Are You Free to Focus? (Part 5: Assessment)

The past few weeks, we’ve been discussing Michael Hyatt’s new book, Free to Focus.1

Thus far, we’ve given some general context for the book and discussed each of its three major sections on stopping, cutting, and acting.

This week, we offer an general assessment of the book and its proposal to “achieve more by doing less.”

GTD for Essentialists

Hyatt’s overall proposal in Free to Focus is quite well rounded. It doesn’t have the specificity of something like David Allen’s Getting Things Done, but that’s part of the point.

Narrower Focus = More Brought Forth

Rather than getting as much as possible done, Hyatt wants you to get a few right things done. Peter Drucker’s sage advice continues to be appropriate: “there is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.” In this way, Free to Focus has a deeply essentialist core.

Reverberating in the back of my mind throughout my reading of Free to Focus was Greg McKeown’s observation that a nonessentialist “does more,” whereas an essentialist “brings forth more” (Essentialism, 188). Hyatt wants to help us “bring forth more” that is more in keeping with what is most important.

Freer Focus = Less Preoccupation

To be fair, Allen’s approach to “getting things done” (GTD) speaks to this as well. But as I’ve utilized GTD, the approach has felt like it contains a practical bias toward getting more done.

In a way, it does, and this is a good thing. And Allen rightly recognizes that some of the best things never (and perhaps shouldn’t) end up on a to-do list.

But what I noticed was that my mind was always in “to-do list building” or “to-do list reducing” mode. And for me, it was difficult not to succumb to a mindset of always trying to get more done faster.

Getting more done faster is all well and good. The trouble is that we humans have limits—limits on our time, our energy, our focus. In short, there are limits on how much we can get done and how quickly we can get it done.

Focus = The Way Forward for Those with Limits (i.e., All of Us)

Given these limits, it became clear that what would help me be more productive wasn’t to continue trying to do things faster. (Knowing email keyboard shortcuts is good, but it will only buy you so many seconds.) Instead, the key would be to focus more deeply on whatever passed the test of being worth attention in the first place.

As knowledge workers, we tend to be most productive when we’re “in flow.” And flow is largely a function of focused attention, being deliberately “inside” one experience (whether that’s writing or running after a soccer ball with your kids) rather than being haphazardly bounced from one point of focus to another.2

It was this conviction that originally drew my attention to Hyatt’s reflections on productivity. I still find the basic principles of Allen’s GTD methodology immensely helpful. But what Hyatt has been proposing and what has now taken form in Free to Focus has been indispensable.

It’s helped significantly clarify what I didn’t get with sufficiently from GTD directly—namely, how to track and execute what I have to do in ways that serve what’s most important, rather than what’s most urgent or enticing in the moment.3 In particular, the core of Hyatt’s “ideal week” proposal is the time blocking that I’ve mentioned before as being so helpful.


In sum, the proposal Hyatt articulates in Free to Focus makes a meaningful contribution to the space. It provides immensely practical advice on clearing the decks so you can focus on what’s essential.

Whether that’s writing that dissertation, preparing that lecture, or spending time with those closest to you, surely this is something we can all profit from as we strive to live and work well in biblical studies.

  1. Header image supplied by Michael Hyatt and Company

  2. For the original, groundbreaking study of flow, see Csikszentmihalyi, Flow

  3. For clarity’s sake, my aim here certainly isn’t to fault GTD itself. My understanding of GTD may be insufficiently nuanced. But beyond what I got from Allen’s classic approach alone, Free to Focus has supplied something truly meaningful and essential. 

In the (e)mail: Rodríguez and Thiessen, “The So-called Jew”

Cover image for In addition to Boccaccini and Segovia’s Paul the Jew, inbox recently saw the arrival from Fortress Press of a review copy of Rafael Rodríguez and Matthew Thiessen’s edited volume The So-Called Jew in Paul’s Letter to the Romans (2016). According to the book’s blurb:

Decades ago, Werner G. Kümmel described the historical problem of Romans as its “double character”: concerned with issues of Torah and the destiny of Israel, the letter is explicitly addressed not to Jews but to Gentiles. At stake in the numerous answers given to that question is nothing less than the purpose of Paul’s most important letter. In The So-Called Jew in Paul’s Letter to the Romans, nine Pauline scholars focus their attention on the rhetoric of diatribe and characterization in the opening chapters of the letter, asking what Paul means by the “so-called Jew” in Romans 2 and where else in the letter’s argumentation that figure appears or is implied. Each component of Paul’s argument is closely examined with particular attention to the theological problems that arise in each.

I’m looking forward to working through the text and reviewing it for the Stone-Campbell Journal.

I recently also had the privilege of reviewing Rafael’s prior If You Call Yourself a Jew: Reappraising Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Wipf & Stock, 2014). I very much appreciate the argument that Rafael brings out in that volume. Rafael has very kindly received the review, though he rightly notes some lingering questions that tend to make me lean in a bit different direction. But, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what in the new Fortress volume may speak to those or other related matters. As H.-G. Gadamer reflects,

We say we “conduct” a conversation, but the more genuine a conversation is, the less its conduct lies within the will of either partner. Thus a genuine conversation is never the one that we wanted to conduct. Rather, it is generally more correct to say that we fall into conversation, or even that we become involved in it. The way one word follows another, with the conversation taking its own twists and reaching its own conclusion, may well be conducted in some way, but the partners conversing are far less leaders of it than the led. (Truth and Method, 401; underlining added)

In the (e)mail: Boccaccini and Segovia, “Paul the Jew”

Boccaccini and Segovia, "Paul the Jew" coverIn my email recently, I found Fortress Press had kindly provided a review copy of Gabriele Boccaccini and Carlos Segovia’s edited volume Paul the Jew: Rereading the Apostle as a Figure of Second Temple Judaism (2016). According to the book’s blurb:

The decades-long effort to understand the apostle Paul within his Jewish context is now firmly established in scholarship on early Judaism, as well as on Paul. The latest fruit of sustained analysis appears in the essays gathered here, from leading international scholars who take account of the latest investigations into the scope and variety present in Second Temple Judaism. Contributors address broad historical and theological questions—Paul’s thought and practice in relationship with early Jewish apocalypticism, messianism, attitudes toward life under the Roman Empire, appeal to Scripture, the Law, inclusion of Gentiles, the nature of salvation, and the rise of Gentile-Christian supersessionism—as well as questions about interpretation itself, including the extent and direction of a “paradigm shift” in Pauline studies and the evaluation of the Pauline legacy. Paul the Jew goes as far as any effort has gone to restore the apostle to his own historical, cultural, and theological context, and with persuasive results.

I’m looking forward to working through the text and reviewing it for the Stone-Campbell Journal.