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Organize, Focus, Get It Done

Easy as 1, 2, 3

No matter what you’re trying to do, there are three important steps you need to take:

  1. Get organized.
  2. Stay focused.
  3. Get it done!

The trouble for kids is that each of these steps is actually a lot of little steps. But figuring out how to do them is a skill that will help you a lot in school and in life. Kids have many things to do each day. And each one of them follows this 1-2-3 process.

Take brushing your teeth:

  1. Getting organized means getting where you need to be and gathering your supplies. To brush your teeth, go to the bathroom, get out your toothbrush and toothpaste, get your toothbrush wet, then put toothpaste on it.
  2. Staying focused means sticking with the task. Dentists say to brush for 3 minutes, so that means keep brushing, even if you hear a really good song on the radio or you remember that you wanted to call your friend. Concentrate and remember what the dentist told you about brushing away from your gums.
  3. Getting it done! If you do steps 1 and 2, step 3 almost takes care of itself. Hurray, your 3 minutes are up and your teeth are clean! Getting it done means finishing up and putting on the finishing touches. With teeth brushing, that would be stuff like rinsing off your toothbrush and putting it away, putting the cap back on the toothpaste, and making sure there’s no toothpaste foam on your face!

Maybe you’re thinking, “I can brush my teeth just fine.” If so, that’s great because it means that you can apply those same skills to school or any project you need to get done, like homework or cleaning your room.

Get Organized

Being organized is an important skill for school and life. When you’re well organized, you can stay focused instead of spending time hunting things down and getting sidetracked.

What does it mean to be organized? For schoolwork, it means having one notebook or place where you store all your assignments so you know what you have to do and when. Keeping clearly labeled binders or folders for handouts and keeping all your schoolwork neat and in a specific place — these are the main parts of organization.

For home stuff, being organized means having a place to put your things and putting them back as you go. It means hanging your coat up instead of dropping it on the floor or throwing it on a chair. It means keeping your schoolbag, your shoes, and your clean underwear in the same places so you always know where to find them.

Planning is part of being organized, too. Planning means deciding what you will do and when you will do it. Calendars, lists, and schedules can help you plan. You can buy or draw a calendar and keep it near your workspace.

Making a schedule or a “to-do” list for yourself is a good idea. Looking at your list helps you keep track of what you need to do. Add new things as you get assignments, and check off things when you’ve done them. Use your list to help you decide which thing is most important to work on first.

If you have a big project, write the date it’s due on your calendar. But don’t wait until it’s almost due to start your project. Write it on your to-do list or your calendar in the weeks beforehand (this is called planning ahead!). That way, you won’t end up waiting until the last minute.

Work on a big project a little bit at a time. Not only will that mean less stress for you, but it will also lead to better work. Your teachers can tell when you’ve put thought and care into assignments, and when you dashed them off in a hurry before turning them in.

It takes some extra effort to organize yourself and your stuff. But once you’re organized, it feels great. The less time you spend hunting around for things or panicking about homework, the more time you have for better things, like reading a good book or playing.

Protect Your Environment

Clean air, clean water . . . clean workspace? Yes. The first two make for a healthy planet. The last one makes healthy work habits. It’s best to have a desk or table that you use every time you do homework. If you associate that environment with work, you can actually start to focus faster. (That’s why doing homework in bed isn’t such a great idea. You associate that environment with sleeping, not learning!)

Keep your work area well stocked with pens, pencils, notebooks, and textbooks — anything you’ll need to do your assignments. If you use the kitchen table or another space that isn’t yours all the time, consider creating a “workbox” to hold paper, pens, books, and other supplies so you don’t have to hunt around for them after the table’s cleared. That way, you can grab the box and voilà!: instant workspace.

Wherever you work, try to make sure you won’t be distracted. Turn off TVs, cell phones, the Internet, and any instant messaging device. Think you can watch television and read your science book? Think again. You’re less likely to remember the information you read when some of your attention is on something else. If you have loud siblings or family members, gently ask them to go elsewhere. If they won’t go or simmer down, find a quieter place.

Stay Focused at Home

Once you’ve created the right homework environment, you have to stay focused, stick with it, and get the job done. Did you get stuck? Do you need a break for a minute? Take it away from your work desk. Get yourself a glass of water or a take a short walk (but come right back!). Don’t turn on the TV or start reading email — those tasks are likely to suck you in. Keep your eyes on the prize: a finished assignment.

To keep your mind focused, talk yourself through the work. Ask yourself, “What do I need to do now?” and then answer yourself. Maybe you’ll answer, “OK, I need to do the next math problem. Let’s see . . . I’m up to number 5. I’ll start by reading the problem to myself.” Then go ahead and do that. Ask yourself: “What do I do next?” Then answer yourself again: “OK, I need to find out what half of 46 is.” Now what? “OK, so I write down 46 and I divide by 2,” then do that.

You get the idea. Talk yourself through what you’re trying to do, step by step, just like you’re the teacher. This really helps you to keep your mind on the job and stay focused. Don’t give up! You’re getting there. (Remember to tell yourself that, too!)

You might be wondering, “But how can I stay focused when I’m cleaning up my room or doing some other chore my parent asked me to do?” To stay focused on any job, talk yourself through it the same way. If you’re cleaning your room, ask yourself, “What did my Mom ask me to do?” Answer: “Oh, yeah, clean my room.” Ask yourself, “Where should I start?” Your possible answer: “I guess I’ll pick up all my clothes from the floor.” Then go ahead and do it.

Now — let’s say that under the jeans you’ve just picked up, you discover that CD you’ve been looking all over for. You decide to play it, and before you know it, you’re singing away with your pretend microphone. Still focused? Oops — you got distracted! Ask yourself, “Wait — what am I supposed to be doing right now?” Answer — “Oh, yeah, picking up my clothes.” Then get back on the job.

After all the clothes are picked up, ask yourself, “What should I do next?” Possible answer, “I’ll make my bed.” Then do that. Keep talking yourself through the whole job until the room is clean. Notice the progress you’re making and tell yourself, “I’m doing great. My mom will be happy (and maybe surprised!).”

Stay Focused at School

It can be hard to stay focused all day at school. But luckily, the subjects change, so you don’t need to focus on the same thing all day long. Each subject lasts for a short while, so you need to focus for short periods of time. There’s usually a quick break as you change books or supplies for a new subject.

At school, if your mind wanders (or dozes off!) while you’re listening or doing work at your seat, you might want to change the way you’re sitting so you’re more comfortable. Take a nice deep breath or get up and stretch (when your teacher says it’s OK) so you can better tune in to what’s being said.

To keep your mind on the work, talk yourself through it. Ask yourself questions about what you need to do, then answer the questions and do the steps you need to do. Do one step at a time until you get it done.

If the work is hard, don’t just give up on it. Give it a good try or ask for help. Putting it off or stalling for time won’t help you learn it, and it won’t make the work any easier. Give your brain a challenge — it’s good exercise!

When you don’t understand something or don’t know how to do something, ask the teacher for help. If you don’t, your mind will drift and before you know it, you’re off in la-la land. Instead, ask your question and listen to the answer. If you’re still confused, talk to your teacher after class.


There’s nothing wrong with a good imagination, unless it’s taking over at the wrong time, like in the middle of a class lesson. If daydreams clutter your mind, find a way to channel them to the right time of the day — after school.

You might start writing your daydreamy thoughts in a journal at the end of each day. Then you’re not turning off your daydreams, you’re just putting them on hold until a little later. If you don’t like writing, try painting, building, or other ways of letting your creativity flow.

Noisy Neighbors

If classmates are distracting you, ask them nicely to stop talking. Are you the talker? Save your chitchat for lunchtime or recess. If you’re still distracted, maybe there’s something the teacher can do to help.

Get It Done!

What’s better than being organized and focused? Being done! Not only will you be glad to know you’ve done well, but you’ll have a finished product to be proud of. Hang in there until it’s all done, and don’t give up when you’re halfway through. Make sure your homework is neat. Check your work for mistakes, and fix any you find. If it’s a project or a book report, put on the finishing touches.

When you’re finished with one part of the homework, checking it off on your assignment list can give you a good feeling. When you’ve finished all your homework, there’s still one more thing. You have to get your homework to school. It doesn’t do much good if you leave your assignment on your desk at home!

To be sure you’re ready for school, check your bags. Make sure your name is on your homework, your homework is in a safe place (like a folder), the folder is in your backpack, and your backpack doesn’t get left in the car or on the bus. You did the hard work, you deserve to get full credit for it!

For home chores, getting it done means sticking with it until the job’s completely finished. When you think you’re done (or almost done), take a look around your room to see if there’s anything you forgot to pick up. Bed made? Check. Shoes put away? Check. Dirty clothes in the right basket? Check. Clean clothes in the drawer? Check. Toys and books where they belong? Check.

If your job is feeding the dog, you’re not quite done after you’ve dished up the yummy dog food. Getting the job done means throwing away the empty dog food can, rinsing off the spoon, and putting the spoon in the sink. Or if you’re setting the dinner table, don’t stop after just the plates. Get the whole job done by putting out the utensils and napkins, too. Don’t forget the glasses. Oh, yeah, how about the salt and pepper? Anything else your table needs?

For anything you do, getting it done means finishing what you start, doing a good job, and checking your work. Oh, and one more important thing: Take a moment to admire the work you’ve done. You deserve to feel proud. Nice job!

Help From Grown-Ups

When you’re trying to learn these skills, you’re going to need some help from parents and other grown-ups, like teachers. But the trick is to understand that it’s not good for them to do the work for you. Someday, you’ll be older — and in high school or college — and you’ll need to do stuff without their help.

Here are two lists. One gives examples of stuff it’s OK to have grown-ups help you with. The other is a list of stuff grown-ups should not be doing for you.

Adults and teachers should:

  • help teach you new stuff
  • answer your questions about what you’ve learned or what the assignment is
  • provide a quiet environment where you can focus
  • provide the supplies you need to get the job done
  • check your work and help you fix mistakes
  • give you tips on getting organized and staying focused
  • help you figure out where to keep things in your room
  • give you some kid-sized jobs to do around the house
  • let you help them with things in the classroom and at home

Adults and teachers should not:

  • tell you what the answers are to homework questions
  • do key parts of an assignment for you such as research or writing
  • correct mistakes for you
  • organize your work, backpack, or locker
  • have to remind you a million times to do the things you’re supposed to do
  • clean your room for you (sorry!)

As you grow, you will be responsible for more and more of the work yourself. If you pay attention to how your parents and teachers talk you through a homework assignment, you’ll be able to do it for yourself when the time comes — and that time is soon. Good grades aren’t the only payoff. The more tasks you can do well on your own, the better you’ll feel about yourself This goes for stuff you’re learning how to do for yourself at home, too.

Sometimes, students take too long to get started, put off the homework, or have trouble focusing because they don’t understand what they’re supposed to be doing or don’t think they can do it well. You need help from teachers and parents for this. It’s normal to be worried about what will happen if you fail, but try to trust yourself and give it your best.

If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to keep asking for help. Tell parents or teachers what the problem is. Some kids have problems with attention, which can make it tougher to organize, focus, and get it done. But they, too, can and should use this 1-2-3 method to get better at completing tasks.

Help from grown-ups can be a little boost that helps you get ready to do it on your own. Who knows? You might even be able to help your parents. Many grown-ups struggle with doing complicated tasks like how to plan a whole week’s worth of dinners. If your mom or dad is faced with one of these tough tasks, you know what advice to give:

  1. Get organized.
  2. Stay focused.
  3. Get it done!

Reviewed by: D’Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: March 2014