Daily Gleanings: Focus (16 September 2019)

With Erik Fisher, Michael Hyatt discusses how to be “free to focus” on your highest priorities.

The episode is from a few months back but does a good job presenting some of the key themes of Hyatt’s book released this year under the same title. In addition, the episode includes a healthy-sized section that provides a case study in digital minimalism.

For a summary and review of Free to Focus, see my “Are You Free to Focus?” post series.

Are You Free to Focus? (Part 6: Takeaways)

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

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.

1. Megabatching

“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.

  1. Header image supplied by Michael Hyatt and Company. 

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. 

Are You Free to Focus? (Part 3: Cutting)

The past few weeks, we’ve been reviewing some of the highlights of Michael Hyatt’s new book Free to Focus.

If you missed the introduction or our discussion of stopping, be sure to go back to read those posts. They’ll provide helpful context for what we’re discussing this week.

Once you’ve made the effort to stop and get an sense of what you should really be devoting yourself to, you proceed to “cutting” what distracts you from these aims. For cutting, Hyatt suggests three strategies.

1. Eliminate

You might be able simply to “eliminate” commitments that dilute your focus (93–115).

Here you recognize that you aren’t superman (or superwoman) and don’t have the limitless capacity God does to focus on everything that comes into your awareness. Every time you say “yes” to something, you implicitly say “no” to something else.

So you take responsibility for saying “yes” to the right things. And you work at seasoning the necessary corresponding “nos” with as much grace and helpfulness as you can imagine.

2. Automate

What can’t be eliminated you think about “automating” (117–38). Automated activities take less of your focus away from where you really want to be putting it.

As Hyatt conceives of it, “automation” might take any of several forms. This might mean:

  1. Developing certain habits. For example, you might work out a morning routine that gets you dressed and off to your writing space while leaving you less frazzled by attention-hijacking news about the latest political mess or research initiative you might have a real but only tangential interest in.
  2. Creating templates. If you find yourself reproducing the same kind of information (e.g., in email), that makes a great candidate for templating. Then, the next time you need it, simply drop the templated information into the new setting, edit as needed, and sidestep having to focus on recreating what you’ve already done.
  3. Documenting workflows or processes. If you can reduce a complex series of steps to an outline of what you do (e.g., a checklist), you can then follow those steps yourself to avoid missing something. You can also—if applicable—pass this documented workflow off to someone else to supervise.
  4. Leveraging technology to do by itself work that you had been doing. Examples might include email filtering or moving information from one place to another.

3. Delegate

What you can’t eliminate or automate, Hyatt asks you next to consider for “delegation” to others (139–60).

Of the three parts of “cutting,” this one might be most challenging to apply in biblical studies unless you’re in an administrative role (e.g., dean, chair) or you’re a student whose work puts you in an administrative capacity in that context (e.g., some church work scenarios).

In any case, we can’t all do all things better than everyone else. Consequently, you might do well to reflect on what you do but would rather not and that someone else might be able to do better—and perhaps even enjoy.


As with stopping, the three “cutting” actions form a cycle that you walk through recursively.  As you gain greater clarity on where you should be putting your attention, you can also get better clarity on what distracts you from doing so. And you can take steps to stop yourself from getting sidetracked by that distraction.

What do you need to cut? What strategy will you use to cut it?

Are You Free to Focus? (Part 1)

Do you feel like you’re drowning in a sea of tasks? Do you keep your nose to the grindstone and complete to-dos like a machine only to look up and find you’re failing to make the progress you want in the areas or projects that matter most?

If so, then you need to read Michael Hyatt’s latest book, Free to Focus. The volume doesn’t release until tomorrow, 9 April. But the author and Baker Publishing kindly included me in the group that received advance copies.

After reading the book, it seems like it will be incredibly helpful if you’re an emerging (or existing) biblical scholar who wants to improve at doing the kind of knowledge work that enables our craft. So, I’ve decided to review here what you can expect to find in the volume, as well as offer some of my own main takeaways from the book.


I’ve been following Hyatt’s reflections about productivity and related topics for some time now. So, it is with that prior context that I came to Free to Focus and its subtitle A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less.

As someone who deeply believes in the value of hard, focused work done consistently over time, “doing less” has somewhat negative connotations in the abstract. But given my prior experience with Hyatt’s thought on productivity, I suspected the substance of his proposal in Free to Focus wasn’t as gimmicky as the subtitle’s “more from less” promise might initially sound.1

And true to form, the book doesn’t disappoint on this front. Immediately in the introduction, it becomes immediately clear that Hyatt’s “doing less” mainly entails cutting out time wasters—or, more appropriately, focus diluters—that prevent us from giving our full attention to what is most important (13–24).

Such a diluter might be the excessive time you spend on email when you should be writing that conference paper or dissertation chapter. Or it might be the wandering of your mind back to a research project or a response you need to make to a colleague when you should be spending time being fully present with loved ones.

Whatever it is, if it’s keeping you from focusing fully on what’s most important in a given time and place, this is what Hyatt advocates putting into the dustbin of “doing less.”

Of course, knowing what’s most important isn’t always an easy question to answer. And Hyatt doesn’t presume to make it easy. But he does devote part 1 of the book to a fundamental activity that will help us discern what should get more of our attention and what should get less of it.

… And it’s with this that we’ll have to pick up next week. 🙂


For now, think about preordering the book if that’s something that’s feasible for you.

Comparatively speaking, it’s a pretty economically priced volume. And if you preorder or if you order before the end of the day Friday (12 April 2019), in addition to getting the book, you’ll also get several hundred dollars’ worth of additional bonus material.

Just place your order with Amazon or your preferred bookseller. Then go to the book’s website to input your order number and contact information for the bonus materials to be delivered.

After that, look forward to working through things as they start to arrive. And check back here next week when we’ll begin summarizing some of the key elements in the book and the productivity approach that Hyatt describes in it.

  1. This being said of course, the purpose of the outside of a book—subtitle included—is to pique your interest in seeing what’s on the inside. I should also acknowledge that creating titles that do this is something that doesn’t come naturally to me, whether it’s for a book project, a journal article, a blog post, or whatever. So, the fact that the subtitle falls a bit flat for me might actually be a good thing given the broader audience the volume is trying to reach. 

Free to focus—on sleep?

Free to Focus logo

As part of Michael Hyatt’s Free to Focus resource set, he’s made available three treat the significance for productivity of adequate, quality sleep:

  • Interview with Shawn Stevenson (video)
  • Unleash Nature’s Secret Weapon eBook (PDF)
  • 13 Essential Keys to a Good Night’s Sleep (PDF)

Shawn Stevenson’s core business certainly falls in an area where probably few biblical scholars will care to follow. But some of the implications of the expertise that he has for broader productivity applications may indeed prove informative and helpful.

To view or download these resources, see the Free to Focus website.