#166: How to Be More Productive (and Creative) in a World Filled with Distractions

Maintaining a high level of productivity is one of the top three challenges my coaching clients face.

That’s why we’ve touched on this subject so many times over the past 18 months.

NY Times Bestselling author Denise Kiernan had some great insights here.

So did Jordan Baker a few weeks ago. And my friend Mark McGuinness shared excellent ideas in a previous show.

I’ve shared a few tips and strategies of my own here and here.

Today, I have another expert who will share a different take on productivity—a more holistic approach that I think will resonate with you.

His name is Chris Bailey, and he’s the author of Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction and The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy.

Chris is the real deal. He geeks out on this topic more than anyone I’ve ever encountered! And he also brings some fresh perspectives to this discussion that I’m not hearing in most conversations about productivity.

In this conversation, he explains the difference between the “hyperfocused” and “scatterfocused” brain modes … and why you need a healthy dose of both.

He talks about why daydreaming will make you more productive, and how to drastically reduce smart phone and social media distractions with some simple changes. He also shares how you can improve your productivity by making simple changes to your work environment.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us what you did after graduating from university

Chris was always fascinated by the topic of productivity. Upon graduation, he decided to take a year and run a series of experiments to become as productive as possible.

He spent his time researching and writing about productivity and assessing what works and what doesn’t.

This adventure turned into a book contract and then a second book contract.

You explain that the brain has two modes. What are those modes, and how can we use them?

For his book Hyperfocus, Chris had planned to write about how we can stay focused all day long.

But he eventually realized that staying in a constant state of focus is the worst thing we can do for our productivity!

We can be in either hyperfocus mode, or scatterfocus mode, at any one time. We can’t be in both.

Hyperfocus mode gets all the attention. But scatterfocus mode is just as important.

Your best ideas come when you’re unfocused. It’s a time to reflect and think about the future.

When we have a good balance between the two modes, cross-pollination can occur.

How can we practice this kind of balance?

Try writing a paragraph on something complex. Stop in the middle of it and go for a walk.

This keeps the complex issue in the front of your mind. During your walk, the environment will give you cues that lead to creative thinking.

If you want to be more strategic, creative and thoughtful, give your mind time to wander.

It’s easy to discount this “scatterfocus” work. But you need to give yourself time to daydream. It’s a great way to get solutions to come to you.

Where does guilt come into all this?

It’s hard to measure our level of productivity. So we often look to busy-ness as a proxy measure.

Therefore, when we’re not in a state of busy-ness, we feel guilty! We feel unproductive even though taking a break is one of the best things we can do for our productivity.

We feel unproductive when we take a break. But taking a break is one of the best things we can do for our productivity!

For every moment you allow your mind to wander, you get double the payoff in:

  • Thinking clearly
  • Thinking strategically
  • Feeling rested
  • Connecting ideas.

You can combat the feeling of guilt by being intentional about where and when you let your mind wander.

When we act with intent, we reduce our guilt, doubt and worry.

What are some other strategies we can use?

1. Email sprints

For most freelancers, focus work is what pays the bills.

But we also need to respond to emails, etc.—and these can quickly take over our time.

One strategy for dealing with this is an email sprint. At the top of each hour, blow through as much email as you possibly can in 10-15 minutes.

At worst, people will have to wait 40-45 minutes for a response. But you’ll have the other 40 minutes to do the work that actually earns your income.

2. Distraction blockers

Emails sprints pair nicely with distraction blockers.

Distraction blockers work on your computer or smartphone. When activated, they prevent you from accessing certain apps and websites to reduce distractions.

Some of the most popular distraction blocking tools are:

  • Freedom
  • Cold turkey
  • Self-control.

3. Phone modes

Most phones come with different modes that can help reduce distractions. Try putting your phone on “airplane” mode or “do not disturb” mode when you need to focus.

Some phones have a gray scale mode that can make them less stimulating.

4. Environmental controls

Think about the environment in which you work. What distractions typically come up?

The more you can change your environment to minimize distractions, the more productive you’ll be.

Once you’re disrupted, it can take 10-15 minutes to get back into the flow.

Productivity isn’t just about time management. It’s also about managing our energy levels and working environment.

5. Reset your social media passwords

Every minute you spend on Twitter is a minute you could have spent writing, reading or having a conversation.

To encourage yourself to stay off social media, reset your passwords with a random string of letters/numbers!

To log back on, you’ll need to go through the password reset process. This will discourage you from logging back on immediately and give you time to reflect.

People want to live longer. But if you reclaim the time you spend on social media, TV, etc., you could add years to your life!

Tell us about your new book

Chris’s book is Hyperfocus: How to be More Productive in a World of Distraction.

It’s available wherever you buy your books!

This book for anyone who wants to regain control of their environment.

The state of our attention determines the state of our life. If we’re constantly distracted, we create a life that also feels distracted and overwhelming.

Where can listeners learn more about you and your work?

Chris’s website: A Life of Productivity


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