Tag Archive: Attentional Space


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 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