate that.

    • Melissa

      Thanks Noell! I am glad you enjoyed it!


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