Tag Archive: Creativity


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 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.