Note: I just moved this post from Improveism, my old website. Some links and pictures might be broken.
Have you ever tried time management techniques, but still not getting any more productive?
According to Chris Bailey, author of The Productivity Project, Time Management alone is NOT enough.
In this busy, hyper-connected world, it takes more than just managing what tasks you’re doing to get a lot of shit done faster.
So, if time management techniques like the 80/20 rule, Parkinson’s Law, and GTD systems aren’t enough…
Then what makes up the missing link? Attention.
Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey is all about attention management.
It’s not just about focusing, but it’s also about unfocusing.
If you’re familiar with Chris, you know he’s the type of guy to get out of work for a year in order to do more work…in less time.
After all, he spent an ENTIRE year dedicated to productivity!
Reading journals, constant experimentation, tracking energy levels, comparing 20-hour and 80-hour workweeks…
We need more crazy people like him!
Luckily…you don’t have to spend a ton of time on trial and error.
And you don’t need more complicated systems, either.
In his book, you will discover:
- The only 2 types of work you have to focus on, so you get the right things done
- What conversations can teach us about becoming more productive
- How to make tasks unleash your brain’s potential through Hyperfocus
- The 566 times you’re DESTROYING your productivity!!
- How to make your tasks easier by making it “harder”
- The “forgotten” technique that increases test scores by 16% and your working memory capacity by 30%
- What “type” of focus you should do to spark creative ideas, come up with novel solutions, and world-changing concepts
And that’s just half of the book!
In just under a week, you’ll get to learn what the latest productivity research says—in an easy to read, conversational format!
What I liked about it are the step-by-step processes that Chris recommends for each principle.
This means that the book is highly actionable, and not just filled with theory.
Alright, enough talk! Let’s go on to the book summary 🙂
Hyperfocus: Best Ideas I Got From the Book
This book, message-wise, is kinda like Deep Work by Cal Newport—except more scientific.
If you’re the kind of person who likes anecdotal evidence with just a bit of science, then I highly suggest you read Deep Work instead.
I’ll leave the link below for your convenience:
Deep Work by Cal Newport on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2MRxulg
Anyway, let’s dive right in!
If you’re wasting this productivity resource, you’re also wasting your time
What productivity resource am I talking about?
I mentioned it earlier–it’s your Attention.
(did I just get your attention with the picture? I read somewhere that pictures of kids work the best)
Your attention is perhaps the most important productivity resource that you should manage.
You can’t control time, after all. But you can control how you spend your attention.
Now, why are we incredibly prone to wasting our attention? It’s not even our fault.
It’s just how our brains are wired.
We’re constantly on autopilot. And it’s actually a good thing!
Without running on autopilot, around 40% of the actions we make the whole day will require decision-making!
So, you guessed it–the brain performs autopilot so that we can save mental power on deciding what to do.
In fact, psychologists have already shown that the more choices we make throughout the day, the more the quality of our decisions deteriorates.
(I actually learned this from 2 books already, Essentialism and The Happiness Equation)
Now what? Well, in order for us to conserve our attention, we must practice doing our most important tasks with intention. (cool rhyme, though)
We must become more deliberate about what we’re doing at the moment, especially when we’re in the middle of a complex task (a cognitively demanding task that requires thinking).
Why is this the case? Read the next section to learn more.
Why you can’t calculate 5 times 17 (while parking in a narrow space)
Have you ever tried just that–calculating 5 times 17 while parking in a narrow space?
Perhaps you haven’t experienced driving yet…but have you tried calculating 5 times 17 while talking to someone?
It’s pretty hard, isn’t it?
The reason behind this is that our ability to focus is incredibly limited.
In fact, a study by Timothy Wilson from the University of Virginia estimated that the brain receives 11 million bits of sensory information, but we can only focus on FORTY.
Think about how small that is.
That means we can only focus on 0.000363636% of the information that’s available to us at the moment.
Holy freaking shit.
The point is, we have limited attentional space, so we should use these 40 bits in a really smart way if we want to become truly productive!
But how do we know if a task is worth doing?
How do we know if the task that’s consuming some of our 40 bits is actually worth our time and attention?
What type of work should you do?
According to Chris, there are 4 types of tasks. (shown above)
Using our common sense, we realize that we should focus on the ones on the right-hand side.
The Necessary Work, and Purposeful Work.
By interpreting the graph, we can tell that:
- Necessary Work is something that we HAVE to do because it helps us achieve something important to us
- Purposeful Work is something that we WANT to do because it helps us achieve something important to us
Regardless of what’s important to you, focusing on Productive tasks will make you, well…more productive. Duh.
What about the other two quadrants? (Well, you might want to take care of them before they take care of you.)
Emails, Social Media, Maintenance Work, Laundry, Shopping, etc.
You know what I mean.
And now that we know what things are most important to us…there’s this question that brings us to the next section:
“How do you do productive tasks…productively?”
Your Brain’s Most Productive Mode and How to Activate It
Remember the time when you’re incredibly more productive?
I bet you’re fully immersed in what you’re doing.
It felt amazing, and at the same time, you got a ton of things done.
Nothing can distract you.
You just felt unbelievably satisfied, and there’s just ZERO resistance in continuing what you’re doing.
That’s your most productive mode. What we call Hyperfocus.
Hyperfocus happens when your attentional space is TOTALLY allocated to a complex task.
Here’s my formula for Hyperfocus. “IDEA-A”
- Distraction Elimination
- Allocation of Attentional Space
- Attention Refocusing
(at least, that’s what I got in my notes)
Basically, to achieve Hyperfocus, you have to choose what complex task you’re going to do (1), avoid all distractions (2), focus all of your attention to the task (3), and when the mind wanders, you just “catch” it, and bring it back into the moment (4).
But it’s harder than it seems, especially when we’re constantly bombarded with distractions, interruptions, and the like.
Luckily, Chris also tells us how to tame these distractions.
And it turns out that there are actually 4 types of distractions. Two of them are the only types of distractions you can control.
4 Types of Distractions and How to Tame Them
According to Chris Bailey, there are 4 types of distractions (as shown above).
Now, what do we have to deal with first?
No, no. We want to deal with those distractions that we don’t have control over first.
We do this by dealing with them ahead of time.
I’m not talking about shutting them up and threatening those noisy colleagues.
I’m talking about becoming more proactive and actually preventing yourself from coming in contact with them.
For example, I deal with outside noises (I can’t control them) by putting in some in-ear headphones and blasting some music.
That way, they wouldn’t be able to distract me.
Now, while we can’t actively respond to every distraction outside of our control, we can definitely choose how we react to these distractions.
And that’s actually the best way to deal with these distractions.
(As I’m writing this now, I’m at a coffee shop and I’m hearing some loud bands outside. I just applied this principle and of course, put in my earphones so I’m never bothered.)
Studies have shown that in the presence of these outside distractions, we’re actually the ones distracting ourselves more because we keep on reacting to the outside sources.
Okay, so with that out of the way, let’s now deal with distractions that we CAN control.
For notifications, I simply turn off the system notifications for my phone.
I even went a step further and uninstalled all of my social media platforms.
That way, I really have to take extra steps just to access them.
This makes intention much likely to take over rather than autopilot.
Again, you can always become more proactive and deal with these distractions ahead of time so you won’t waste any.
One exception, though.
If you have no control over the distraction, and it’s FUN, then why not just enjoy it?
Now that we know how to “tame” our external distractions, you might also be thinking:
“What about INTERNAL distractions?”
You got questions. We’ve got answers.
The Forgotten Technique that Everybody Thinks It’s Only for 40-year Old Moms
How the hell do you deal with internal distractions?
Remember what we were talking about earlier? We can actually prevent these internal distractions from coming–or at least minimize them.
How? Through mindfulness meditation.
Meditation has actually gotten a bad rep because it seems “silly” or it’s “just for 40-year old moms”.
Guess what? These 40-year old moms are hyperfocusing more than you do!
Meditation essentially trains you to “quiet” your monkey mind.
You’ll get access to the FULL 40 bits of information more easily when you meditate regularly.
And it doesn’t even require you to do the conventional half-lotus style sitting position, no.
You can practice mindfulness when doing habitual tasks.
“B-but that’s hard!”
What’s the reason? It’s because habitual tasks consume only little of our attentional space.
And because of this, there’s SO MUCH attentional space left for your mind to wander!
But that’s the beauty of it.
Think of it this way: If you can actually hyperfocus on something so habitual…don’t you think it would become easier for you to achieve hyperfocus on something that’s complex?
Even science says YES. Here’s the deal:
Meditation actually INCREASES the size of your attentional space.
What this “more attentional space” means for you:
- More creative ideas that’s so original, that other people won’t even come up with something close
- A daily life free from stress and worries (seriously!)
- Better ability to hyperfocus, thus accomplishing great work in a SHORT amount of time
And you think that’s crazy.
Mindfulness will give you the ability to work more clearly, with more intention, with less stress.
What more can you ask for?
Why distractions will DRAIN you, and how Hyperfocus ENERGIZES you
Alright, I wasn’t able to think of a transition right away.
But do you remember that day when you were acting like a heavy piece of log, full couch-potato mode, and just distracted the whole day?
How does it feel? I bet it’s not satisfying.
You felt empty.
So what’s the secret to never feeling empty again? Do great work.
And we do that through hyperfocusing.
You see, Hyperfocus actually ENERGIZES you. Why?
The reason is simple.
It’s because your brain doesn’t spend any energy choosing from distraction to distraction when you’re hyperfocused on a single task.
On the contrary, when you’re constantly distracted, you feel incredibly tired.
You not only feel like you’re really unproductive for the whole day and your life is up to no good, but you’ll also have LESS energy because you’re not able to do something you love!
Don’t get me wrong–video games allow you to Hyperfocus in a snap.
What I’m saying is the act of concurrently switching every couple of seconds from app to app.
Sometimes even doing a Facebook-Twitter-Instagram-Reddit cycle over and over again! (Been there, done that)
And I don’t want you doing that kind of shit again.
You’re here to become more productive.
You’re here to improve yourself.
You’re here to discover what it takes to achieve your goals.
So start a Hyperfocusing habit, and reap the massive rewards every single day.
Again, thank me later (and Chris, too).
Bottom Line: Hyperfocus Book Summary
Actually, I have something to tell you.
What you’ve just read is just HALF of the book.
There’s more to learn!
So, if you want to start becoming the most productive version of yourself, the master of your attention, and have the invulnerability to distractions…
Otherwise, you can always read great, free stuff like Chris Bailey’s Productivity Projects: https://alifeofproductivity.com/best-things-ive-written/
As always, thanks for reading!