cbSullivan Consulting, LLC

Building a Better Plan - - WHEN and HOW to work

Apr 9, 2019 | by Cindy Sullivan

A plan for your time should be dynamic.  Think beyond the boundaries of a list of “stuff” to do.  As my earlier posts in this series (Broaden Your Scope and Leave Space), taking into consideration when as well as how to do various tasks can boost your productivity significantly.  If you haven’t really considered your workstyle, preferences, energy and natural rhythm of working you may not be capitalizing on the best way to harness your best energy.  Consider the following:


  • When do you focus best?  Are you a morning person or do you only start to turn on and get focused in the afternoon or evenings?  Is there a time that your surroundings quiet down a bit so that you’re able to concentrate with fewer interruptions?  Be strategic about blocking that time for the work that takes mental horsepower.  Match your best focus time with the work that requires that focus.  This leads to getting things completed much more quickly than if you try to buckle down at a time that just doesn’t work for you when it often takes longer and with lower quality results.  This may require a hard look at the layout of your days to see where shifts can happen so you capitalize on your brain’s best timing.


  • What are your active and engaging tasks?  Activities that have us interacting with others, physically moving, or working in quick bursts provide us a boost.  Take advantage of the ways these tasks get us engaged and plug these into the times of your day when your mental energy is lower.  Are you slow to get started in the morning or start to lose momentum in the afternoons?  Activities such as returning calls or emails, filing documents or papers, errands or trips to other parts of the office, updating systems, and working on small projects can fit well in these times.  It also means you aren’t sacrificing your best focus time to work on a smaller item that doesn’t require concentration.


  • Avoid making all those small things one BIG thing.  A risk of grouping small items and minutiae is that they can present themselves as being just as big and important as other truly large priority tasks.  It them becomes a choice to do a lot of your smaller tasks vs. addressing a larger high value goal.  Our battle to feel like we are cranking out a lot of work may seem more appealing that diving down into something that requires more focus and doesn’t have the immediate payoff.  I suggest you keep those smaller items more granular and use them to fill in the time around high priority activities.  Of course, it does feel great and can be highly useful to plan an occasional time to catch up on those smaller tasks.  The key is making sure it doesn’t regularly cannibalize our time to stay focused on things that are more important and long range.


  • Consider your surroundings and workstyle.  HOW we work best often gets overlooked.  I urge you to put some thought behind ways and environments you find most helpful.  Working our plan can get even more effective when we tap into how we best activate our learning styles and capitalize on visual cues to stay productive.  A few ways I’ve seen this play out: 
    • MOVE.  Try changing location.  Giving a dedicated location to a specific focus area or project helps engage our kinesthetic need for movement.  It can also help link our thinking directly to the work at hand when we enter that unique space.  Try moving to a different room, office, or area within your typical workspace.  Coffee shops and being outdoors are great alternatives as well.  I will even use a walking routine as work time to think about blog topics and creative planning.
    • COLOR.  What colors speak to you?  Would it be helpful to have documents, folders, or notepads coordinated with specific projects or categories or work?  Color is a great way to make things visible so they can be located and filed away easily.  Some have even coordinated their calendars so work times and meetings are noted in color for those categories and match up with the filing system and notes.  This can be especially helpful for highly visual folks.
    • MUSIC.  For some, having background music can improve focus.  For shared workspaces, just use headphones.  Try mixing up types of music for various activities.  During times of concentration use something that will not be distracting, for low energy times of day listen to something that will provide a pick-me-up.
    • SCENTS.  The sense of smell is one of the quickest triggers for memory.  Think about smelling something familiar- a type of shampoo, candle, coffee, freshly mown grass, etc.  We immediately go back to a time and memory linked to that smell.  You can tap into that by tying in scents with your productivity.  By diffusing a specific oil daily in my office, I find I can more readily sit down to focus as my mind ties that scent to a specific activity.  Similarly, you can use scent to trigger relaxation and non-work time.  That too can be helpful in this world where our work world tends to bleed over into personal time!
    • STANDING.  Standing desks are all the rage for multiple reasons.  They can help keep us from being quite as sedentary but can also give us some variety in how we are working.  Like the idea above of moving locations, even changing from seated to standing can serve a similar purpose.
    • LIGHTING & VISUAL CUES.  Can you introduce something to your environment that serves as a visual “anchor” to the work at hand?  I use this technique daily with specific lights I turn on in my office when I sit down to work.  Similarly, you can have a few intentional pieces visible to use as a focus item when concentrating.  I once had a teacher who said he used a candle when studying in college.  Sitting down and lighting the candle would help him shift easily into study mode.  I tried this in college as well and it worked!  I had a specific place for my eyes to rest when I was concentrating. 


Over the years that I’ve worked with clients around productivity, I am always amazed at the create ways people can build creativity into their days.  Maybe some of those above speak to you, maybe not but I hope they get your creative juices flowing so you can think beyond the plan and know that sometimes the key to productivity lies in WHEN we choose to do certain tasks and HOW we approach them.




Cindy B Sullivan provides consulting, coaching, and training in the areas of Time Management and Productivity.  Take her 6 Pillars of Effective Time Management assessment to find out where you can work to hone your time management skills.  Free phone consultations are available.  Email: or call 615-406-5436 today to schedule!