The Watering Hole Blog

How is Your Focus These Days?

introducing hyperfocus

Focus Like a Laser Beam, Daydream Like a Believer

“The most important aspect of hyperfocus is that only one productive or meaningful task consumes your attentional space.”

Chris Bailey, “Hyperfocus”

How is your focus these days? Click To Tweet

If you are interested in increasing your productivity, decreasing distractions and cranking up creative insights, and haven’t yet read “Hyperfocus; How to be More Productive in a World of Distraction” by Chris Bailey, I highly recommend it.

In “Hyperfocus,” Bailey explains how the brain has two powerful modes that we can tap into.

The first is “focused mode” (hyperfocus). This is necessary if one wishes to be highly productive. “When you hyperfocus on a task,” writes Bailey, “you expand one task, project, or other object of attention, so it fills your attentional space completely.”

“When we are in hyperfocus mode,” the author explains, “we are deliberate, undistracted, quick to refocus and it leads us to become completely immersed in our work.”

Sadie in SERIOUS hyperfocus mode! (Greeting card available in our Etsy shop)

The second is “creative mode” (scatterfocus). This mode enables us to connect ideas in novel ways. Being in scatterfocus mode is all about NOT focusing! It’s about mind-wandering, daydreaming and directing our attention inward. This is when our creative insights come to us. “Scatterfocus helps you connect old ideas and create new ones,” explains Bailey.

There are three different styles of scatterfocus: capture mode, problem-crunching mode and habitual mode.

Research has found that habitual mode, “engaging in a simple task and capturing the valuable ideas and plans that rise to the surface while doing it,” is the most powerful form of scatterfocus.

In other words, when we take a break from a mentally-demanding task that requires hyperfocus and do a simple task we can pretty much do on auto-pilot, such as folding laundry, taking a shower, going for a walk or pruning a rosebush, this is when our mind tends to have the greatest insights.

Another benefit to scatterfocus is that it helps us recharge. Because, as Bailey reminds us: “Focusing on tasks all day consumes a good deal of mental energy.”

Sadie in pretty serious scattermode 🙂

“Just as you hyperfocus by intentionally directing your attention toward one thing, you scatterfocus by deliberately letting your mind wander.”

Chris Bailey, “Hyperfocus”

Learning how, when, and why to tap into these two different modes can be transformational to your work…and life.

The purpose of the book is to help people tap into these two modes—so they can concentrate more deeply, think more clearly, and work and live more deliberately…with intention versus just responding and reacting to external (and internal) stimuli.

For what we give our attention to is how we spend our days. And how we spend our days is how we live our lives. Click To Tweet

I am also a big fan of Bailey’s first book, “The Productivity Project; Accomplishing More by Focusing Your Time, Attention and Energy.” It fundamentally changed how I approach my workday.

Bailey’s second book, “Hyperfocus,” helped me take my productivity to the next level. I honestly didn’t think I could become more focused; I already WAS incredibly focused for most of my work-related tasks, especially writing.

However, reading “Hyperfocus” gave me some additional tools. For there is always more to learn…and practice.

Here are a some more key points pulled from “Hyperfocus”:

“We typically manage our attention on autopilot.”

“The more we can manage our attention with intention, the more focused, productive, and creative we become.”

“You’re the most productive when you dedicate your energy-rich moments to your most complex, meaningful tasks.”

“Noticing that you’re beginning to feel overwhelmed is a great sign that you should check in to assess what’s occupying your attentional space.”

“Being busy doesn’t make us productive.”

“Productivity means accomplishing what we intend to.”

“The more demands made on your time, the more essential it becomes to choose what – and how many – things you pay attention to.”

“Clearing your mind of open loops is a powerful productivity tactic.”

“The more creativity your job requires, the more often you should scatter your attention.”

“Curiously, the more we invest in our happiness, the more productive we become in hyperfocus mode and the more creative we become in scatterfocus mode.”

Sorting all the notes with insights that have been captured during “Scattermode”!

Here is an example of how I use hyperfocus and scatterfocus during my workday:  

#1. After I wake up, I have coffee in my living room. I look at the fireplace or out the window at the garden and just let my mind wander. This is when my brain is in scatterfocus “capture” mode.

I have already planned my workday the day before—but sometimes an additional task or two (and usually a few insights on larger writing projects) will pop into my mind. I jot them down and put the notes wherever they need to go.

#2. Then I head into the room where I work. I turn on my laptop and systematically work through the tasks on my list. I am now in “hyperfocus” mode. I always use a timer and usually set it to 53 minutes. That is the optimum amount of time for me to work at my computer on any given task (or group of tasks).

To say I am focused during these 53-minute work sessions is an understatement. I wear earplugs AND a set of noise-canceling headphones. My phone is nowhere near me (nor is the ringer turned on) and I don’t look at e-mail until I get to that task (but I usually put my e-mail tasks later in the day when my energy and ability to hyperfocus is waning).

When the timer goes off, I turn off my laptop and take a break—anywhere from 10 minutes to hour (if I am going for a walk). During breaks, my brain switches back into scatterfocus (habitual) mode. And sure enough, more creative insights inevitably bubble to the surface.

However: a word of caution about hyperfocus…

Hyperfocus does have it pitfalls. Case in point was an incident at my little lending library the other day. On my morning walk, I always check the box to see what new treasures have been left. And low and behold, on this particular day, there was a big stack of free home & garden magazines! But they were in a magazine box that was wedged in beside the books.

As I was wrestling the magazines out of the box, I heard buzzing but didn’t pay much attention. My brain had flipped out of scatterfocus mode and had become hyperfocused on getting those free magazines! A part of my brain registered the buzzing, but another part of my brain said, “Don’t worry, they’re just bees…they won’t sting you.”


They were wasps and they did sting me…multiple times.

I ran screaming down the street (magazines firmly tucked under one arm), frantically swatting away the wasps. Unbelievable. I was furious with myself for being so stupid. But I was also baffled at my stupidity. And then I remembered about hyperfocus. Ahhh…yes.

My laser-beam focusing skills are extremely useful to me as a writer. But the wasp incident was a good reminder that when I am out and about in the real world, it would be prudent to pay closer attention to my surroundings!

How about you? Are you able to focus like a laser beam and daydream like a believer? 

A believer in what, you might ask? Well, in the power of your daydreams…if you find yourself pondering something, day after day, that could be a signal from your soul that there just might be something bigger brewing 🙂

“Purposeful work is the productivity sweet spot. These are the tasks we’re put on earth to do; the tasks we’re most engaged in as we do them; the tasks with which we make the largest impact.”  

– Chris Bailey, “Hyperfocus”

Related blog by Maryanne:

Hey Busy Bee – How Productive ARE You in that Little Hive of Yours?

Without Focus and Follow-Through, You May Be Just Spinning Your Wheels

Maryanne Pope is the author of “A Widow’s Awakening.” She also writes screenplays, playscripts and blogs. Maryanne is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and a Director with the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. To receive her blog, “Weekly Words of Wisdom,” please subscribe here.

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2 thoughts on “How is Your Focus These Days?”

  1. As a visual artist I often come up to spots in a painting that give me grief or where I know a painting is not working but can’t find the real problem. Sleeping on it helps sooooo much. I call it letting my brain percolate!

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