“All thoughts want to be taken seriously, but few warrant it.” (David Cain)
Why Focus Matters
To do brain-heavy knowledge work in distracting environments requires focus so we can think more clearly. This book discusses how we can focus better and ways to integrate focus into our daily lives. The writer points out that the reader should carefully find what works for him and use it in everyday life.
Seven ways to focus more deeply while reading
Put your phone out of sight:
When our mind is slightly resisting a task, it will look distractions. Whenever we stuck in a boring situation, we try to use our mobile. You can also find which tasks you try to resist by observing your mobile usage pattern.
Mind Your Environment:
Choose your environment carefully with less distraction, less noise Library, cafe or a quiet room in the house.
Make a distractions list:
Our brain continually reminds us of things that need to be done, things you need to follow up, and new ideas. It’s good to keep a notepad to write these down, which lets you refocus on the task at hand.
Question whether book is worth reading:
We consume a lot of things out of habit. Make sure attention or focus you are giving to things are worth your attention.
Consume some caffeine: Drink Tea Coffee.
Highlight information which is useful: Taking notes or highlighting helps you remember better.
When you notice your focus wavering:
When you find your focus wavering step back and try to do something mindless washing dishes, cleaning, people watching. Just as your keep distraction list keep someplace to capture ideas that come to mind when you were taking a break.
SWITCH OFF AUTOPILOT MODE
Most of the time, we are in autopilot mode. It’s ok if our 40% activity, which is usually habits, is done that way, but when it comes to important tasks like managing your attention, should be done deliberately. Questions to ask are how many time we plan our attention for the day as you will do and when. After we get out of this autopilot mode, we think what we should be doing and realign our focus there. More we can manage our attention with intent more focused, creative and productive we become. Author give plenty of examples for autopilot mode.
Directing your attention on your chosen object and sustaining that attention is the most critical decision to make every day. There are four types of tasks we face every day.
PRODUCTIVE Necessary Purposeful Work
UNPRODUCTIVE Unnecessary Distracting
Necessary work: Your daily paid work, team meeting. We usually have to push ourself to do it.
Unnecessary Work: Tasks that are both unproductive and unattractive. We usually don’t bother about these unless we are procrastination or resisting something important.
Distracting work: This type of work is a black hole of productivity. It includes attractive but unproductive things like social media, most IM conversations, news websites and many more.
Purposeful Work: These are the task which should be most important to us. This type of work changes for every person based on what kind of work he likes to do.
Productive people should focus on necessary and purposeful work. When we categorize all our activities into these four categories, we become less on auto-piolet and more focused on work that matters.
The limits of your Attention
Humans have a limited amount of short term memory and small attention space. We can only process a certain amount of data at a given time. Becoming aware of your thinking is the best way to manage your attention (meta-awareness). Mindfulness is when you are awareness meets
non-judgement. When you are mindfully aware of the content of your attentional space, its content continually change. You also become aware your attentional space expands or shrinks based on your moods. Habits don’t use much of attentional space. You can create some combinations for multitasking.
- A few small habitual tasks.
- A task which requires most of the focus and a habitual task.
- One Complex task.
Fitting the right amount of tasks into attentional space saves you from attention overload. Few examples:
- Rewinding movies or audiobook as you were talking or got zoned out for some time.
- Leaving a theatre with a stomachache because you overate popcorn.
When you experience such issues, you need to simplify your attentional space by writing down tasks that occupy your mind or refocus on work. Switching between different task also reduce productivity.
Quality of Attention
To measure the quality of attention, you can use these three measuring sticks
- How much of your time you spend intentionally
- How long you can hold your focus in one sitting
- How long your mind wanders before you catch it
When we are fully immersed in a task we chose, it fills our entire attentional space. Then you are in the brain’s most productive mode called hyperfocus. In hyperfocus, you even feel more relaxed when you are working.
Four stages of Hyperfocous
- Choose a productive or meaningful object of attention.
- Eliminate as many external and internal distractions you can.
- Focus on the chosen object.
- Continually draw your focus back to that one object.
The rule of 3:
- At the start of each day, choose three tasks you want to accomplish today.
- Your most consequential Tasks: Look through each task’s consequence and choose the task with the most significant positive impacts.
- Hourly awareness chime: Check regularly in the day that you are on track to achieve your goals.
If we set an intention with a clear definition, then we have a higher chance of achieving it. Examples:
Instead of go to bed by a reasonable time, make is go to bed by 10:30 pm.
Once you become aware of how often you distract yourself, its hard to go back the same way again. Usually, when our brains resist a task, we look for more attractive things that distract us. If you look at your browser history for the day, you will be surprised how many time you distracted yourself from focusing on the crucial task at hand.
We should try to deal with distraction that we can control beforehand, and if we can’t control it like in office space, we should deal with them quickly and focus on the task at hand. It’s good to give yourself a break after a good session of focused work. It keeps you grounded in the practice of hyperfocus.
There is much more in this book to read which I cannot put on this one page. I think everyone should read it and apply whatever works for him/her. The author also talks about Scatterfocous, which he defines as minds creative mode. You will only gain more insights about yourself from reading this book.
I have used some of the methods to increase my focus on work at hand. Following are a few things I have tried, which have helped me reduce distractions.
- I use noise cancelling headphone (without anything playing) in day-time when I am working; it reduces distracting noise.
- I also keep my desktop in grayscale, it reduces visual distractions while you are working. (search colour filter on windows or iPhone).
- I use a password manager with proper security. In modern times the digital threat of economy is real, and it creates a lot of stress in peoples minds and keeps you distracted. Don’t try to remember everything.
- I use task manager for my daily task. Whatever comes to my mind when I am working, I write it down (it takes practice). It reduces noise in your mind while you work.
- I don’t use pop-up notification on my apps on iPhone and keep manual refresh for emails.
Another thing I would say if you make mistakes, it’s ok. Guilt is another form of distraction. I hope this summary may help someone. See you next time..