Chris Bailey, author of the best-selling The Productivity Project, details when and how to harness your focus for greatest productivity.
Chris Bailey, author of the best-selling The Productivity Project, bemoans how today’s world offers endless distraction, and people are busier than ever. Many, he cautions, live on autopilot, responding to whatever grabs their attention at any moment. Attention is a limited resource, argues Bailey, and you need to be intentional about how you expend it. Drawing on scientific research and self-experiments, Bailey offers practical steps to help you manage this valuable resource and live a more productive, creative and purposeful life.
The New York Times said Hyperfocus, “…teaches how to re-examine your tasks, determine your priorities and minimize interruptions.” Publishers Weekly wrote that Bailey, “…identifies distraction as an endemic problem plaguing the business world, and just about every facet of modern life as well…a must-read for readers seeking to regain control of their ability to concentrate.” And Booklist found this book will, “…appeal to a wide audience, from those in business to self-help seekers and busy parents.”
Focusing on one thing at a time, Bailey explains, goes against your brain’s natural wiring. Your ancestors, he relates, had to take in many things at once to avoid danger. As the world grows more complex, he finds, the amount of information vying for your brain’s attention is too great for it to process.
At any one time, your attentional space should hold at most two key things that you are processing: what you intend to accomplish and what you’re currently doing.Chris Bailey
Bailey details how your “attentional space”– where you store the information that allows you to focus on and process things – has strict limits. He discloses that your brain can only cope with a few habitual tasks; one complex task and one habitual task; or one very complex task – at a time.
Bailey found that if you overload your brain’s attentional space, your attention switches to autofocus; you jump from one task to another; you keep thinking about a previous task as you take on a new one, and your memory weakens.
But, Bailey says, when you hyperfocus, you occupy your attentional space with only one complex task. Hyperfocusing starts with deciding where, exactly, to focus your attention. Having specific intentions, coupled with a detailed plan on how to achieve them, increases your chance of success by 50%-60%. Choose, Bailey suggests, three things that you want to accomplish in your day.
The concept of hyperfocus can be summed up in a single tranquil sentence: Keep one important, complex object of attention in your awareness as you work.Chris Bailey
The brain, Bailey shares, resists complex and productive tasks, so you feel most reluctant before starting one. So, Bailey recommends scheduling a period of hyperfocus, even if it’s only five minutes, to push you over the hurdle of getting started.
When we begin a new task, working on it for at least one minute with purposeful attention and limited distractions is critical.Chris Bailey
The brain’s initial resistance will lessen, Bailey assures you, the more you practice hyperfocus. Your mind will wander, he cautions, if you’re stressed, bored, worried, in a chaotic environment or if your work doesn’t challenge you.
When you interrupt your focus, Bailey teaches, you need half an hour to get back on track. He urges you to eliminate distractions from your working environment that will attract you more than the task you must perform. Switch off notifications on your computer, for example, and decide how often and when you’re going to check emails.
Our brain is for having ideas, not for holding them. An empty brain is a productive brain, and the more stuff we get out of our heads, the more clearly we think.Chris Bailey
To declutter your attentional space, Bailey recommends externalizing things that occupy your mind – write a to-do list, put appointments in a calendar and note down what worries you.
Bailey describes three modes of scatterfocus; capture mode – in which you let your mind wander and write down whatever pops up; problem-crunching mode – in which you explore problems from new perspectives; and habitual mode – in which you go for a walk, for example, to let your brain roam freely.
Daydreaming is immensely potent when our intention is to solve problems, think more creatively, brainstorm new ideas or recharge.Chris Bailey
Your energy levels, Bailey warns, drain quickly when you hyperfocus on a task you don’t enjoy; scatterfocus recharges your batteries.
The more you need to regulate your behavior – to resist distractions and temptations or push yourself to get things done – the more often you’ll need to recharge.Chris Bailey
Bailey believes in 15-minute breaks every 90 minutes – and that you should take this break before you feel you need it. He is adamant that you must fill your breaks with something you enjoy and that you must not spend the time on the internet or social media.
Scatterfocus and hyperfocus, the author makes clear, are mutually exclusive. He points out that in hyperfocus mode, you zone in on one external thing; In scatterfocus, you focus on nothing in particular and turn your attention inwards. Scatterfocus, Bailey reiterates, replenishes your energy levels, which you require to hyperfocus.
Thus, Bailey maintains, you must schedule hyper- and scatterfocus to align with your energy levels. Hyperfocus requires high energy levels; scatterfocus works best when your energy levels are low.
The great strength of Bailey’s approach is its ease of implementation. His tactics are basic and clear: turn off distractions; become more mindful; and schedule important tasks at times of greatest mental energy. Recommending that you remember to give your mind time to roam – which does not mean go online – might be his most valuable advice. Proof that Bailey practices what he preaches is that this book is short. He never pads and, astonishingly for a book in this genre, he never repeats himself. Well, almost never. Bailey writes with a sense of fun and proves easy to read. His enjoyable style will keep you from distraction as you digest his worthy guidance.
Other works on increasing your productivity include Rise by Patty Azzarello; The Checklist Book by Alexandra Franzen; and Have More Energy by Peter Hollins.