Staying Focused When You Work Online

People often ask me "how do you manage your work day?"

It's a good question actually. It can be incredibly distracting to work online, not to mention that most of us are also working from a home office with all the usual distractions: television, family, unexpected company, etc, etc, etc.

Over the years I have come up with a system that works for me. This is my 13th year working online, and working from home, so of course I've made adjustments along the way as things changed and the kids got older. But there are some very simple core principles that have worked well for me all along...

Creating Balance

I start my day early - usually around sunrise, though in the summer months I might sleep in until 6 or 7am. I find that I am most productive in the morning hours, particularly if I wake before the children and have a good spot of quiet time to get focused.

The key is to figure out when you are most productive, and also when things are relatively calm in your home. During certain phases, especially when the children were younger, I found my best times were late at night after their bedtime. Of course, now that they are both teens their bedtime is not so early (ha!) and so I've just had to adjust along the way.

This is especially important for creating balance in your home and schedule. When you work from home you need your time with the family, and also your time to work online. I find that I can get most of my work done before lunch, and then spend time with my children in the afternoon. It's important to identify those times that will work best for you, depending on your personal circumstances.

This balance is critical for efficiency and productivity. Otherwise you'll be frustrated, stressed out, running in circles and feel like you aren't giving any of your priorities 100% of your attention. I say that from personal experience, of course πŸ™‚

Once you do strike that balance, you'll find that you can give things your full attention and accomplish much more in much less time - and with much less stress.

Look at your task list and identify the things that require your full attention. You want to do these tasks when you are most focused, and least distracted. Other tasks, like social networking and cleaning out your inbox, can be done in small bits - so you want to save these to do when you only have shorter spots of time to work with.

Typical Work Day

I start my day by checking in online and 'making my rounds'. I check email, text messages, Twitter messages, Facebook, MySpace, etc. This takes me less than half an hour, replies & updates included, and I usually do this while I sip on my first cup of coffee.

Next, I work on my daily must-do's, which are the tasks you must do on a regular basis to maintain your online business. Some things need to be done daily, some weekly, some monthly, so you'll need to make up a schedule for management or maintenance for your own business model.

By then I'm feeling perked up and motivated, have my space cleared, and am ready to work on the project at hand. This is my focus-time for creative work, whether that be writing or developing a product or a new marketing campaign.

I have a master task list that includes everything I need to do, or think of, or want to do - its huge. But every day I have a mini-tasklist in front of me of things that have to be done TODAY. I usually break it down into easily doable tasks and its about 3-5 things on my MUST DO list every day. I do those first - nothing short of an emergency gets to skip line.

This is how I manage the monster that is my neverending task list - by attacking it 3 tasks at a time πŸ˜‰

This usually puts me working until 10am, or maybe noon at the latest if I am working on a larger project. My focus tends to dwindle after 5 or 6 hours, so I find it's a good time to break for lunch and a nap. During the summer months, I usually take this time to enjoy lunch and a movie with the kids.

Anything I manage to get done after the lunch hour is just a bonus. My day becomes more distracting, my focus time is much shorter, and so I take any time in the last half of the day to do less time-intensive tasks. Things that require less focus.

Staying Focused

If you're not careful, you could spend all of your focus time completely unfocused. Have you ever looked up at the clock and realized you just spent the last 4 hours reading other people's blogs... and have yet to make your own post for the day? And all of a sudden other things or other people are expecting your time & attention - so yet another day goes by without a new blog post.

Everyone has their own methods of staying focused, that match their style. No one way is right or wrong - it's only right or wrong for you. The key is in identifying your focus time, working with the balance of your home, and creating a schedule that allows a comfortable flow in your unique environment.

If you are feeling scattered, unfocused and unproductive then try this exercise: Put a notepad on your desk, right next to your mouse or laptop. At the top, label it with the current day of the week: "Monday". This is your TIME LOG. Keep a Time Log consistently for 3 days, noting the time and what you are doing - and how long it takes.

At the end of the 3 days, analyze your Time Log and take notice of "habits". You'll be able to see at a glance what it is that's distracting you, how much you've accomplished in 3 short days, or how much time you've wasted on certain things. The practice of keeping a Time Log creates a sense of accountability - and tends to make you more productive on it's own.

Try it - you'll be amazed at how you spend your time!


About Lynn Terry

Lynn Terry is a full-time Internet Marketer with over 17 years experience in online business. Subscribe to ClickNewz for the latest Internet Marketing trends & strategies, Lynn's unique case studies, creative marketing ideas, and candid reviews...moreΒ»


  1. Mary Gallagher says

    Lynn, you always know how to put things in the best possible way for someone to really listen! Thanks for sharing your gems. It's a good format for getting back on track for me. It's good to have a framework like a 3 day time inventory, and a to-do list that is actually LIMITED TO 3 MUST DO items. So often lately, I have way more on my list and get NONE done... Thanks. Best for now, Mary

  2. @TraciKnoppe says

    Excellent post Lynn! I could not get through my day without a to-do list. Out of sight is out of mind for me - so I'd best have a list! LOL

  3. Lynn, you really know how to make things so easy, understandable and ready to put into action. I have a master to do list that is really big which never seems to get any smaller but I didn't have a 3 task list for each day. I will start doing it today and see how my week goes.

    Thanks Lynn - You are the best!

  4. Chuck Morgan says

    Great advice, thank you. For me it's all about lists.
    If I don't write it down, it probably won't get done. If I have trouble prioritizing a list, I ask myself a question; "Of all the things I need to do today, If I could only do ONE, which one would it be?", and that is where I start. Another way to ask is; "If I could do only one thing on my list today, what one thing would move my life or my business forward?". Once I get started it usually will get done, and then some.

  5. Pat (twitter patartist) says

    Thanks, Lynn, for the reminder about Time Logs use for researching one's own habits. I keep what I call my Daily Carryover list. Just a to-do list of things I draw a line through. What is crossed out gets 'carried over' ...items on the list are already prioritized. It works for me. But I've been slipping on How Much Time is Spent on each. Okay, self-correct!

  6. David - Newbie Website Design says

    Great post Lynn!

    Many years ago I learned a vital lesson from a consultant and success coach named Brian Tracy. He taught the principle of "Eat That Frog" which basically means "If you have to eat a frog, then don't spend a lot of time looking at the thing. Just eat it right away and get it over with."

    Following that, I try to get the most important work done right away so I don't feel it hanging over my head for the rest of the day. Great principle to work by.


  7. The Mysterious Marketer says

    Great post! πŸ™‚ Attractions and distractions are always a disadvantage when working online... Finding what works for you and sticking to it takes some discipline and practice as well. One thing that I like to do is to set a recurring timer for every 20 minutes, and when it rings I look back on my progress over the last 20 minutes and assess whether I need to buckle up or not.

  8. Jim Edward says

    My coaching clients will appreciate your structured approach. Many of them are apprehensive about working online for fear of losing focus. The Time Log is one that I'll be using personally this Monday. Consider this post Twittered! Thanks Lynn.

  9. Sam Trend says

    This unfocussing is something I experience regularly, alas. Your post was most interesting to read, gives me some things to think through. I actually started a Time Log today. πŸ™‚

  10. Hmmm... Reminds me that I have a Simpleology account that's been collecting cyber dust. Sigh!

  11. As far as time logs, I found to be amazing. You install it on your computer, and it keeps a track of what you are doing. You can categorise your tasks into work, play, etc, and it will give you a summary and detail of how productive you are being.

    It takes a week or two to train it fully, but after that you hardly notice it when working, but get the motivation of trying to keep your reports looking good! It really works.

    Oh, and it's free πŸ™‚

  12. I use a notepad on my desk for a number of reasons. First, because I know that anything online will ultimately collect dust - because I get distracted from it. I am "out of sight out of mind" and so the notepad beside my mouse or laptop works wonders for me.

    I use a dry-erase calendar and whiteboards above my desk for tasks & schedule for the same reason.

    Also, when I keep a Time Log, I keep track of my entire day - which includes taking half hour to sit on the deck and read, spending a couple of hours with the kids in the afternoon, etc. It gives me a better overview of my day, and how it flows, to include everything - online and offline.

  13. Iris Rounds says

    Lynn, what a timely post!?!?!? I spent an entire day in search of mindmapping software to help me corral my thoughts, things-to-do, plans of action, capture ideas, etc. I need anything I can get to help me STAY FOCUSED!!!! Most of the time I feel like I'm going nowhere fast! Having a list, checklist, to-do-list or anything that I can use consistently on a daily basis to help me get things done is what I've been in search of.

    Well, back to the mindmapping issue . . . the good ole trusty "pen and pad" won out in the end because I can't carve out the time needed to learn how to use the mindmap software! I've used a time log in the past and found that it really helped me stay-on-task. However, I failed to use it consistently enough for it to become a habit and a mainstay next to my computer and telephone. Today, I'll give that time log idea another try.

  14. I'm also a mom and have definately discovered that working in the mornings works best for me too.

    Once kids are home from school I spend most of the afternoon chatting and doing stuff with them. I find now that they are older it's also easier to do the housework with them. So in the morning I begin working right away not worrying about house chores. We do that together, that way i get 6 hours of time to just focus on my work.

  15. jamessamy says

    Hi Lynn,
    Great post cause i myself sometimes go out of my plan schedule online
    Thank you for the reminder and sharing

    Thank you

  16. Very extensive post. Since I have ADHD, I really needed a strong focusing process to get me through the day or else the distractions would drag me through a totally non-productive day.

    I actually joined Simpleology and took the 101 course which is free. The rest of the "paid stuff" I found to be worthless but the Simpleology 101 was really valuable for me. I recommend it to anyone who has a tough time getting and staying focused (like me.)

  17. I have the same problem, except I don't have kids.

    My problem was specifically from...
    (I made you a quick video Lynn)

    • I love it, James! Great tips, and great addition to the discussion πŸ˜‰

      I usually close email programs, browser windows, instant messengers, etc when I'm in focus mode as well - makes a world of difference!

  18. Good stuff here, Lynn. I have periods where I schedule my time, then other times when I don't. I'm usually more productive when I schedule, but I think I have better production, as far as what I come up with is more creative, when I work unscheduled. Still, I have lots of projects I should probably be working on myself, so I need a bit more discipline it seems.

    • I'm the same way Mitch, and I find that interchanging like that keeps me on a good path. Sometimes I need to break the routine to get into a really creative mode, and I love having the freedom to do that!

  19. Mike Hays says

    For those of you who want to use a mindmap here is a link to a free open source program called FreeMind. I learned how to use it in 10 min. I have been experimenting with this and just using a notepad. To be honest I seem to get more accomplished when I do it the old fashion way, the notepad. Great post Lynn!

  20. Some of the biggest challenges you’ll face are the ones that at first seem like they will not be much of a problem at all:forums, free online games, television and online videos.

  21. Hi Lynn, as always, another great, valuable gem of a post!

    I find it invaluable at the end of my day, after I check off what I've achieved (yippee!), to put together my next day's To Do List. It's like a cleansing and clarifying process.

    I also believe that by setting things out clearly in a next day's To Do List, you get your sub-conscious mind working overnight on resolving and finding the best ways to approach next day's tasks. Some of my best creative insights and ideas have come that way during lucid dreaming.

    Thanks again as always Lynn!

    Kathy πŸ˜‰

  22. Awesome post...I struggle with staying focused. Seems like things take longer than they should, but I do get them done. It doesn't matter whether you are new to IM or a veteran, this is a struggle for most people.

  23. Another great benefit to getting organized, and having a very detailed and prioritized task list, is that it becomes super-easy to outsource things.

    I sat down this morning and laid out my plan of attack on the current project. Once I realized what I wasn't going to get done, I hopped on Skype and handed it off to someone else.

    In the times that I am unorganized and my task list is one big fat braindump that nobody could make sense of but me... I find it very difficult to outsource efficiently. (yes - that happens lol)

    So in addition to creating lists I can work through easily, with one task after another laid out so I can just work straight through them without getting sidetracked - it makes me double efficient because I can split the list or pluck tasks for other people to complete.

    Its a good habit to get into, even when you're operating solo, so that you can easily expand and grow with your business.

  24. Thanks so much for sharing how you manage it all. I too have a master task list. My problem is I try to work through it instead of mini, daily ones. Thanks for the suggestion.

    I've also got a free guide that our mutual friend and fellow work at home mom, Nicole Dean, wrote that I think your readers (moms especially) might find helpful.

    If anyone would like to check it out they can click my name to grab it. It's called: "Effective Yet Simple Strategies to Getting More Done While Working from Home - Mom Edition"

    Thanks again for the great post Lynn! =)

  25. Staying focused is my number one problem since I was a kid! Actually, I get easily bored with what I am doing, as a result, I let distractions come into me (like tv shows or music). Then at the end of the day, I'm not able to accomplish all my target work.

    I tried making a to-do list the other night, before I went to sleep. Unfortunately, I only accomplished less than 50% of my to-do list, almost half done up to now.*sigh*

  26. Jim Edward says

    Lanie, Try a couple of things before you give up:
    1) Above all else, be CONFIDENT that you CAN stay focused. It starts when you wake up.
    2) If you've not been focused in the past, don't expect to be Über focused overnight.
    3) On the first day don't put any more than 3 things on your TO DO list. Be sure they are actions you CAN do yourself.
    4) Think of a REWARD you will give yourself at the end of the day IF you do these things. That's your GOAL.
    5) Turn EVERYTHING else OFF that has nothing to do with your TO DO list.
    6) Don't stop! Keep the momentum going for the next day.

    Your success on day ONE should propel you toward bigger accomplishments in the future!

  27. When working at home it is really difficult to manage your time correctly. I usually compose a small note with a list of things I need to do in the evening. So in the morning I will already have a plan where to go and what to do.

  28. I too have found a physical list works best for me. I've hacked around an old slimline pcoket sized filofax and just filled it with my own forms (to dos, notes, projects) rather than the standard calendar & address book). carrying it with me everywhere makes the world of difference.

    Teh other key thing is a simple routine. I force myself to do my daily plan before switching on my computer.

    The reality is that no matter how disciplined I think I am - the minute the computer goes on and the emails/rss feeds/tweets come in - I start breacting to what's happending rather than driving it via my plan.


  29. Creating a time log sounds like an awesome idea. I get so busy searching around and listening/reading everything eventually gets jumbled. I need to write out a plan and stick to it. Gonna start working on that.

  30. The Gooroo says

    This is definitely the hardest part of blogging -- staying focused. If one can do that (as you can) they have overcome a huge potential roadblock in blogging.

    • David - Newbie Website Design says

      For me, I really didn't get into blogging until I found a topic that I truly love to write about.

      Now that I have it, I actually can't wait to work on it. So, I guess that loving what you do is the best time management that there is! πŸ™‚


  31. Jim Edward says

    Amen Newbie,
    Do what you love OR love what you do and productivity won't be a problem.

  32. Connor McArthur says

    I love the idea of a Time Log... this is something I'll definitely put into practice.

    I think the best tool I have to motivate myself is my daily to-do list combined with my personal mission statement. Checking things off as I finish them really gives me a feeling of accomplishment and gives me the impression that I'm moving closer to my goals.

    Anyway, thanks for this!

  33. John Yeng says

    Thanks for the great tips Lynn, specially the Timelog idea, haven't tried that I guess from now onwards I shouldn't tweet you past 10am then ! πŸ™‚

  34. Great advice! Not ashamed to admit it but i fidn it so difficult to focus when online between facebook youtube and even browsing recent news topics. thank you for the post

  35. Lynn,

    Thanks for the superb advice. I have been following you some time, and now I am finally taking action regarding in online business. I am in the early stages, but I am having fun learning.


  36. Old Friend says

    Reading this article made me remember how many blogs I have left to rot. Staying focused is the hardest thing to do when working at home.

  37. Brianna's Bedding says

    I totally agree with you Lynn. It is so easy to accomplish nothing when you work online if you lose your focus. Great Post.

  38. I am very focused on something, it is good. But when I am on the Internet, I will have no idea what is the time now. To be honest, I am very careless of time when on the Internet. I love Internet too much :).

  39. Wow Lynn, that was a great post. I found it accidentally and I am so glad that I did. Now I know exactly what I need to do in order to figure out what is taking up a lot of my time.

    Looking forward to your next post.

  40. The Coupon Code Lady says

    Thanks for the insightful view of your day. The biggest challenge I have working on a new website is knowing when to stop at the end of the day. There are so many things I would like to do. I think I will try the time log as a way to see when I am most productive.

  41. Thanks for sharing some useful tips on how to stay at focus on work. Indeed, the major problem for most freelancers is, how they can prioritize their work more than anything else since it's very tempting when working in front of the PC.

  42. The Online Wealth Accelerator Blog says

    Hi Lynn. Great blog. Thanks for all you're doing in helping people transition to a full time income online. Focus is definitely key in this line of work. I recommend to people if they can to black out a section of time during the day where they cannot take phone calls or answer email or even go to the kitchen

  43. Lynn,

    You work in one of the most distracting fields on earth yet remain very focused. I first heard about your methods on IMTW and finally took the time to read this post. Dynamite stuff and very inspirational.

    I've been teaching time management (for lack of a better term) for the past ten years and have learned that it is often difficult of people to internalize these basic concepts. There's nothing like a real story from a real person to bring them to life I plan to share your story with my clients and readers.

    Thank you for sharing.

  44. Lynn, great article. It is very important to stay focused.

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