Chris Bailey was once a stranger. He is now my friend after I read his book. We are all living in this age of digital distraction. And this countless scrolling has made us lose our focus. We are physically present in the moment but mentally absent.
The book ‘Hyper Focus’ by Chris Bailey is an attempt to let us gain our primal focus. The author has highlighted practical solution to get out of the rut of distraction.
The book relies on researches and facts instead of story telling. The seriousness of lack of focus can be ascertained from the fact that studies say we lose our focus merely forty seconds after we sit infront of computer. Can anything valuable be created in a span of forty seconds or even multiple laps of forty seconds? I definitely don’t think so.
‘Hyper Focus’ directly takes the ‘smartphone’ bull by the horns. The author has described our phones as a productivity black hole, advising us to keep it in another room while involved in something important. Not only this, when we reach out to our smartphone, we can note as to what we are resisting. The smartphones have now become our ‘escape route’ but Bailey has asked us to check which activity is overshadowed by this escape.
The book shows a mirror to us. For instance, it says we are not managing our attention which is on autopilot. A new beep on our phones pulls our attention automatically and we are forced to see it leaving everything behind.
Chris Bailey has also given his definition of productivity which he says has now become a loaded term. According to the writer, productivity is achieving what one intends to do. It means that if you are delaying doing the laundry, then doing it at the time when you intend to it one find day comes under productivity. It is not to be confused with making excel sheets or writing that whole research paper in a single day.
Another aspect in hyperfocus is multi tasking versus doing one job specifically and Bailey has instructed us all to avoid multi tasking as contrary to popular perception, it takes more time than dedicating attention to a single task and finishing it.
The concept of mind wandering has been beautifully explained. We are glued to our smartphones and rarely an hour passes by when we don’t check our phones and for no apparent reason and here comes the concept of mind wandering which means that we lose our focus regarding the issue we are dealing with. Research quoted by the author shows that our mind wanders for 47 percent of the time and if we are unable to drag it back to our work, we are losing time.
The book also highlights that it takes 22 minutes to get back to our work once we are interrupted or distracted. Consider the shiny notifications on our phones, pulling us away from our critical work for 22 minutes each time; we are killing our productivity through these digital products.
Chris Bailey’s ‘Hyper focus’ details multiple factors which affect our focus and productivity. The author states that temperature above 30 degree centigrade affects our productivity though human anatomy also influences it as well.
Another important backdrop of our environment is music and on that Bailey has an interesting take. The author interviewed famous musician Jerry Marrtin who was of the opinion that too much structure in music compels the audience to focus more on it. Conclusively, music occupies less space in attentional space when it is familiar and simple and lastly, performance of introverts is impaired more with music than extroverts.
What is Scatter focus
While detailing what Hyper focus is and how it can be achieved for peak performance, Bailey has also let us take a sneak peek into scatter focus which means focusing at nothing at all. While with hyper focus you direct your attention outward, in scatter focus mode, you direct your attention inward.
But before getting into the details of scatter focus let’s learn what is it in the first place.
So, scatter focus basically is letting your mind wander. Initially we discussed as to how mind wandering takes a toll on your productivity but this scatter focus is important for following things:
- Solving Problems
- Thinking Creatively
- Brainstorming New Ideas
Think of the best tweet you fired or an idea that kept the audience lavishing praise on you. Chances are that it came as a lightning bolt and you did not focus on anything particular while coming up with this idea. Scatter focus helped you fetch this idea or tweet. You might not be doing something very productive when this idea struck. You might be relaxing on your own when the idea popped up.
So, scatter focus is what led you to tweet that joke or make an interesting observation. When we are talking about productivity, hyper focus comes into play. When we are talking about creativity, scatter focus is our friend. We all know how to enter hyper focus mode but to enter scatter focus mode is much easier: Simply let your mind be. You enter scatter focus mode by letting some space free in your attentional space while you are relaxing or taking a walk or doing any other activity which does not consume your mind.
While the focus of this book is hyperfocus, much has also been said about not focusing at all or taking a break for instance. Chris Bailey has advised that if you are an introvert, social interactions lead you to take more breaks or if you work in an open office, you might need more breaks. Citing research, Bailey has advised that taking a break every ninety minutes is very much okay and taking a break for roughly fifteen minutes for each hour of work you do is also not harmful.
One might question as to why ninety minutes have been selected for taking a break. It is because of the fact that our mental energy tends to oscillate in ninety-minute waves. We sleep in ninety-minute cycle. There are natural peaks and valleys in our energy cycle in the backdrop of ninety minutes.
Another important and fairly interesting take on focus and productivity is that Chris Bailey has advised us to stop doing something creative abruptly. Though hyper focus asks us to stay glued to our task, leaving a task abruptly leaves us with thinking about it while we do other chores casually. For instance, leaving a research paper midway can help us come up with solutions and cues to insert in the paper which don’t come to our mind initially.
Key Takeaways from the book
Place your phone out of your sight while doing something productive. Preferably in another room so you don’t get distracted.
Modify your environment to suit the task. For example don’t start writing sitting up on a bed. Use a chair and a table.
Not all distractions are external. Sometimes we are indulged in thinking and that is a distraction as well.
Caffeine can help boosting focus. So take coffee but keeping in mid whether it affects you the same way or you go to sleep.
Try to manage your attention yourself instead of keeping it on autopilot. Manage your attention with intention and don’t let the notifications drag your focus away.