Tag Archive: Attention


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 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