Firstly Chris- it’s so great to grab a moment to chat with you- we are big fans of the book!

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The problem isn’t the fact that we’re distracted, it’s the fact that our mind is overstimulated.

1. Now let’s get straight into the good stuff! In your book you talk about how our brains switch between two mental modes- Hyperfocus and Scatterfocus- could you tell us a little bit about them both?

In any given moment we’re either focused on something or we’re reflecting on something- and so hyperfocus is an extreme state of focus in which we bring our full attention to one thing. The term hyperfocus actually implies that it’s almost more intense than it is. Really it’s about managing our attention deliberately so that we can bring our full attention to one thing. We rarely choose the pay attention to something, the world decides for us! So I make the argument in the book that it’s time to take back control of our attention from the world around us. This hyperfocus is the most productive mode of our brain. If you think back to when you were the most productive, you were probably only focusing on one thing at one time. You allowed that thing to consume your full focus and your full attention and then when your mind drifted off to something else or you got distracted, you brought it back. Maybe because you’re on a deadline and so you had to- but regardless of what the reason is, this is the most productive mode of our mind.

The way that we enter into hyperfocus is to firstly choose what to focus on. We rarely choose what we focus on ahead of time, so first we begin by choosing a meaningful object of attention of which we can direct our focus.

The second step is to eliminate as many external and internal distractions as we can. This is because the more productive and meaningful a task is, the more likely we are to procrastinate on it because it’s not easy, it’s more complex, and so we’re going to look for easy alternatives in that moment. So step two is to eliminate any internal and external distractions.

Step 3 is to focus! The works sort of comes easy at that point- when you’ve laid the groundwork to do so.

Step 4 is to continually draw your attention back. Your mind will wander, it will get distracted, our minds wander for 47% of the day!

So the final step is to simply notice that is does. Don’t beat yourself up over it! We’re so hard on our minds! We are constantly telling ourselves ‘I messed that up’, ‘why didn’t I work out today?’ or ‘why did I say that stupid thing in that conversation?’- we are so hard on our minds! I encourage folks in the book to take it easy on their mind because we only have one. We might as well be kind to it!

Now a bit about Scatterfocus. If you think back to when your most creative ideas have struck you, you probably weren’t focused, were you? Maybe you were taking a shower and your mind had a chance to wander to some of the constellations of ideas that were swirling around in your mind. Scatterfocus is when we deliberately let our mind wander so that it can come up with more ideas. Preferably when we’re doing something fun! I’m a big knitter- I love knitting! I love taking baths and walking to the coffee shop without my phone. I like reading simple novels that leave my mind to wander a little bit. Essentially, i’m a middle aged woman in terms of the pursuits that I have! But I think that’s okay- i’m quite proud of that fact. On top of the ideas that mind wandering gives you, it gives you plans for the future. It allows you to think about your goals. We actually think about our goals 14 times as much when our mind is wandering versus when we’re focused on something. We unearth ideas, we plan for the future, we rest our mind because we get to do something fun. There’s that great quote from J.R.R Tolkien where he says that ‘not all those who wander are lost’. I think that is definitely the case with regard to our attention. We spend so much time doing things and so little time reflecting on things- and we need more of a balance. This is because we need to consider our goals, we need to consider the things that we’re processing and we need to consider our ideas as well.

2. How can we make Scatterfocus work for us?

I’m a big proponent of finding something that you genuinely love doing that doesn’t consume your full attention. This could be anything! It could be sipping your morning cup of coffee with just a notepad by your side and capturing whatever ideas might come up. It could be something as simple as knitting, or waiting in line, as long as it’s not consuming your full attention. You don’t even have to do anything past that point- just don’t fill your attention to the brim, don’t try to multitask in that moment- try to savour what you’re doing- but notice where your mind wanders  to. Notice the ideas and plans that come to you. You’ll be surprised!

The more passes of an idea that your mind does, the more of that idea you’ll remember and internalise.   

3. Let’s say it’s the beginning of a work day and we have a lot to get done- how can we set ourselves up to have the most productive day?

That’s a great question! One of my favourite rituals that I do every single morning is called ‘The Rule of Three’. We can fit around 3, upwards of 4 unique pieces of information in our mind at once. You can look to the culture and the world around us to see that it’s structured into groups of 3. We have sayings such as ‘celebrities die in threes’, ‘the third times the charm’, ‘the good the bad and the ugly’ and ‘blood sweat and tears’. We play Rock, Paper, Scissors to settle disputes, we divide stories into the beginning, the middle and the end! We have the 3 little bears, 3 blind mice, 3 little pigs, the 3 musketeers- the list goes on and on and on! And so we’re wired to think in threes- so when we set 3 intentions at the start of the day we can actually remember them! At the start of the day, fast forward to the end of the day in your mind and ask yourself- ‘if I could only accomplish 3 things by the end of this day, what 3 things would I want to have accomplished? What would have made this a meaningful day?’. That’s it! That’s all you need to ask, but this exercise forces you to separate out the important things in your day from the unimportant. That’s one of the best things that you can do! Weeding out the essential parts of the day from the inessential.

4. What advice do you have for someone that gets easily distracted? How can we cope with these distractions?

If you get easily distracted, your mind is too stimulated. There’s a mechanism in our mind called the Novelty Bias, and what this means is that our mind rewards us with a hit of dopamine for every new and novel thing for which we direct our attention. Take when you wake up for example. Maybe your phone wakes you up and so you go over to Instagram and you check how many likes your most recent posts have gotten, who commented on them and who followed you. You get a hit of dopamine, because you checked something new and novel. Then you bounce over to Facebook and you get another hit of dopamine. You check Twitter, the news and your email and you get another hit of dopamine still! The problem isn’t the fact that we’re distracted, it’s the fact that our mind is overstimulated. So the thing that I recommend in the book is to make your mind less stimulated. It takes about 8 days for your mind to settle into a new, lower level of stimulation. The effects of doing so however are quite remarkable. There is one piece of research from all the notes that I collected for the book that sticks out at me- I think it’s one conducted by Microsoft Research- where they found that on average when we do work in front of a computer we focus on one thing for just 40 seconds before we switch to doing something else. It’s remarkable! We don’t even work on something for a minute- and it’s because we want to stay at this high level of stimulation. There is so much dopamine coursing through our mind that we need to get one more hit. We don’t check Instagram, we take a hit of Instagram. That’s not to say that social networking can’t provide us with meaning in our lives- because it does allow us to connect with a lot of people- but it often sort of numbs our mind and tricks us into thinking that it makes us happier than we are. You know when you accidentally go to that screen in Snapchat or Instagram where you catch a glimpse of your face- you rarely have a smile on your face! Usually you look kind of dull- and i’m speaking from personal experience here! When I was conducting the research around this book, this is what motivated me to delete Instagram off of my phone. I realised the irony because so much of the reach that I have is through Instagram, but I think it’s really important to take stock of how these different apps make us feel and how the different people we follow make us feel. Let’s surround ourselves with positivity! It makes a big difference in terms of how we think. Perhaps you’re asking ‘Why should we make our minds less stimulated, why should we challenge ourselves to be less stimulated for 8 days?’ Well, it’s because you will find that our attention span grows! It grows from 40 seconds to 5 or 10 minutes. More ideas and plans come to us! We allow ourselves more space in between the different elements that come to us throughout the day, instead of just bouncing around between a bunch of distractions that stimulate our mind but don’t necessarily make us happy.  

5. Is there a key formula for retaining the most amount of information possible when studying or learning?

That’s a great question- I love that question! Here’s the key thing to keep in mind- when you study or learn, the key is to process things more deeply. The more deeply you process something, the more it sticks in your mind. This is common sense, but we rarely act upon this. So how can we process things more deeply? Well, sleep on them! Our mind actually continues to process what we have experienced throughout the day when we go to sleep. So review the things that you’re doing right before bed. Revisit them constantly, even if it’s just skimming! I give a lot of presentations to various companies around the world and even if I don’t have time to rehearse a talk- maybe I have 10 meetings in a day and there is a little 15 minute chunk of time and I have an important presentation the following day- I’ll just look through the slides! Because that will reactivate that information in my mind so that it’s more likely to stick and i’m able to process it more deeply. Re-read your notes! Make study notes out of everything that you’re currently processing so that you can re-process them while you’re making the notes. Talk to people about them. Bug your partner, bug your boyfriend about what you’re studying. Explain an idea to them or have a monologue with yourself! Much like i’m doing right now! The more passes of an idea that your mind does, the more of that idea you’ll remember and internalise.   

This very conversation (or rather monologue) is one of those 15 minute chunks of time in between things that are so vital to advantage of. Whether it’s doing a little interview, doing a little review of the slide deck or even scattering your attention!

Thank you so much for this opportunity- that’s enough chattering from me!

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Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us Chris!

This has been a very insightful interview and one with a lot of useful takeaway information. We will be sure to put some of this knowledge into practice!

If you’d like to learn more about becoming your most productive self by actually working less and achieving more, you can grab a copy of Chris’ awesome book, Hyperfocus, here!

In the meantime, be sure to check out Chris’s website, A Life of Productivity, for an incredible resource on all things productivity related, with heaps of really useful self help articles, TEDx Talks, podcast episodes and more!

Have a wonderful day!
The Vurger Co. Team x 

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