Archive for September, 2018


Book Notes – Hyperfocus, Chapter 10

Working Together

For all that they differ, there are a lot of times when Hyperfocus and Scatterfocus can work together. They complement each other by combining to absorb and utilize information as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Investing in Happiness

A positive mood will expand the amount of attention the mind can devote. This happens regardless of which mode of focus the mind is in. On the other hand, a negative mood shrinks the amount of attention a mind can devote. Unhappy people are less productive and the less happy one feels, the more important it becomes to tame distractions as there is less energy to resist them. People who are unhappy also take longer to refocus after an interruption. Thus, it is a good idea to invest in happiness whenever possible.

Work Around Your Energy Levels

Scatterfocus is useful when mental energy is at its lowest. The brain is less inhibited during these periods and doesn’t hold back the ideas it generates. Schedule tasks for Hyperfocus during peak energy times and schedule tasks for Scatterfocus during low energy times.

Alcohol and Caffeine

Alcohol removes inhibitions in the brain. This can lead to more creativity and creative problem solving, but be aware that this with a small amount of alcohol. Slightly tipsy is different than hitting the bar after work. Most tasks require creativity and focus, so too much alcohol can rob one of the ability to actually take advantage of creative insight. Alcohol’s use is best preserved for brainstorming or other data-linking tasks when your mind needs to wander freely. Be aware of the difficulty of resisting distractions, however.

Caffeine has the opposite effect. It deepens focus and improves performance on tasks that require verbal memory, quick reaction time and spacial awareness (like putting together a jigsaw puzzle). It’s the analytic counterpart to alcohol’s creativity boost. A single cup of coffee is enough to get things going, but more will not boost the effect. More that two cups should be avoided because beyond that amount it overstimulate the brain and counter the effects mentioned earlier. Further, as the caffeine is metabolized by the body, energy crashes and productivity drops.

Open Offices

Open environments can distract up to 64 percent more often than in a closed office space. This needs to be countered with focused attention. That isn’t to say they aren’t helpful. Open offices support working on projects for longer and interacting with more people. The downside is more interruptions between tasks and therefore less time to recharge the mind.

Creating a Focus Ritual

Enter Hyperfocus mode at least once a day to deal with the most productive tasks. Eliminate any distractions and focus on one important thing at a time. Enter Scatterfocus mode multiple times a day to planfor the future, connect ideas and recharge mental energy. This can be managed with a proper focus ritual. Essentially, a time set aside once a week where one sits down to plan the week. Here it can be decided what the three weekly intentions are, how much Hyperfocus and Scatterfocus is needed and what the best times are to enter these focus modes. It helps to ask the following questions:

  • How much productivity and creativity is need in the upcoming week?
  • What commitments have been made that will get in the way of Hyperfocus and Scatterfocus sessions?
  • How many blocks of time can be committed for one of the focus modes?

Noticing

Becoming aware of what is capturing the mind’s attention makes a person more mentally agile and able to adjust to changing conditions. One of the best strategies to train the brain is the hourly awareness chime mentioned earlier in the document. In addition, try picking a few cues that are encountered over the course of the day to act as a reminder to check what is occupying attention. Being aware of this enables the redirection of attention back to important tasks and projects. It creates a greater sense of purpose, longer focusing times and increased quality of attention.

Book Notes – Hyperfocus Chapter 9

Collecting Dots

Unresolved tasks aren’t the only thing that are processed behind-the-scenes. Accumulated information is processed as well and may be more important. People become experts on a subject by accumulating data points related to the subject. This comes in the form of experiences, knowledge and best practices. By learning something new, information is pulled from the external environment into memory to processed by linking data points to each other. Perhaps unintuitively, the more that is known about a subject, the less focus and mental energy that subject consume. This is because more information can be accommodated as it is linked together into one cluster of data points. They all become related, so they all flow into each other.

Working with more information also helps make more intuitive decisions because the mind can subconsciously summon pre-existing knowledge and connect them together. This also means that people are what they pay attention to. Almost nothing influences productivity and creativity as much as information consumed in the past. Scatterfocus becomes more productive by linking valuable information and Hyperfocus becmes more productive since the mind can approach a problem with more knowledge.

The Value of a Data Point

The mind can contain a vast amount of knowledge, but the information must come in gradually. Further, no two instances of information are equal. Reading a book or spending time with someone more knowlegeable or smarter will yield higher quality information than watching videos on Youtube or visiting gossip sites.

The most creative people guard their attention religiously, only allowing the most valuable information to enter into their minds. But, how does one measure the value of an instance of information?

  • The most valuable data points are both useful and entertaining. The entertainment value creates engagement as the information is being absorbed.
  • Useful information is typically actionable and helps to reach some goal
  • Reading a good non-fiction book or biography of some historical figure is usually better than watching videos on YouTube. These works can inspire, are relatively practical, non-speculative and can help with personal goals over the short term or long term. The information also often has a longer shelf-life
  • Useful information is either related in some way to something consumed in the past or completely unrelated to anything previously known
  • Useful information also is anything that can support an existing skill set
  • Absorbing novel data helps challenge worldviews and may provide an insight trigger
  • When in doubt, consider if knowing a piece of information changes anything about life or outlook

Remember that if creativity is considered the sum of data points that are connected, consuming information on autopilot is one of the least useful activities to engage in.

Collecting More Valuable Dots

  • When more energy is available, consume more useful information. That is, information that is actionable, accurate, goal-accomplishing and relevant over a long term. Books are useful for this thanks to their information density
  • When less energy is available, still seek out useful information, but information that strikes a balance between useful and entertaining.
  • When a need exists to recharge the mental batteries, consume information that is more entertaining, but do so with intention. Don’t just sit there and passively absorb the information
  • Avoid low quality information, such as what is found on gossip sites, online videos and so on. There is just wastes brain space
  • Always take stock of what is being consumed
  • Always intentionally consume more valuable information
  • Assign the information to one of four categories: Useful, Balanced, Entertaining, or Trashy. Carry a notepad around to make a note of what enters these categories regardless of whether it is happening at home or work. If necessary, keep two lists: one for professional work and one for home

Once enough of a list (or lists) has developed, it’s time to take stock of the situation:

  1. Make a note of what is begin consumed that other people tend to underappreciate. Assuming this information is quality, double down on it. Also opt for the preferred medium. Some people prefer vidoes over books, for example
  2. Eliminate “Trashy” content. Be ruthless in defending attention input
  3. Choose valuable things to add. Consider what can be absorbed that might be useful later. Add something valuable for each worthless thing eliminated
  4. Be aware of what is being consumed while on autopilot. Whatever is being absorbed while low on mental energy is like something that is not really interesting or adding value to life.
  5. Feel free to passively absorb information once in a while as a break or a way to relax. Do so, however, with intention. Set the criteria for what is going to be done, how many episodes of a show to watch, what is going to be eaten while watching it and so forth. This causes action with intention and also dispels feelings of guilt for relaxing once in a while
  6. Re-evaluate what is being consumed as it is being consumed. Skip or skim anything that doesn’t seem to be worth anyone’s time. People tend to want to see things all the way through, but every minute spent on something useless is a minute lost for working on something useful. Even when watching a film, reassess periodically if it should be watched all the way to the end
  7. Get things to bid for attention. View the descriptions of podcasts, videos, films, books and other things as a pitch for attention. Use this information to decide of something merits attention or can be discarded
  8. When faced with a question of what to do, zoom out a bit and question your situation from afar. Think about whether spending time watching a video is really what you should be doing for yourself in that moment
  9. Consume challenging information outside the boundaries of expertise. This forces the connection of disparate pieces of information
  10. Double down on what is valuable. The more data that is collected, the more of expertise develops
  11. Allow ideas to build on each other. This will happen quite naturally as more information is accrued

Making Scatterfocus a Habit

Scattering attention is beneficial when work demands the connection of complex and disparate ideas. The frequency with which attention is scattered should reflect the importance of finding the right solution to a problem. Further, the more time spent in Scatterfocus mode, the more time might be saved later when working on that task.

The brain needs to take a few minutes to jump from Scatterfocus to Hyperfocus and back again, so taking breaks of 15 minutes or longer will yield better results than smaller moments throughout the day. That said, Scatterfocus is the most creative mode of the brain and as with Hyperfocus, it is worth spending as much time as possible practicing it.

Book Notes – Hyperfocus, Chapter 8

Connecting the Dots

Scatterfocus can help people become more creative in two ways. First by connecting more data points and second by collecting more valuable data points. Scatterfocus does this by lighting up the brain’s network when it is not focused on something; people connect data points when they rest and plan for the future. Hyperfocus doesn’t work for this because focusing on one particular task or data point all other thoughts are pushed out to deal with that one issue.

Insight Triggers

Incomplete tasks and projects take up more mental energy than finished projects. Taking care of them will free up brain power and mental energy. When a person experiences a moment of insight, it is because the brain has unexpectedly found a solution to a problem that might not have been thought about in a while. This likely happened because the insight was a response to an incomplete task or project or problem that was at the back of the mind. In addition, the mind was likely wandering when this happened. Any open problem represents an open loop the brain is desperate to close, which is why it will work on these issues in the background while someone is engaging in other activities.

Connecting Dots

  1. Scatter attention in a richer environment. Controlling the environment can be one of the most productive actions a person can take. Immersing oneself in a setting that contains potential insight triggers is a powerful technique. A richer environment is one that involves encountering new people, ideas and sights. Adopt a mix of activities. Some should give themind space to connect dots, some should fill the mind with new dots to connect
  2. Write out problems that need to be solved. Writing down detailed problems helps the mind continue to process the problems in the background. Recording these issues and the progress made helps clarify, process and remember them. For smaller problems, when setting the next three-day intentions at the end of the day, note the largest problems to solve, then sleep on it.
  3. Dreaming on a problem is Scatterfocus on steroids. Thomas Edison would go to be holding a handful of marbles and Salvador Dali would hold keys in his hand. When they hit a deep stage of sleep, they would drop what they were carrying, which woke them up. They would then write down whatever was on their mind at the moment. Edison once said “Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.” Sleep helps by consolidating data points accumulated over the course of the day and letting go of unimportant or irrelevant data points to make room. Take Edison’s advice and review any problems or any useful information prior to going to bed.
  4. Step back once in a while from what task is being performed. People have a tendency to hammer away at a problem when they are stuck. The better one is at focusing, the more important it becomes to unfocus. Also, purposefully delaying creative decisions (as long as the deadline is not close by) can give more time to create more and potentially valuable connections.
  5. Intentionally leave tasks unfinished as a tactic. Abruptly stopping a task means the mind will continue to think about it even when switching to another task. This lets the mind continue to process an issue and may yield useful insight later.
  6. Consider more deeply the content that is consumed. Scatterfocus becomes more valuable when there is higher quality data entering the mind.

Book Notes – Hyperfocus, Chapter 7

Recharging Your Attention

A person’s energy levels influence the ability to focus. Here are signs that mental energy is running low:

  • Switching between tasks often and being unable to sustain focus for just one task
  • Losing grip on intentions and working in a more reactive way
  • Getting tasks done at a noticeably slower rate, or going over things multiple times
  • Opting to do less important, more mindless work than more important and serious work
  • Unintentionally slipping into Scatterfocus mode

Even if it were for 10 minutes at a time, utilizing Scatterfocus lets the mind rest and replenish energy. A replenishing work break can have three characteristics:

  • Low-effort and habitual (see previous chapter on Habitual Mode)
  • Engaging in an activity that one actually wants to do
  • Engaging in something that isn’t a chore (unless doing a chore is enjoyable)

Basically, when taking a break, pick an activity that is highly enjoyable, such as walking around the office, going to the gym on lunch break, or spending time with coworkers that encourage positivity. Frequent recharging is also necessary if a particular project or task isn’t very motivating. Regarding taking breaks:

  • Take a break at least every 90 minutes
  • Break for roughly 15 minutes for each hour of work that is done

Sleep

For every hour of sleep a person misses, two hours of productivity can be lost the next day. Some claim they can get by on less sleep than others, but chances are good that either they do not perform complex tasks or they could be more productive if they actually got enough sleep.

One of the best ways to get more sleep and increase sleep quality is to develop a solid night-time ritual. This is necessary because at the end of the day energy is depleted and people will tend to act on autopilot mode. Establish a routine that helps unwind before bed. For example, reading, meditation, or something else. Avoid television and online videos. It may seem convenient, but it soaks up attention and keeps people awake.

Taking a break is one of the productive things a person can do. Whenever a person rests, time is exchanged for energy. If anything, people should feel worse about not taking breaks than taking them.

Book Notes – Hyperfocus, Chapter 6

Scatterfocus

Hyperfocus is the most productive mode of the brain, but scatterfocus is the most creative. It can get in the way of productive thinking, but excels in coming up with solution to problems. In addition, when we need to focus, daydreaming can be very destructive. When we need to be creative, solve problems, brainstorm or just recharge our mental energies, however, daydreaming can be very potent. This is the “Scatterfocus” mode of the brain.

Entering Scatterfocus is very easy. Just let the mind wander. This accomplishes three things:

  1. Set intentions and plan for the future
  2. Rebuild mental endurance for the next Hyperfocus session
  3. Fosters creativity

Most people are actually averse to Scatterfocus. A study suggested that as much as 83 percent of responding Americans didn’t spend any time relaxing or thinking in the 24-hour period before being surveyed. This is in part because humans are wired to constantly survey the environment for threats. This causes us to be absorbed in an email or social media post and makes tasks feel more urgent than they actually are. In addition, wandering minds inevitably fall into ruminations of money issues, work and so on, which just increases the feeling of threat. That said, properly harnessed, the use of Scatterfocus can give access to profound creativity and be used to regain control of one’s life by complementing Hyperfocus to live and work more intentionally.

Where the Mind Goes

When the mind wanders, it generally goes to the past, present and future to connect what is currently happening with the goals one might want to achieve. In addition, it will go to memories of past threats in one form or another. Harsh memories will suddenly appear and occupy our mind for any given length of time. The most important way to harness this is learn how to switch between focusing on something and reflecting on it. The reflection part (Scatterfocus) helps in choosing and accomplishing tasks more deliberately instead of just doing things like a robot while the mind wanders uncontrollably.

Here is a list of how Scatterfocus can help when working on a project or task:

  • Become more self-aware
  • Incubate new ideas more deeply
  • Remember and process ideas and meaningful experiences more effectively
  • Reflect on the meaning of an experience
  • Show greater empathy by imagining life through the point of view of another
  • As an addendum to the previous point, be more compassionate

Three Styles of Scatterfocus

We can spend almost half the day with our mind wandering, but the difference with Scatterfocus is that it is intentional. There are three ways to engage Scatterfocus:

  1. Capture Mode. Let the mind roam freely and capture whatever comes up
  2. Problem-Crunching Mode. Hold a problem loosely in the mind and let thoughts wander around it
  3. Habitual Mode. Work on a simple task and capture ideas and plans that pop into the mind while working on that task

Capture mode is the best for identifying what is going on with current thoughts. Problem-crunching mode is best for resolving a specific issue and Habitual mode is best for recharging the mind and connecting the greatest number of ideas.

Capture Mode

Schedule one or more 15-minute chunks of time each week to let the mind wander freely. This can be as simple as sitting at a coffee shop with a pen and paper. Write whatever comes to mind whatever it is. The result should be something like a list of tasks, ideas about this or that, people to get back in touch with, etc. The process should result in a re-energizing of the mind because the mind has been given license to stop spending energy focusing on something (or anything).

This is especially useful for unresolved tasks, projects and commitments. This is because knowing they are unresolved means that the mind views them as a threat, or at least a negative weight. Capture mode externalizes this so that the mind doesn’t have to think about it. Also, this creates a list to act on later.

Problem-Crunching Mode

For this mode, go somewhere quiet and with few distractions and consider some specific problem or issue. Let the mind wander around this idea, exploring it from different angles. If it wanders off the subject, however, or if the mind gets stuck on a particular point, try to reorient focus back to the main idea being explored. Problem-crunching mode should be used sparingly and on the larger problems that one faces. Much of the work in Problem-crunching mode can be replicated on smaller problems in Habitual mode. Some example scenarios for Problem-Crunching would be:

  • Pondering a job offer versus staying with the current one
  • Crafting a thoughtful email to company leadership or team leader
  • Considering a difficult relationship decision
  • Brainstorming on how to expand a business
  • Deciding which home to buy (or if to buy one)
  • Choosing who to hire for your team

It’s helpful to review the problem as much as possible before entering Problem-crunching mode. During this Scatterfocus period, take a walk, listen to music or otherwise go somewhere quiet for about an hour. This gives the mind the space and freedom to make large leaps in thinking without encouraging too much wandering.

Habitual Mode

The most powerful and most recommended of the three Scatterfocus modes. This is the most entertaining mode because it relies on performing some enjoyable (or at least non-stressful) habitual task. The mind then wanders in a positive state. The happier a person is in Scatterfocus, the benefit emerge. Habitual tasks yield the greatest number of insights as opposed to a focused or demanding task which orients the brain towards one point. It is also easier to stay aware of thoughts because the mind uses less resources on habitual behavior leaving more resources to maintain the intention of being aware of thought patterns. The repetitive behavior of habitual tasks also encourage the mind to wander since so many resources have been freed up. The task ends up acting as a constant point around which the mind can wander and come back to as needed.

To practice this form of Scatterfocus, pick a simple task that is enjoyable to do and the let the mind wander. The simpler the task, the better. Go for a walk, listen to music, read a book. As long as there is brainpower to spare, ideas will rise to the surface. Should the mind wander somewhere unproductive, just let it be and continue on. Habitual mode can also be practiced with routine and unengaging tasks at work, so long as they are repetitive enough to do without engaging very much of the brain’s resources.

The key to Habitual mode is to frequently check in on the thoughts and ideas occupying the mind at a given point while it is wandering. Not doing this removes the benefits of this form of Scatterfocus because nothing is being recorded or tracked for later evaluation. Make sure there is a notepad nearby or some way or recording down whatever comes to mind.

How Hyperfocus aids Scatter Focus

Hyperfocus and Scatterfocus reinforce each other. In Hyperfocus, one works to fill the attention space of the mind with a particular task. Scatterfocus engages that same space to fill up with new ideas and think about or plan the future. This deliberate management of attention allows more information to be remembered. The brain might be said to be an organ that takes information from the past and present to predict (or create) the future. Memory would be the system by which to use past events to predict future events.

This leads to an interesting conclusion: people are whatever information is consumed. This means it is important to develop an awareness of what one’s thoughts are at any given time and track what information is being absorbed into the mind. The more this happens, the more productive Hyperfocus and Scatterfocus sessions will be.

Rethinking Boredom

Boredom is what happens when we’re stimulated at a certain level and then forced to drop to a lower level of stimulation. We seek to re-acquire that higher level, usually through mind-occupying but time-wasting activities. These are also mind-wasting activities. The mind is wired to constantly seek out new stimulation. This is what leads to uncontrolled and unproductive wandering. The less stimulated the mind is, the more it can think. The trick is to create that initial low-level stimulation environment, then take advantage of it for the purpose of Hyperfocus or Scatterfocus.

Book Notes – Hyperfocus, Chapter 5

Making Hyperfocus a Habit

Our brain likes to wander at the exact time we’re trying to focus. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Stress. This happens when the demands of the situation exceed our ability to cope with them. This is handled by preventing stimulation overload by clearing out distractions
  2. Boredom. This happens when moving from a higher stimulation moment to a lower one. This also is handled by removing distractions to begin with. In this case, the stimulation gap becomes smaller and experienced less often
  3. Thinking about personal concerns. This can be dealt with by externalizing those thoughts and concerns into task lists, worry lists, notes and so on
  4. Questioning on whether the current task is the best immediate thing. This can be resolved through intentional selection and prioritization of tasks as mention earlier
  5. Attentional space. The smaller the object of attention, the more likely that the mind will wander. Pick tasks that require and demand attention

The last point is worth noting. Consciously picking complex tasks is an avenue into Hyperfocus. When the challenge of completing the task is roughly equal to the ability to do so, one becomes totally immersed in the task. In fact if immersion in a task is not occuring, question whether the task is complex enough. If that is not the case, question the skill set available to handle the task. It may be the task is more complex than the ability to carry it out.

Busy Work

Busywork is detrimental to Hyperfocus. Measure how much of the day is spent on unproductive work. A lot of busy work may indicate that something can be removed for more engaging and productive work.

Increasing Attentional Space

The size of attentional space (the ability to focus attention) is determined by working memory capacity. That is, the amount of information that can be held in the mind at once. This is usually about 4 chunks of information. Having a higher attentional space means contributes to less mind wandering and increases the ability to think about and plan for the future and less on the immediate moment.

One way to help increase attentional space is meditation. This need not be complex. It could be as simple as sitting quietly somewhere and paying attention to the rhythm of breathing. The exact length of time for meditation is less important than doing it every day. This is because the power of meditation is holding one single intention in the mind for a given length of time. Even a few minutes a day will help immensely.

At work, the more attention that is focused on a task the more productive the work would be. At home, the more attention that is focused on a task the more meaningful life can be.

Habit Strategies

  1. Shrink the desired Hyperfocus period until resistance to the task is removed
  2. Notice when there “isn’t time” for something. There is always time. It’s only a question of what it is being spent on. Find out what can be done to clean up the schedule to spend more time on productive tasks
  3. Continually practice Hyperfocus. Try it at least once per day
  4. Be aware that being rested is an important part of Hyperfocus. Take time to recharge

Recap

  1. Understand the four types of productive and unproductive work tasks. Figure out what is important and stop working on unimportant tasks
  2. Recognize the limits of attention and be aware of how few things can actually be focused on at one time
  3. Hyperfocusing on the more complex tasks activates the most productive mode in the brain and can get a large amount of work done in a relatively short amount of time
  4. Set strong daily intentions to work on the most productive tasks
  5. Remove distractions whenever possible to prevent the mind from wandering
  6. Simplify the work and living environments to be able to take stock of the distractions that surround people
  7. Externalize thoughts stored in the mind into task lists, worry lists, notes and so on
  8. Be a good custodian of the attentional space and how much is occupying it. Try to manage attentional space by expanding the limits of attentional space and working on appropriately complex tasks

Book Notes – Hyperfocus, Chapter 4

Taming Distraction

Using apps on a phone can lead to greater distractions. A self-inflicted interruption can happen as much as every 15 seconds. One study found that people switch between computer programs as much as 566 times in an average workday. In addition, after being distracted in a self-inflicted manner, it can take as much as 25 minutes to return to a task. In the meantime, an average of 2-3 other tasks have appeared to fill in the meantime.

This is largely because the brain has a built-in novelty bias and is constantly on the lookout for new and usual things. This may be a result of the need to spot dangers before they become a problem. Because distractions can be so effective, it’s important to deal with them ahead of time before being forced to expend willpower to defeat them as they happen.

The Four Types of Distraction

A distraction is anything that can turn someone away from that person’s intentions. There are four types that can be turned
into a matrix as follows:

A grid for types of distractions people experience

A distraction matrix outlining the types of distractions

Create this distraction matrix and fill it up with every single distraction that can be thought of an categorized into the matrix. It doesn’t matter if the distractions are relevant to any given moment. Simply put them down in order to be aware of what they are (or, perhaps, keep multiple matrices).

Be aware that distractions from others are not as damaging as distractions to oneself. The best way to deal with either is to keep remembering to re-focus on the original intention and get back to work.

The best way to deal with fun distractions is to actually enjoy them. Use them to relax and enjoy life a bit, while periodically making a note about getting back on track when the distraction is over.

Dealing with Distractions

Use the following chart as a guideline on how to deal with distractions:

distraction matrix image

The distraction matrix with ways of dealing with the distractions

Remember: Remove every object that is potentially more stimulating that what the task is. This forces the brain to work on the task at hand, the only source of stimulation available. A few ideas are:

  1. Put mobile devices in Do Not Disturb mode and keep it out of site until it is needed
  2. Put on some noise-cancelling headphones to reduce distractions from the surrounding environment
  3. Get out of the office to recharge for a bit
  4. Remember to socialize a little to relax from focusing and enjoy the surrounding company
  5. Allow a reward every once in a while as a bit of positive feedback or to take a break from Hyperfocusing

Creating a distraction-free mode can help make mental energy last longer by reducing the amount of distraction that eat up
mental fuel. That said, not all distractions are equal. Think about what distractions appear throughout the day that are not worth losing 20 minutes over. Email can be one such distraction, but it is also impossible to eliminate. For distractions like
this, try the following:

  1. Set a specific time to go address them instead of sporadically throughout the day. This transforms them from distractions to purposeful work
  2. Turn off notifications on all devices, or at least set devices to mute and no vibrations. Consider putting the phone into Airplane Mode during work hours (8am to 8pm, except maybe lunch)
  3. For email, try to turn off any notifications or alerts
  4. Check for new messages at predetermined times when there is energy allotted to do so
  5. Keep a running tally of how many times email was checked for messages. This will create an estimate on how much mental energy email is consuming
  6. Hyperfocus on the email that has built up in the meantime. Get everything out of the way to resume non-email work
  7. Don’t use email for To-Do lists. Find something more purpose-specific for that
  8. If possible, keep public and private email accounts to separate interests
  9. Wait before sending important message. It will give time to consider the best response

Dealing with the Smartphone

The smartphone is more powerful than the computers that sent astronauts to the moon and it uses that power to distract its users. Consider the following ideas on dealing with these devices:

  1. Stow it away whenever possible
  2. Resist the urge to check it during brief periods of waiting or boredom
  3. Take advantage of Airplane Mode and deal with those alerts later
  4. Put the most distracting apps in a “Mindless” folder to reinforce the idea that they are wasting your mental energy
  5. Periodically go through the phone and delete unnecessary apps or excessively distracting apps.
  6. Don’t buy a new device without asking what purpose it really serves. Be sure how necessary it is before acquiring it.

Meetings

Meetings are one of the biggest distractions throughout the day. They are incredibly costly and can waste hours of work depending on the number of meetings throughout the week. Here are some ideas for dealing with them:

  1. Never attend a meeting without an agenda. Always ask for the objective of the meeting if it isn’t already known
  2. Question the value of each recurring meeting on the calendar. This is not for arguing against the meeting, but rather reinforcing whether or not the meeting is necessary
  3. For managers, if possible, challenge the attendee list. Does everyone need to be there?
  4. Hyperfocus on the meetings to get the most out of them. If you’re there, you may as well get something out of it.

The Environment

The Internet

Disconnect from the Internet to the greatest degree possible. For all its benefits, it can still be an enormous time trap. About half the time spent on the Internet is pure procrastination, reducing the amount of value per moment that it takes up.

Surrounding Circumstances

People with smartphones tend to check them every 3 to 5 minutes. What is more, the mere presence of a smartphone in the periphery of one’s vision has been found to interfere with social and relationship quality. Keep phones and tablets in another room to avoid distractions, if possible.

Cleanliness can also be a factor. Clean environment tend to be more conducive to focus and messy environments tend be more conducive to creativity.

  1. Take stock in the distractions in the environment. Make a list of them
  2. Make a plan to remove attractive object of attention from the environment so as not to be tempted by them. This might not always be possible, but try
  3. Have a whiteboard or notepad to brainstorm intentions, thoughts and so on
  4. Keep a fidget cube on hand for the purpose of taking a break now and again without getting too distracted
  5. Keep a book on the nightstand intstead of a phone to encourage reading more
  6. Store fruit on a bowl at the table for easy snacking instead of junk food
  7. Keep a clean environment whenever possible to ease mental stress. Having dirty dishes occupies the mind and a dirty work desk does as well. Be sure to tidy papers, sort files on the desktop and archive email each day to wipe away any distractions

Music

Research suggests that productive music has two attributes. First, it sounds familiar. Second, it is relatively simple. Further, ideally, there are no words to listen to. Essentially, the music doesn’t have much going on when listened closely, but can be comforting and easy when it sits in the background.

The value of background music is to drown out outside noise. Conversations and chatter can distract, especially if one is prone to imagining the other half of a phone conversation. Using music to mute the noise out is helpful.

Clearing the Mind

The brain is an idea machine. This also means that thoughts are not meant to be stored in the mind for too long. Keep a notebook handy at all times in order to jot ideas and information down. This used to be called a Commonplace Book and it was once quite a popular thing to have. Storing the information there allows the brain to free up its resources for Hyperfocus.

Summary

  • Create a “Distraction-Free Mode” by marking out time to spend intentionally
  • Filter out distractions to reclaim more focusing energy
  • Simplify the working and living environment to eliminate tempting distractions
  • Clear the mind of distracting thoughts by getting out onto some other storage medium

Book Notes – Hyperfocus, Chapter 3

The Power of Hyperfocus

Remember this single sentence: “Keep one important, complex object of attention in your awareness as you work”.

Hyperfocus is that state of being completely engrossed in something to the exclusion of everything else. It is a state of mind that is entered deliberately and with purpose. The focus is on one task and one task only and distractions are removed or blocked out to the greatest extent possible.

This is done by determining tasks ahead of time. This allows one to focus completely on one task in the moment without worrying about how to go about the rest of the day. When it comes to the actual task, the fewer things to focus on, the more productive the working time actually is.

Hyperfocus is best used on complex tasks broken down into small individual tasks. Don’t waste time hyperfocusing on habitual tasks because Hyperfocus requires a great deal of mental energy and willpower. Saving Hyperfocus for more serious work is a more valuable use of one’s mental energies.

The Four Stages of HyperFocus

  1. Choose a meaningful subject of attention
  2. Eliminate as many distractions as possible
  3. Focus on that one subject of attention
  4. Be aware of drifting away from the focus and come back to it

The most important step is deciding what to focus on. The more productive and meaningful the subject is, the productive the Hyperfocus will be.

The second most important step is eliminating distractions, both in the enviroment and within one’s own mind. Human beings are wired to seek out new and interesting things, but this can work against the use of focus.

Hyperfocus is also most productive on a time scale. Choosing a set amount of time that is both comfortable and reasonable gives a conceptual “space” for working through a problem. This part relies on the proper preparation of steps 1 and 2, however.

Returning back to the subject of focus is critical. It can take up to 22 minutes to continue working after a distraction or interruption occurs. When that distraction or interruption is self-inflicted, it can take even longer.

Choosing What to Focus On

Attention without Intention is wasted energy. It’s important to deliberately decide what to focus on and why before doing so. Otherwise, the attention will be squandered and easily interrupted. Always take an active role in choosing what to spend time on.

  1. At the start of each day, choose three things to accomplish by day’s end. Keep those three intentions where they can be seen throughout the day
  2. Rank the action items by determining which is the most consequential. That is, the action items that lead to the greatest possible consequences
  3. Set an hourly awareness alert. Use this as a reminder to reflect on whether focus is being paid on an action item or if attention has wandered. Do not be angry about drifting off. This is a natural trait that just needs to be hemmed in a little until a habit of focus forms. When the chime goes off, check the following:
    1. Are there wandering thoughts?
    2. Has the focus has been on a productive task?
    3. What is the most consequential task could be right now?
    4. Is the task being worked on?
    5. Are there distractions?
    6. How much attention is being devoted to the task? Is there enough?
  4. Setting specific intentions can as much as triple the odds of success. Because of this don’t be generic in intentions like “Go to the gym”. It’s much more effective to set a task as “Do 20 reps on the bicep machine”

Starting a Hyperfocus Ritual

  1. Start with an estimate of how long to Hyperfocus. The estimates will get more accurate over time. As beginning suggestion, start with about 15 minute blocks with 5 to 10 minute distraction breaks in between
  2. Anticipate obstacles ahead of time. If possible, schedule time so that no one will interrupt with last-minute tasks, questions or other distractions. A little planning here can save hours later
  3. Set a timer as mentioned above, and for the same reasons
  4. Remember to re-orient attention whenever possible. The mind will wander. This isn’t worth getting upset about, but personal discipline is important here.
  5. Schedule Hyperfocus time blocks whenever reasonable to do so
  6. Account for time and energy constraints. Dependin on the work environment, it may not be possible to work around certain distractions and this must be taken into account.
  7. The more undesirable a task is, the more distractions have to be tamed to focus on it properly. Be aware of feelings toward a task and compensate accordingly