I'm asking about an English idiom that you would tell a person who is distracted by side issues that affect his/her ability to do their job, an idiom that (in this case) you would tell that person, meaning, (focus only on earning a living!)


  • This is kind of broad: the distractions could range all the way from a sick child to a gambling habit. – Cascabel Jul 5 '17 at 23:10
  • Im looking for a colloquial English quote in the form of an order. In Egypt we have a saying (Eat bread!) meaning (focus on earning a living!) ..... – king256 Jul 5 '17 at 23:13
  • Is this intended to be a positive remark or a negative one? Are children "side issues"? – Azor Ahai -- he him Jul 5 '17 at 23:35
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    "keep your eye on the ball" is a bit broader way of saying 'don't be distracted, concentrate on your main objective'. It can be used for nearly any activity with an objective, not particularly about 'earning a living'. I think it is a bit more positive in suggesting opportunity to get ahead, than some adages that might almost suggest a daily routine...or even slightly suggesting a degree of 'drudgery' to life. – Tom22 Jul 6 '17 at 0:32

Keep your nose to the grindstone.
Phrases.org.uk gives the meaning as:

Apply yourself conscientiously to your work.

Several origins are given, and most evoke the idea of close concentration.

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  • If this is someone who is not yet doing it and you want to tell them to start, "it's time to put your nose to the grindstone." – MAA Jul 5 '17 at 23:36
  • The specific phrase would suggest someone who may be in the process of losing focus and needs a reminder. Your version is perfectly acceptable and suggests someone who has not yet fully applied himself/herself. – user266483 Jul 5 '17 at 23:40

Not an easy question. One possibility is "put bread on the table". Another less idiomatic is "stick to paying the bills".

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In colonial America, the phrase "Mind your business," as used on the Fugio Cent (the first coinage authorized by the federal government of the US), meant get to work. Coupled with the word Fugio ("I fly") and a picture of a sundial on the other side of the coin, this was an admonition from Ben Franklin to citizens of the new nation to get busy -- they had a country to build.

From a discussion at Collector's Universe:

Mind Your Business was only half of the legend. The other part -- Fugio -- would have been understandable to most folks in the 18th century, even though it was latin. Fugio means "I fly," referring to the sundial, representing time.

So the full legend is [Time] flies, [so] mind your business.

Or, The clock is ticking, go do what you need to do.

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