We’ve given some general context for the book and discussed each of its three major sections on stopping, cutting, and acting. Then, last week, we offered an general assessment of the book and its proposal to “achieve more by doing less.”
As we round up this series, I’d like to share my two main takeaways from the book and hear about yours.
Two New Takeaways
As a matter of principle, Hyatt is ever generous with his content. So if you spend enough time Googling, you should find where Hyatt has discussed openly online most of what’s in Free to Focus.
If you read the book, you obviously save yourself quite a bit of time Googling. 🙂 Beyond this, two helpful topics in the book that I haven’t seen Hyatt discuss as fully his previous, openly-available work.
These are Hyatt’s comments about “megabatching” and overcoming both interruptions and distractions. Both of these topics offer discrete strategies for improving focus.
“Batch” production is the idea of doing a lot of the same kind of work all at once. By grouping production in this way, you save yourself the cost in time and effort necessary to switch between kinds of activity.
For instance, if you’re fencing your back yard, you don’t do that project in one-post increments. If you regularly set one fence post and then move to something else, you’ll never finish. Instead, in batch production you do more of the same kind of work in a given stretch, you work on fencing for a half or full day at a time.
“Megabatching” takes the batch production principle one step farther. Megabatching asks you to think about linking up batch blocks with each other. So rather than preparing that lecture or writing that chapter for an hour per day, 5 days per week, think about assigning that activity a larger batch slot (e.g., a whole day or series of days).
The upside of megabatching is that your tools (mentally or otherwise) are already “out.” Therefore, you’re ready to continue the same kind of work you’ve been doing.
The downside might be that other things need to get done too. So if you’re going to assign larger blocks of time to a certain type of activity, these might need to be also less frequent blocks. If the blocks are too infrequent, you might lose traction on the project.
That being said, while weighing these factors, “megabatching” is definitely something to consider. Since reading the discussion of it in Free to Focus, I’ve tweaked my default weekly time blocks to group similar activities together more closely. So far, this restructuring seems to have resulted in less friction and better focus on those particular activities in their individual contexts.
2. Overcoming Interruptions and Distractions
Hyatt’s chapter on activation offers two strategies for overcoming interruptions and five for overcoming distractions. All seven are intensely practical. They provide excellent starting points as you work out for yourself what you find to be the best ways of protecting your focus.
I’ve particularly started making use of two of these strategies.
2.1 Be Proactive about Boundaries
Hyatt advises that you should “proactively set and enforce boundaries” around your time. If you’ve set aside a certain time for focused attention on something important, you need to keep that commitment (213).
Of course, this can be difficult to do in the moment. But Hyatt’s excellent advice is to—not wait until you are in the moment. Instead, “proactively set [others’] expectations by letting them know” when you’ll be unavailable for certain kinds of interaction because you need to prioritize a given project, time with your family, service in a ministry, or anything else.
I’ve tried this before on larger-scale blocks of time. But I’ve now also started working on ways of communicating my availability day-to-day more clearly as well. For instance, I’ve started indicating typical response times in my email signature.
And this is ultimately helpful for others because it leaves them with actual information rather than their own best guesses.
2.2 Using Technology to Automate Focus
Hyatt also recommends that you should “use technology to manage technology” (217). I’ve previously mentioned how very useful I’ve found Freedom. I’ve customarily used Freedom to schedule periods of focused effort during the work day.
Reading Free to Focus though, I realized could also do something similar when I’m away from the office. So now I have a recurring Freedom session that kicks off at the end of the day. It blocks email on my phone every evening when I’m focused on being present with my family.
2.3 Obscurely Obvious Next Steps
On reading Free to Focus, these takeaways both became—in David Allen’s wonderful phrase—”blinding flashes of the obvious.” But as is too true, “every problem becomes very childish[—but sometimes only] when … it is explained to you” (Doyle, “Dancing Men,” in The Return of Sherlock, 705). And Hyatt has instructively offered this explanation.
In the end, I’d definitely encourage you to work through Free to Focus if you haven’t already. It clearly isn’t and doesn’t purport to be about biblical studies directly. But it is the kind of book that will help you “sharpen the saw” so that you can live and work more effectively in this discipline that we all find so fascinating and enriching.