Does your life involve a demanding boss, kids who must be pressed on homework and a spouse who travels a lot on business? Beyond all that, are you also planning to sell your house in the near future?
If so, Neen James, a time management expert and author of "Folding Time: How to Achieve Twice as Much in Half the Time," says it's understandable if you feel overwhelmed by the house project. After all, preparation for a home sale inevitably involves -- among other steps -- many hours sorting through such belongings as kitchen gadgets, excess shoes and boxes of books.
Due to scarcity of free time, she says many homeowners need a strategic plan to accomplish all the must-do tasks necessary to make their place saleable. These can include cleaning, organizing and culling through a large volume of excess accumulations in closets, drawers and stash areas, such as garages.
"In the U.S., many people have so much stuff in their garage that they can't even put cars in there," says James, a native Australian who contends that clutter problems are less pervasive in her home country.
Here are a few tips for home sellers:
-- Reduce the huge home sale project into small pieces.
Frantic people trying to tackle all that's involved in preparing for a home sale, or any other sizeable project, would do well to break their work down into 15-minute increments of uninterrupted time, James says.
"You can get a lot done in 15-minute slots. Actually, I'm convinced you can conquer the world in 15-minute segments," she says.
Suppose, for instance, that your bookshelves are bulging with excess volumes, including many you've already read. In just 15 spare minutes, for example, you could clear through a single shelf that contains your cookbooks. Then when time allows later, you could tackle other shelves that hold novels or a collection of art books.
James suggests that in between 15-minute work sprints you take small breaks to help keep up momentum. These could involve a brief jog outside or a quick cup of coffee.
"Just be sure that on your break you don't eat a ton of sugar or other simple carbs that could lead to an energy slump later," she says.
-- Make sure you set strategy before tackling your home preparation project.
Peter Turla, a former rocket scientist who now conducts time management seminars for employee groups, says that anyone who needs to prepare a property for sale should start with an action plan.
"You don't have time to not plan," he attests, adding that planning at the front end reduces the need for backtracking as a project progresses.
Stefanie Coleman, who's taught time management and productivity seminars for more than a decade, says that project planning should be done in several stages. The first involves brainstorming and then itemizing all the possible tasks that could help move you toward your final goal -- a process called "mind dumping."
Second, revisit your list, crossing out steps that sound impractical and highlighting those that will have the most impact.
Third, put all the remaining items on your list in order by priority.
Your fourth and final step involves scheduling -- entering all the key tasks for your project on your calendar to be done within time periods when you expect to be free of other commitments.
-- Avoid overscheduling your time.
Though Coleman underscores the importance of entering all your steps on a calendar, she cautions against scheduling your time too tightly.
"Often there are unplanned intrusions -- like a sick child ... on the same day you'd planned to reorganize your kitchen cabinets," Coleman says.
To allow for unplanned interruptions, she urges home sellers to allow an extra 20 percent cushion for unscheduled time. For example, suppose that one Saturday you hope to spend 10 hours cleaning out your garage. In that case, Coleman suggests you schedule just eight hours of work, allowing a couple of hours to deal with the unexpected.
-- Seek out a support person.
Many busy people who could afford to hire a professional organizer decline to do so, James says. Still, she says it's often smart to seek an organizer's help when confronting a major project. (One source for referrals is the National Association of Professional Organizers, www.napo.net.)
If your finances are too tight to pay for a professional organizer, James suggests you barter for services with a friend or relative. For instance, you could trade baby-sitting for help sorting through your clothes.
As James says, getting outside help with home chores hastens the pace at which you should be able to sift through your belongings. That's because someone not living in your place can look at your accumulations with fresh eyes.
"With an outsider there to keep you on track, you'll make quicker decisions on what to keep, give to charity or toss in the trash can," she says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at email@example.com.)