Cindy Sullivan‘s mission is to help people achieve order and balance in their lives. Founder of cbSullivan Consulting & Organizing, Cindy is a Certified Professional Organizer®, Time Management Consultant, and Organizer Coach. A member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) since 2004, Cindy was the founding President of NAPO Nashville. Cindy helps her clients be more effective through good time management techniques, creating systems, developing routines, and organizing homes & workspaces that work for the client. Cindy offers services that include time management coaching and consulting, business & residential organizing, training, and seminars.

Q: When I get home from work I really want to do lots of things, but I always end up on the couch, just sitting. How can I motivate myself to
make the most of my time?


A: For most people, evening is a time when our energy is winding down. It’s natural to need some “down time”. Take that into account as you plan what and how much you want to do and consider the following:

  • Looking at a huge list of ALL your projects and tasks can be de-motivating and overwhelming. Be realistic and select only 1 or 2 things to work on.
  • Rather than saying you need to fully complete something, set an amount of time, 15-30 minutes or so, to work on it. Set a timer and see how much you can get accomplished before “time’s up”!
  • Try “delayed gratification”. Set a goal for how much you want to work on a task and only AFTER you’ve done it, will you allow yourself to sit down.
  • Enjoy a reward! When you make progress on your tasks for the evening, don’t force yourself to keep going beyond what you initially planned. Give yourself permission to take a break or stop for the evening – – guilt-free!

Of course, if you really get into the project once you’ve started and are getting a positive reward for continuing, enjoy the progress. The goal here is to move out of the negative mode and learn to have some enjoyment when you complete what you plan. It feels great to make progress and those positive thoughts will actually be a good motivator for evenings to come when you need to keep plugging away at your goals.

Q: I know taking time for me is important, but there’s always so much to do! How can I help myself make time for me?


A: While it’s easier said than done, I’ll mention that if YOU don’t take care of you, who will?? The biggest trick to making this happen to to convince ourselves. Be proactive in planning time or events that are fulfilling to you – – Put them on your calendar and keep those commitments! Here are some ideas that may help:

  • Think of things that really give you a “boost” but don’t take huge chunks of time. Carving out time to read a book, take a walk, use the “good dishes”, or even swinging through the drive-thru for a special coffee drink can be reminders to yourself that “you’re worth it”!
  • Pre-book appts. Even if you need to re-schedule a haircut if something comes up, it’s much more likely to happen than if you find yourself trying to book something at the last minute and it throws off your already busy schedule even more.
  • Planning your week in advance will let you schedule time for yourself before you even launch into the week. Plot out when other tasks can get your attention and group errands together so that there are days when you don’t have as much running around to do. We can’t “make” time but we can find chunks of it if we structure our week well.
  • Ask for what you need. Sometimes we’re so busy doing for others that we forget to do for ourselves. Make a game out of it. Kids even love doing something that makes Mom smile. Offer to do something that makes them feel special if they’ll do the same for you. Everyone working together to tidy up before bed can give them time for an extra story or show before bed and might allow you a few minutes of quiet for yourself.
    -Partner w/a friend to trade off with child-care, cooking meals, running errands, etc. Or, set a standing appt with that person to do things that you enjoy – take a walk, go shopping, or even just chat on the phone. You’re more likely to keep that appt if there is someone else involved to hold you accounable.

Remember – this is a tough one for all of us. But, the more you do it, the more you realize that making yourself the best YOU you can be, will help you be your best for everyone else that depends on you!! You’ll start to feel the benefits and it gets easier to do when you see the payoff.

Q: I start the day with the intention of working on a project. I’m ready to get going but I always find myself putting other tasks ahead of it. How can I make myself ‘just do it’?”

A: It’s important to look at any project as a series of individual tasks rather than one large project. Even when we block out time and see it on our calendar, a “to do” that is too broad can easily get pushed aside. A good exercise is to simply make a list of all the steps you need to do to complete the project. It doesn’t have to be in any order at this point – just get all of your thoughts down. Add steps as they arise or you think of them. You then have a “grocery list” of individual tasks that don’t seem nearly as daunting. When you plan your day, select which step(s) you plan to do that day. Or, you can allot a block of time (even 15 minutes!) to work on the project and simply refer back to your list of steps and find a place to start.

This is effective because when you are ready to begin, you won’t have to go back to the decision-making phase to determine what to do first. Steps have already been identified and it’s easier to move into action.

You may find that a step(s) is one you’ve been procrastinating. We usually procrastinate things that we don’t like to do, are not sure how to do, or find difficult to do. Understand why you’re dreading that step and it will be easier to tackle it – – maybe you can even delegate that step! Now you’re ready to get started. Good luck!

Q: I try to plan my day but I never seem to get it all done. What am I doing wrong?

A: There can be 2 issues at play here. First, those things you want to do tend to take longer than you think and those things you’ve been procrastinating tend to take less time than you think they will. Since we often don’t take this into consideration, our plan ends up too full. The better you get at planning and being aware of where your time goes, it does get easier to anticipate what is realistic to accomplish in a day. Start with assigning yourself 3 “main” tasks for the day and 2 “additional” tasks you want to get done today. Or, if you already are used to creating a daily list, try cutting it in half. The argument “but I need to get it all done!” really doesn’t win out if you’re finding that you don’t get to everything anyway on a typical day. If you’re able to get to those tasks you made priorities, then by all means go to the next ones on
the list.

The second issue is staying focused during the day. With the number of interruptions we get from other people, calls, emails, crisis, etc. it’s especially challenging these days. Know when you focus best during the day and put those tasks there that need the most mental energy. Save “active” tasks for those times when your energy is lowest (returning messages, running errands, filing, etc). What are your time wasters? – those things you think you’ll spend 10 minutes on but look up and 45 minutes have gone by. Also, be aware of when & how you get distracted during the day. For some it’s harder by nature of your job, surroundings, children, clients, staff, etc. We all balance different challenges. If you can set aside focus time and minimize your distractions and interruptions – great! If that’s more difficult given your situation, you’ll need to be even more realistic with what you schedule for your day so you have time to deal with all the issues that arise.

Q: What is the best way to prioritize my tasks for the day?

A: Priorities are those tasks and activities that have the most value. The first step is to determine what makes a task high value for you. It can be based on upcoming deadlines or events, something that is important to you, urgencies, request from the boss, etc. Second, it’s important to flag those items as priorities for the day. It’s much harder to procrastinate something that you yourself just identified as needing your attention. Some ways to do this is to assign a ranking with an “A, B, or C” beside the task according to its rank (“A”s are high value while a “C” may be something you do today if you have time), write high priorities in a different color ink, highlight high priority tasks with a highlighter, schedule a block of time to work on them, use a small white board and post them where you see them, schedule reminders on the computer of PDA so you get an alarm or pop-up prompting you to complete the task, etc.

Second, utilize your best focus time on these tasks. Try to spend time on them before getting into other things, such as e-mail, that can often take a lot more time than intended.

Third, check those items off as you complete them. It’s funny how checking off an item or
marking it off your list can feel so good! I like keeping my task list in paper form so that I can reflect back on the week and give myself credit for all the things I DO get done. Also, find ways to reward yourself after you’ve gotten through your priority tasks. It’s always more fun working on a goal when you know there will be something to look forward to at the end.

Have a question for our expert? This line is open until Friday, July 22nd. Cindy will then answer the top questions we’ll post her answers right here.