Are You Free to Focus? (Part 4: Acting)

This week, we continue reviewing some highlights from Michael Hyatt’s new book, Free to Focus, and treat the final section on “action.”

If you haven’t done so yet, be sure to read the prior introduction to the book and our discussions of stopping and cutting. These will each provide necessary context for this final part of the book.

Image of "Free to Focus" books and the book hashtag #FreetoFocusBookImage supplied by Michael Hyatt and Company

The book’s first two sections give Hyatt’s operative definition of the subtitle’s promise about “doing less.” Stopping and cutting are ground-clearing exercises that remove obstacles to accomplishing more.

Peter Drucker famously commented that “there is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.” And doing stopping and cutting first helps prevent you from focusing on something like how best to peel the skins off a potato skin appetizer.

With this groundwork laid, Hyatt offers advice on how best to “act” on the goals you’ve identified in the space you’ve cleared to pursue them. As with stopping and cutting, Hyatt subdivides acting into three mutually reinforcing actions.

1. Consolidate

Hyatt advises us to “consolidate” by planning an “ideal week” (163–83). Rather than waiting for others’ priorities to fill your calendar and direct (or usurp?) your focus, the ideal week is you taking action with your calendar on the principle of “be[ing] proactive” (cf. Covey, Effective People, 73–101).

You block out time in advance to give attention to what’s most important. You take the initiative to create a plan, even if you may also need to “go with the flow” in tweaking this ideal schedule in any given week.

(For further discussion of how to implement an ideal week in a digital workspace, see “Time Blocking, Part 3: 6 Tips for a Digital Work Space.”)

2. Designate

Next, Hyatt recommends we “designate” what our particular goals are for each week and then, on a daily basis, what goals we have for a given day that will add up to our achieving our goals for the week (185–206).

Of course, the weekly objectives shouldn’t be random. You should select them specifically to support the specific areas where you’ve decided to devote your attention.

3. Activate

Once we’ve consolidated and designated, we should “activate” the weekly and daily plans we’ve developed (207–23).

Doing so requires that we take steps to avoid external interruptions. For example, we might need to put our phones into airplane mode or exit email. Citing a study by Hewlett Packard and the University of London, Hyatt summarizes, “when we divert our attention to incoming calls and messages, it dings our IQ by 10 percent; that’s twice the effect of smoking marijuana” (italics added).

Activating a daily or weekly plan also requires that we avoid internal distractions. For instance, if email is off, what’s hitting your inbox can’t interrupt you. But if your brain gets tired with working through that difficult German article, you might find yourself more easily distracted by a desire to “just check” an otherwise boring email inbox for some relief. Doing so though has high costs in terms of “attention residue.”

As Hyatt notes, tools like Freedom can be great ways of staying disciplined against these kinds of distractions. For some further discussion of where and how I’ve found Freedom useful, see “Focus—there’s an app for that,” “Scheduling focus,” and “Time Blocking, Part 3: 6 Tips for a Digital Work Space.”

Conclusion

In short, after you’ve cleared the decks by stopping and cutting what isn’t essential, you’re free to focus on what is.

By making a plan and working that plan, you can begin to gain traction. You can begin to make good progress on these essential fronts in your life, be they personal or professional.

As the variously-attributed quote affirms, “No plan survives contact with the enemy”—or, in this case, the everyday realities of life and work. But going without a plan leaves you without any touchstone or base of operations from which to encounter these realities.

So certainly let plans flex as they need to. But keep making them according to what’s most important. Orient yourself by these plans, and you’ll find yourself starting to make progress. And incremental progress over time is key to accomplishing any large goal, be it a degree, a writing project, a relocation, or whatever.

After stopping and cutting, what’s left for you to act on? How will you make meaningful progress in this area(s) this week?

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