My 5 Focus Essentials


Productivity is all about focus. Starting and staying on task is the only way your to-do list is going to get done. Some days, easier to said than done. I get it. I can procrastinate with the best of them. Not the best place to be for an organization and productivity specialist. I found some fixes that work for me and thought I’d let you in on my essential requirements to getting things done.

I can get ‘in the zone’ pretty fast and when working with a client and when it clicks, it’s magical. The work flows, time flies, things get done! It’s great. But then I move to my office where the admin happens and it seems like the clock stops. Have you ever felt like that?

The 5 Things That Keep Me Productive

1. Finding a quiet place to work.

In our portable technology world, you can work anywhere, anytime. But is that always the best way to be productive? Not for me. One thing I know about myself is that I need to tuck myself away from any other activity in order to focus on work. I am lucky to have a designated office space in my home. Everyone who works from home should be so lucky. It allows me to block out distractions like family members, laundry, TV, the frig, or a sunny day. It’s as simple as closing the door to my office. In my mind, the closed-door means business. Don’t bother me unless you are on fire!

Some people work best in a busy, noisy environment or with lots of people around. Whatever helps you focus. If you are not sure what works for you, do a little experiment. Move to different locations inside and outside your house. Work on something challenging. Where are you most successful? Tweak your work environment until you get the results you want.

2. Finding the best time of day.

When are you most productive? I am a morning person through and through. As a kid, I used to wake up hours before the rest of my family. So much so that my mom would set out dry cereal at night, so I could have something to eat while waiting for everyone else to rise. So why not take advantage of that? I still rise early. Do a little lingering at the TV and coffee pot, but then I go into action mode. I can get more done at my desk in three AM hours than I do the rest of the day. I focus on the hard stuff first. You know the ‘Eat That Frog’ idea. Get what I am most dreading done and then the rest of the day is cake! I saved the afternoon for reading, education, email and chores when my mind is not as sharp.

What’s your best time of day? Maybe you are a night person. More power to you. It doesn’t matter what time you do your book-keeping, pay your bills, or write your paper. Why not do it at your most productive time of day? Figure out your sweet spot on the clock and then focus your efforts on the important tasks of the day then, can raise your productivity with not much effort.

3. Finding the deadline.

Some tasks have deadlines and some don’t. One thing that has helped me be my most-productive-self is to set deadlines for everything. I set deadlines for writing blog posts (like this one) or they’d never get done. I’d push them to the bottom of that to-do list of mine every day. The thing I find the hardest to complete is the development of my company. What’s the next step? Where will I step outside my box next? I use the support of colleagues to focus my thoughts in this realm. We ‘meet’ over the internet once a month. often discussing our new ideas and challenges and encourage each other to move forward. But what makes it work for me is that we give ourselves challenges with the deadline of reporting back at the next meeting. We keep each other accountable. It’s fantastic!

Look at all your regular tasks and set dates and times that you will do them. Make an appointment with yourself. Put it on your calendar. There is something about writing (or typing) it on a calendar that cements it for me. Try it. It may work for you too. You could even try micro-managing your calendar for a bit. Write down what time of day you will check email, make phone calls. Time blocking like this really works. It’s deadline personified!

4. Finding prep time.

I love to schedule and plan and I think that is one key to my ability to focus on the tasks of the day. Prepping for the next day is essential (to me) for a good night’s sleep. I use a modified Tickler File for my business planning. It’s visual, it’s easy and it’s fast. I have a file system on the wall, next to my desk that I use religiously. I mean it, all day, every day. My routine every morning includes pulling out what’s in that day’s file and shuffling the folders/papers into the order of importance. Bam! My day is laid out in front of me, right there. See it. Do it. Done.

More prepping is done at the end of my day. I am a member of the clean desk club, (to me) which means that I clean my desk off at the end of each workday. File things back into my wall filing systems anything that did not get finished. The thought “I’ll do it tomorrow” is enough for me to put it out of my mind until the next day.

Do you incorporate prep time for the next day into the end of your day? I know about those days you’d rather run from your desk when the day is done, but wouldn’t you feel more prepared to tackle what’s coming tomorrow if you downloaded/decided all the issues of the day before walking away?

5. Finding a reward.

It sounds kind of funny and simple, but I find a to-do list helps me focus. It’s the challenge of seeing what needs to be done and concurring it that helps me move forward. When I feel overwhelmed with how much I have to do, I sit down and make a list. I am very visual, so seeing it on paper helps me focus.  I love checking things for my list. Just that little reward of the checkmark does it for me. There is nothing like seeing everything checked off at the end of the day and tossing the paper. You see the reward doesn’t have to be big. It just has to work. Feeling accomplished is a reward enough for me.

What type of reward do you need? Could it be recognition from colleagues or that glass of wine at the end of a successful day? Figure out how often you need to feel that sense of accomplishment and make sure that your rewards are attainable in that time frame.

The 5 Things That Keep Me Productive. Click To Tweet


So I have given you 5 tips on how I stay on the productivity train. Do any sound good to you? Will you be buying a ticket? Personalizing any of these essentials to your situation can help you be more efficient and effective. For more reading on this subject, check out How Do I Management My Time.

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Janet Schiesl

Janet has been organizing since 2005. She is a Certified Professional Organizer and the owner of Basic Organization. She loves using her background as a space planner to challenge her clients to look at their space differently. She leads the team in large projects and works one-on-one with clients to help the process move quickly and comfortably. Call her crazy, but she loves to work with paper, to purge what is not needed and to create filing systems that work for each individual client. Janet is a Past President of the Washington DC Chapter of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) and was voted 2016 Organizer of the Year by the Washington DC Chapter of NAPO.


  1. Gina Weatherup on June 28, 2021 at 9:37 am

    Did you know the ability to focus is a key to being happier in your work? Being “in the zone” tends to mean you’re highly engaged in your work. Yet nearly two-thirds of American workers aren’t engaged in their work. A lot of company leaders look to benefits or management training to help people feel more engagement, when the truth is, allowing folks the ability to manage their time and single-task would go a really long way to increasing engagement.

    As for me, Janet, I’m with you on (a) finding the quiet place, (b) finding the deadline, and (c) finding the prep time. Although I could work on “prep time” more habitually, I do find that prepping the next day’s (or week’s) to-do list is super helpful for me!

    • Janet Schiesl on June 30, 2021 at 8:27 am

      This is great information Gina. Thanks. I agree that engaged employees would be happier.

  2. Seana Turner on June 28, 2021 at 10:02 am

    Both time of day and setting are important to me. I am like you. I can work with a client for three hours and it feels like nothing, but when I sit down to do administrative things, I am more easily distracted. I like having instrumental music on in the background. I think it helps me not be as distracted by random noises that are always happening around me.

    • Janet Schiesl on June 30, 2021 at 8:30 am

      I use music for the same reason. Sometimes I’m in the zone with admin work too. Those are the things I should do and delegate the rest.

  3. Sabrina Quairoli on June 28, 2021 at 10:49 am

    Great tips! I find that working in the morning works best for me. Waking up in the morning, I work right away, and then, by 2 PM – I take a break. If I still have tasks that need completing, I will get back to it after 6 PM. It is also important to be outside in the sun in the afternoon. Taking that break at 2 PM allows me to get more active, even if it is just taking a walk in my backyard to look at the flowers and gardens.

    • Janet Schiesl on June 30, 2021 at 8:32 am

      I’m a morning person too, for productivity, but I’m toast after I eat lunch. I try to get all the important stuff done before then and save reading, recorded classes, etc until the afternoon. Unlike you, I don’t get a second wind in the evening.

  4. Lucy Kelly on June 28, 2021 at 6:24 pm

    Such a morning person here, Janet – one of the things I’m working on right now is how to get anything else done when I have a morning client – I get up and my routine just zips along, but if I try to start it later in the day, not so much. Love your closed-door policy! I agree about the fire exception and maybe if there’s uncontrollable bleeding too 🙂

    • Janet Schiesl on June 30, 2021 at 8:34 am

      Ha Ha! Yes, bleeding is bad. I am trying to exercise in the mornings, but I’m challenged with whether it’s as important as working on business activities. Maybe that just an excuse when I don’t want to exercise.

  5. Julie Bestry on June 29, 2021 at 12:22 am

    I absolutely agree with all of these. I know that I can only work when it’s quiet and there are no visual or auditory stimuli other than white noise, and I know that unless I’m doing something by rote (filing or data entry), then it has to be mid-to-late afternoon or nighttime, because I can’t construct reality in the morning. 🙂 I’m even good at prep time because I believe “once begun is half-done!” But I’m terrible about giving myself any kind of reward outside of checking something off the list or deleting the reminder, and I need to get back in the habit of giving myself deadlines.

    • Janet Schiesl on June 30, 2021 at 8:36 am

      I like the quote! Thanks.
      I’m the opposite of you. If I don’t get it done in the morning, it doesn’t have a chance.

  6. Linda Samuels on June 29, 2021 at 11:51 am

    I love how well you know yourself, Janet, and what helps you set the stage for being most productive. Like you, I’m a morning person. So anything that needs significant brainpower, creativity, or planning is best done in the earlier part of the day. Planning is also essential, so spending time in the evening so I know what my next day priorities are is key to settling down. And when I wake, I’m ready with a clear picture and shape for my day. My electronic to-do list is my guide that I refer to many times throughout the day. And also, like you, the crossing off is enough of a reward for me.

    • Janet Schiesl on June 30, 2021 at 8:38 am

      I love working with clients to help them learn what works best for them. Just a few small changes and they can really increase their productivity.

  7. Diane N Quintana on June 29, 2021 at 1:56 pm

    Like the rest, I agree that time of day, place, and eating the frog are keys to getting things done. Your tips are terrific. I really like the way you explained how the tip works for you in your own environment. The thing I’d like to know more about is your modified tickler file. I’m wondering how you set it up and more detail of what you put into it. I think something like that could work for me, but I need more information.

    • Janet Schiesl on June 30, 2021 at 8:43 am

      Diane, my system is more simple than the standard tickler file. I have folders with the days of the week and one for the weekend. I put items in them that I need to do on that day. I like that I’m making the decisions upfront on what day I’m doing to do each task. Then I have folders for each week of the month – 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th. I use these for tasks and projects that I don’t need to look at this week. Lastly, I have a single folder for items later than a month away. I don’t tend to plan that far ahead for many things.
      The key is looking at the folders EVERYDAY!
      As I’ve gone more paper-less I’ve been using my task list in my CRM as a tickler file. I love how that is working for me.

  8. Katherine Macey on July 2, 2021 at 11:14 am

    Great post! There are a lot of good questions to ask yourself here, as well as good suggestions to get a personal brainstorm started. Organization is much more individualized than some think–every person needs a different system, and it takes some introspection to get there.

    • Janet Schiesl on July 2, 2021 at 2:42 pm

      Thanks, Katherine. Yes, organizing is very individualized. I think a lot of people don’t know this.

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