Hyperfocus — book summary
Stay focused 100% on one task and one project is my biggest struggle.
I just finished reading Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey. The book has a lot of “Yeah I knew that” moments in it, but it’s also rich with valuable suggestions, and planning tools. So I thought to write a blog post to crystalize what I just read.
Highlight when you read a book and take notes inside it.
Switching off autopilot mode
You often catch yourself doing stuff on autopilot. Being in the moment and aware of what you do can help you to improve your focus and productivity.
You can organize your tasks by type in the following matrix:
Meetings go on the top left corner. Coding goes on the top right, sometimes top left. For me, reading about Kubernetes or Bitcoin goes in the top right. You get the gist of it.
Our attentional space is limited and we can multitask only certain tasks. Coding while listening to instrumental music 👌. Coding while listening to vocal music 😑, or driving and texting 😡—please just don’t!
Certain tasks require full attention, for example you can’t read 2 books at the same time. While you can multitask many tasks, focusing on fewer tasks per time increases your productivity.
Turn all of your notifications off while working.
Hyperfocus—getting into the zone
Being in the zone is awesome! You feel euphoric, super productive, super smart.
You’re able to GSD and to work on hard problems.
Hyperfocus: when the task your working on occupies your entire attentional space. Basically when you work on something that is difficult enough to take your full attention.
How do you get in the zone? It turned out you can prepare yourself and your environment to get there more often.
How to Hyperfocus?
- Chose a meaningful object of attention. 3 goals a day is a good balance.
- Eliminate distractions. Write down a list of what distracts you. And remove them when you want to get into the zone. Turn ALL notifications off.
- Focus with intention. Intention makes you actively focused and let you go back focusing when you lose the focus. Working on something that you don’t like, will keep you back.
- Draw your focus back. You get distracted more than you think. Thoughts come continuously to you. You have to actively bring back your focus.
- Relax, eat healthy, sleep, clear your mind from worries. Healthy life makes you happier, smarter and more focused.
- Take breaks. Our attention reduces with time. Taking break recharges it.
- Meditate! Meditation expands your attentional space. It relaxes you and it trains you to stay focused on a single task.
- Start feeling out how long to hyperfocus.
- Anticipate obstacle ahead of time. Knowing that you’ll have to solve something, can prepare you to work on it. Getting ready before starting a task, often takes longer than the task. Sometimes I spend 20 minutes before doing the bed on distraction and 2 minutes to do the bed.
- Set a timer. Take 5 minutes time break every 15 and 15 after 45.
- Be specific. Our brain is more likely to start a task and to be successful at it when knows the location, the time, and the specifics of a task.
- When out, do a phone swap with your friend. Weird, yeah, but if you had a way to count how many times you pick your phone, you’d understand how much time you’re wasting!
- Put your phone in airplane mode when you’re working.
- Put your laptop in “No Distraction”.
- Remove unnecessary apps from your phone. Emails for example. Bonus: use the 5 min email rule. Each email should never take longer than 5 minutes. If it does, schedule a phone call.
- Make a distraction list, so you know what triggers you.
What makes you distracted
- Stress and thoughts. Fear is the enemy of the brain. Update Jul 2020: the pandemic made this the norm. If you feel emotionally exhausted, just know you’re not the only one!
- Boredom, you search for alternative things to do.
- Frantic environment.
- Questioning “Is this what should I be working on?”. Not have set an intention.
Scatterfocus—creative mode on steroids
While Hyperfocusing helps you to work on a single task. Doing nothing or something boring helps you recharge and as well as enable you to be creative. Things that I do to get distracted are, taking a long shower, washing the dishes, walking around the block, people watching, talking with friends about random stuff.
The three style of scatterfocus
- Capture mode: let your mind roam freely and capturing whatever comes up.
- Problem-crunching mode: hold a problem loosely in mind and letting your thoughts wander around it. You want to use this mode, when you’ve some difficult decision to take, such as a relationship, leaving/accepting a job.
- Habitual mode: engaging in a simple task and capturing valuable ideas and plans that rise to the surface while doing it. Research has found this model is the most powerful. Basically do what you like to do and get ideas as they come.
Recharging your attention
Taking breaks, sleeping well, walking in nature and so on, makes you recharge. Resting is not idleness! Is necessary and is also how you solidify your thoughts and ideas.
Connecting the dots
Our brain is a constellation of dots. Connecting random thoughts is how creativity works.
Uncompleted tasks and projects weigh more heavily on our minds than the finished one. We’re wired to remember what’s in the middle more than what’s completed. This phenomenon is called Zeigarnik Effect.
Going into a habitual scatterfocus mode is how we can connect even more dots. Other ways are:
- Put yourself in a creative environment. That reduces your focus and increases your scatterfocus.
- Write out your problems. Writing crystalize your ideas makes you discover a few dark corners.
- Sleep on a problem. My girlfriend is a working actress, she practices screenplay right before going to sleep. The next day she remembers them word by word.
- Step back. Imagine a small hill with sand. Pour water at the top and you’ll the water forming random paths, rivers. When you stop pouring water and let it dry. Then pour again, the water will form new random paths. Step back and let your brain find alternative ideas.
- Intentionally leave tasks unfinished. If you’re working on something creative, that’s a good way to keep it going in your mind.
- Consume more valuable dots. Read, learn, talk with people.
“Collecting” the dots
Learning about things increase the number of dots you can connect and your creativity. Chris suggests dividing the information we collect by usefulness and entertainment value.
He suggests limiting trashy information because they won’t help you with your goal. I look at trashy information in a different way. In fact, I once was working in a toxic environment, every day during lunch with our colleagues we were able to disconnect ourself from the issues by talking about random stuff. Things like how may hotdogs Kobayashi can eat, and the technique Chesnuts used to destroy him.
The etymology of the word Octopus. Or one of my favorite sharing Mini Keanu memes.
How to collect more dots
- Consume things you care about.
- Eliminate some of the trash. The good trash that makes you laugh and connect with friends, is good to keep it updated. If reading about the Kardashians makes you happy, go for it.
- Choose a few valuable things to add.
- Notice what you consume on autopilot mode.
- Veg out… intentionally. When you decide to watch an entire season of Genius, do it with intention and plan for it, that will help you not feeling guilty.
- Reevaluate what you’re consuming as you’re consuming it.
- Get things to bid your attention. Decide what deserve your attention.
- In the moment, zoom out. Observe what you’re doing from far. If you feel like, you’re wasting time, maybe you are. Understanding the effect of your actions nudge you to consume more valuable information.
- Invest in serendipity. Wikipedia, Reddit AMA, going on meetups. I personally decided to work as a bike messenger for a month. That helped me made friends on the way and opened up a few interesting discussions.
- Double down on what’s valuable. Hang out with people that share your passion and make you grow. Consume more information that is valuable.
- Blend “hyperfocus” and “scatterfocus”.
- Invest in your own happiness. A positive mood expands the size of your attentional space. Regardless of which mode you’re in.
- Work around your energy levels.
- Drink alcohol and caffeine strategically. Alcohol can help you be more creative and caffeine more focused, in the right dosage! Weed and drugs may help, but I’m not a fan. I do take relaxing pills before important meetings or during stressful situations: Theanine Serene, they’re out of the counter and all natural.
You’re at your best when you’re healthy and happy and have a plan. So spend more time making a plan so you can focus on one thing at the time, and enjoy your life when you’re free.