Writing 2018-09-09

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.

About the author

Erik Hentell: I started out in theater before moving to graphic design. I eventually moved into web design while trying to expand my knowledge on software development. I currently work for a media company helping with their digital assets such as source code archives and ebooks.