Tag Archive: Chapter 5

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


  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 – How Fiction Works, Ch. 5

How Fiction Works is a book written by critic James Wood and is an examination of the techniques that fiction utilizes to immerse the reader and create an experience. This is the fourth of a series of write-ups of notes that I have taken while reading the book.

Chapter 5: Character

Wood points out that a minor character can be just as compelling as a major character. A good minor character need only surprise the reader once before disappearing to be memorable. This is because for characters in general very little personality detail is needed. What is required is just enough detail to highlight important personality traits. This gives the reader something to latch on to and build a personal narrative about without hitting the reader over the head.

The particular detail, however, should be related to how the character interacts with other characters, or the world in general. Sometimes an author can get away with a line on what the character is thinking. New writers tend to make the mistake of rendering this detail as if the character were the subject of a photograph. Rendering the character in motion is a much better alternative so that the reader doesn’t feel like the story has paused.

Another point is to make sure not to explain everything. Wood points out that author Muriel Sparks has the motto of “never apologize, never explain”. Character-defining behavior does not have to be explained or justified. This forces the reader to ask why the character is behaving in a particular way, which can lead to a reader imagining a narrative about that character. This is also important because the character involved may not be one that adheres to current moral standards or tastes. Spending time explaining the character’s motivations with an unsavory trait weakens the character and diminishes the reader’s incentive to think about the character.

Finally, it’s important that characters be determined to be themselves. Everybody in real life has a personal fiction that they tell themselves to put life into perspective. A framework of dealing with reality, if you will. Fictional characters are no different. In Wood’s estimation, good characters aren’t just determined to be themselves, they are determined to be themselves in a theatrical manner. They create a fiction all their own about who they are and how others should, or will, treat them or what their place in the world is. They then enact that personal fiction as definitively has possible in the given situation.

Admittedly, I never really thought about portraying a character in static or in motion, but I think Wood’s arguments are compelling in this area. The reader doesn’t want to pause. I’m also a bit relieved about the ideas regarding character details. Having to spend coming up with a high-detail description of a character is exhausting and never seemed completely necessary to me. Leaving a bit of mystery makes sense from a reader-investment perspective.