Free to Focus, Michael Hyatt’s new book, helps readers focus on completing their most important work rather than getting bogged down in the minutiae.
Before I jump into the book, let’s take a minute to put things into perspective.
My family recently had a good friend pass away. I know this isn’t the way you’re supposed to start a book review, but death is bigger than our rush to get things done and the need to cram more in every day.
Our friend was the most recent of a handful of folks that we knew that have passed away over the past couple of years. Loss like this brings us face to face with our own mortality, and it proves that only a few things about your life and my life actually matter.
Even knowing that, it’s hard to live towards what’s important. It’s difficult to carve out time amongst all the distractions and all the other little things that still need to be done.
My Attempts at Productivity
Like everyone else, I’ve definitely had my ups and downs in my career. I started off in another profession entirely before switching over to marketing, and it was definitely a bumpy path.
When I did switch over to what would eventually become a full-time career in marketing, I worked the day job and kept a side hustle for years. For part of that time, I was trying to build the next mega-popular blog and failed with a few different attempts. Later on, I was getting freelance work in my off hours to help keep up with the bills.
I say all this to say that my reason for exploring productivity in the past was about “how do I get it all done?!” Usually, the answer was to keep putting in more time. While some ventures will allow a person to explore what work methods bring the highest rewards, some of my freelance gigs were set up as hourly wages. Whether I was delivering at 90% or 110%, the pay was the same.
This is obviously not just an issue for me. Anyone on hourly pay goes through those ups and downs in output, but compensation is directed mostly towards time. We hope that we will be recognized and rewarded for putting in extra effort. On the flip side, we recognize that we can be let go for extended periods of slacking off.
What Finally Changed
Even in the past few years, I was going all out in order to complete my MBA studies. Productivity was a high priority in my life! However, with school (and still a day job), I hit a wall. With the help of my exceedingly patient wife, I recognized that there was no way that I could continue to approach all of my responsibilities in the same way.
So I began cutting back.
We shifted everything that wasn’t directly related to just a few pursuits off my plate.
(A very quick sidenote here… I’ve been surprised at how difficult it has been to recognize overwhelm in my own life. We are all trained to just “man up” or “tough it out” or whatever language we use for ignoring our emotions. Don’t get me wrong, there’s need for grit, but it can’t be the long-term solution. We can’t keep ignoring our limits and deliver our best work.)
School’s done now, and I have a chance to reevaluate which things are going to be a part of my schedule. And this is where simply thinking of our time in terms of productivity or “how much I can get done in that timeframe” becomes dangerous.
I don’t want to just check things off a list, even though that action brings a certain amount of pleasure. I want to contribute my time to things I think will really matter and will really provide results that I hope to see.
I’m stealing author Michael Hyatt’s words here, “Productivity is not about getting more things done; it’s about getting the right things done.”
This is what his new book Free to Focus is all about.
More Than a Book
I’ve been reading Michael Hyatt’s work for years.
Free to Focus is a distillation of his productivity advice that he’s provided in a variety of formats… from blog posts and whitepapers to full on in-person workshops.
I’m really excited to have all of that great information in a single book.
As far as the book is concerned, you will get the most benefit out of it if you have some control over your workday schedule. That said, learning to implement the recommendations may be easiest when you don’t have full control.
You can start implementing structure in the available time you have to control. A few easy examples? Your pre-work routine. Your evening routine before going to bed.
Your early morning can be more routine by making sure you get that workout time in or that time for your passion project or meditation or whatever else it may be. The point is that you have a plan and a structure, and you’re not just letting your mornings pass by.
The secret here is not for you to squeeze as much work as possible in to your available time. It’s about prioritizing the things you value most in your available time.
The Tools You Need
Hyatt has a variety of products that help reinforce this proposed productivity system, some of which are even included in his book. At the end of each chapter, Hyatt provides a link that allows you to download PDF files that you can either print or edit on your computer.
These files give readers the chance to reflect on their own lives and start evaluating what changes need to be made to put these new practices in place.
One of the exercises readers complete fairly early on is listing out all of the tasks that they normally complete as a part of their work. Later, those tasks are then divided out into different zones: desire, distraction, disinterest, drudgery, and development.
The goal here is to get as much of one’s time spent in the desire zone: contributing at one’s highest level towards the efforts that matter the most.
That said, moving towards the desire zone means cutting out or taking a new approach to a lot of work that isn’t our highest contribution. This may be easier to implement if you’re a manager who can delegate work to other employees, but there are still plenty of ways to tackle constraints on our time. Some of these methods may include automation, batching tasks together to get through them more quickly, or even seeing if outsourcing is possible.
When it comes to spending more time on our highest contribution, Hyatt points out that the more dangerous culprits may be in our distraction and development zones. Distractions are the tasks that we think that we can do well but are not really seeing the expected results from. So while we think that we need to spend more and more time getting these things done, we’re not actually providing real value to others at this stage.
We can move some of those activities to a development zone and focus on learning, but we need more time providing high-value as we continue to learn.
Beyond the Book
I’m also a big fan of Michael Hyatt’s Focus Planners. The daily planner pages help identify the most important work to get done each day, but the “weekly preview” is perhaps my favorite component. Each week, you set aside time to recognize how much you actually have accomplished, and you set your focus for the upcoming week by turning your overarching goals for the year into actionable steps to complete within the next several days.
I like that Hyatt and his team have worked as hard as they have to build out not only the big idea (focusing on your most important contribution) but have also developed the tools to help make it a reality. Too many times, I complete a book and think, “yeah, I’m going to go and do that!” Then, a month later, I realize how little I’ve actually done.
Hyatt certainly isn’t the only one that’s helping develop reliable productivity systems, but I’ve found it to be one of the most helpful I’ve ever tried.
I used to be very focused on wanting to test several alternatives and then come away with my own conclusion on what the besttool or tactic was best for the job at hand. Somewhere along the way, I got pretty tired of signing up for trials and then discarding that work. I’m willing to trust someone else’s reviews and focus on getting my own work done.
Pairs Well With
In recent months, I’ve recently completed a few books that align well with Hyatt’s new book. (I used to think that I was just gravitating toward certain themes in my reading, but I suspect that the recent publishing of all of these books have more to do with an entire culture that needs to hear these messages right about now.)
Hyatt talks about creating an ideal schedule and sticking to it. He even looks at a few types of tools he uses in his office. To learn more about the power of distraction and how technology is directly related, take a look at the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. It was quite an eye-opening look at how mobile phone apps, in particular, are designed to be addictive.
In terms of setting up an ideal week as Hyatt recommends, you may want to take a look at Daniel Pink’s newest book When, the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. The book helps readers determine the time of day they are most ready to tackle creative and analytical work, as well as when to step back from various activities.
Don’t Confuse Busyness with Productivity
Focusing on your highest contribution is hard work. You need mindsets and systems that will streamline the process and make it easier to get the right stuff done by blocking out time and distractions.
Michael Hyatt’s systems aren’t the only tools out there that can solve this for you, but I’ve found them effective for years now.
I can wholeheartedly recommend Free to Focus and the planners as tools that will get you and keep you pointed in the right direction.
For other book recommendations, please check out the Resources section of this website.