Episode 157 — The Hyper Focus Method


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Episode 157 — The Hyper Focus Method

Hey, everyone!

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 157! I’m speaking with the bestselling author Chris Bailey about his latest book Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction (www.hyperfocusbook.com). I’m really excited about this because I love talking about productivity:

Chris Bailey has written a lot of books in the past. This latest one Hyperfocus is going to be a game changer. I will admit that we get goofy in the beginning. Chris is a fun guy. But we do get into a lot of cool stuff.

Let’s dive in!



I. [00:50] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. Typically, we go on job interviews and when asked what we charge, we either shoot ourselves in the foot by saying we charge less than we’re worth and getting the gig — but indirectly leaving tens of thousands of dollars accumulatively over time, on the table; rather than actually asking what we should be charging. At the same time you don’t want to alienate your employers by asking for too much and leaving yourself out in the cold.

I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging in your discipline. This is something I’m going to continue to build and flush out over time.

The key thing is: I don’t want to just showcase how much you should be worth — I want to hand you the tools to grow beyond that and learn:

  • to negotiate better;
  • to ask for the right amount of money in the right way;
  • lots of other additional tools!

The information is FREE! Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! Put in your information and you will get instantly notified with how much you should be charging per hour, as a VFX Artist.

II. [4:18] If you haven’t gotten the Ultimate Demo Reel Guide, you can still get it for free at www.allanmckay.com/myreel/. That book goes through a lot a great insight, advice from myself and others who do the hiring in this industry. You will also have access to a 2-hour free Master Class.



Chris Bailey is a Productivity Expert and the bestselling Author of two books about productivity: The Productivity Project and Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction. Chris writes about productivity at www.alifeofproductivity.com and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive, without hating the process.

Chris was born in Red Deer, Alberta and raised in Ontario, Canada. He first became interested in productivity in high school after reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done. He graduated from the Sprott Business School of Business in 2013. After college, he started researching productivity and conducting experiments, while documenting his experiences on this blog A Year of Productivity. Insights and strategies learned from these experiments were compiled into his 2016 book The Productivity Project. His second book Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction was released in August 2018.


In this Podcast, Allan and Chris discuss the neurological research behind productivity and the subjects of focus and scatter focus, taming distractions, mind resting breaks, flow state, multitasking and bio hacks.

Productivity Expert and Bestselling Author Chris Bailey


[5:05] Allan: Chris, do you want to quickly introduce yourself?

Chris: Yeah, I’m Chris. “I heard your wife was from Newfoundland, bud…” We’re off to a great start here! People will be like, “I don’t have time for this shit, I’ve got deadlines!”

[05:31] Allan: This is obviously not coffee I’m drinking.

Chris: It’s [7:30] in the morning. God bless you for doing this!

[05:44] Allan: I was stocking my fridge with beer this morning, for after the meeting. 

Chris: So, I’m Chris. I’m a big nerd about productivity. I’ve written a lot of books about productivity through Random House. I love experimenting with productivity, that’s my thing. A lot of people give advice on how to be productive but they don’t take the advice themselves. I’m a big fan of experimenting with this stuff.

  • I’ve lived in total isolation for 10 days to see the effects other people have on our productivity.
  • I’ve lived in boredom for a total month.
  • I used my smart phone for only an hour a day.

All of that just to see: What is it? How can we push on the limits of how much we can do in a day? I want to figure those things out.

There are people who say they do stuff but they don’t. And then there are those who who get stuff done. What separates those people? I think it’s productivity.

[07:58] Allan: That’s great! I love that! 

Chris: This could be a 5-hour podcast.

[08:11] Allan: Do you need another bathroom break yet? This is awesome! I do think people in general have resistance toward having to work on oneself. It’s easier to look externally for solutions. Do you find that people have resistance?

Chris: Oh, yeah! Totally! And this is the thing about productivity: For every minute you spend reading about productivity, you have to make that time back. And there is a lot of that stuff out there. At a certain point, you just have to do the work and get out of your own way. All the productivity advice in the world isn’t going to help you if you don’t want to do that work and if you don’t want to work hard. I see it as two sides of the same coin: On the one side, there is doing the work and putting in the energy; and on the other side — there’s working strategically and smarter. There are people who think that working smart is a good substitute for working hard. I don’t think that way. You still have to do the work.

[10:11] Allan: I had this realization the other day. There was this stupid saying from The Cable Guy: “He who procrastinates — masturbates.” That’s the dumbest 13-year old boy thing to say. But I thought about that the other day. I can’t believe where this Podcast is going…

Chris: Well, I think you need some great productivity tactics to lubricate this social discourse between two men like us. This is the end of my productivity career. This is it!

[11:30] Allan: I think there is a good point there. You have to stop procrastinating. You have to execute rather than be in love with the idea. It’s like saying, “I’m going to write my own book.” It’s more comforting to dream about it.

Chris: The curious thing is: It’s not all our fault at the same time. The second book that I wrote is all about attention management. There are books on time management (maybe too many) out there. Here is the way our focus is wired:

We’re wired to pay attention to anything that’s one of these three things:

  • Pleasurable;
  • Threatening;
  • Novel / novelty.

Whenever we focus on something that’s new and novel, our mind releases a hit of dopamine and we get rewarded on getting focused on that. If you look at the things we pay attention to by default: It will gravitate toward your phone, one of the most pleasurable novel things in the environment. Or if you’re flipping through channels, it might gravitate toward cable news. Whatever you happen to be doing, that’s the way our attention is wired. That’s where working smarter comes into play. Some of this is our fault: We do have to step up at some point. But there are these uphill battles that we have to transverse.

[14:54] Allan: That’s a good point. You do have these handicaps. You have this resistance built in. To switch gears for a second: How did you get on this journey of productivity?

Chris: Honestly, it’s the feeling of being productive. We have those days when we accomplish everything and then some. And then, there are days when we tread water and balance our distractions. It’s been a decade that I’ve been chasing this feeling. I read this book by now a friend of mine: David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done (www.allanmckay.com/94/).That book has the premise that our mind is for having ideas, not holding them. It’s like when you make a shopping list before going to a store. You have a list and you can walk through a store stress-free. And then, we have more space to pay attention to conversations and things that happen in the moment. That feeling! I’ve been chasing it. We only have so much time and so much attention. Are we going to waste it or spend it on something that’s meaningful? How are going to spend this limited time? Some people have that idea internalized.

[18:03] Allan: I do feel that time is a currency. The same time you have a bank: You can store so much information in your brain. I forgot this until yesterday: A year ago, I was looking up a TED speaker and I went down the Google rabbit hole. I discovered this Death Clock. It will come up with a chart for everything you have left. For me, it gave me a great perspective. I thought it was fascinating to look at such data. Putting a perspective on it — making it resonate for you specifically — makes you relay it on something else.

Chris: You see it with a lot of people who have kids. When someone has a family, the value of their time goes up. That extra hour of work becomes much greater. That’s an hour you don’t have to spend with your kids or wife. We don’t realize it. We need that reminder when we start a family or when we’re about to go on a trip. There is this opportunity cost for our time. If you were to leave for a trip on Wednesday, I bet you would do everything right, to get a week’s worth of work in two days. Why not do that?

[22:36] Allan: I believe in that. There is Parkinson’s Law that states that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. There are all these things I need to get done, so I pull all this magic to get them done in time. And then you think, why wasn’t I doing that all the time? In general, what are the most common disruptions we have?

Chris: Well, one of the fun parts of writing this book was doing the research and talking to experts. Once you begin to read research, you have to focus. Looking at the wall is sometimes more interesting than reading neurological research. That’s the point. I don’t know if you ever watch those murder shows where they make this map of photos to notes, to evidence, etc. Essentially, I had one of those murder maps. The curious thing about distractions is: When we’re working on something while on a computer, we’re only working on that one thing for 40 seconds before we switch to something else. This study observed people at their desks. It’s the state in which we work. When it comes to what we switch to — you can’t be productive without setting that intention — when you look at things that derail us, we experience an equal number of external vs internal distractions. Sometimes, our minds just sort of wanders to some fantasy against our will. Sometimes, it will fall victim to something novel, like information on our smart phones. Like you said, there is Parkinson’s Law.

It’s worth segmenting to a recommended activity: Divide the disruptions and interruptions that you face during the day based on whether they’re within or outside of your control and then whether they’re annoying or fun. The ones that are outside of your control and annoying, you can deal with them and get back on track. The enjoyable ones, you can enjoy them and again, get back on track. Luckily, the ones that are within our control — the internet, the noises, the notifications, the meetings — by dealing with them ahead of time, we prevent these would-be distractions to interfere with our attention.

In the moment, what we see as a distraction is simply something we prefer to pay attention to. Facebook will always attract our attention, or Instagram, more than some email we’re writing or a budget we have to work on. But distracting ourselves, we trap ourselves — much like with going on a vacation — within the conditions where we have no choice but to increase how productive or focused we are. That’s the key thing. And there are ways you can deal with these. But you can start with figuring out which ones you can and can’t control. The ones you can control — you can deal with those ahead of time.

[28:57] Allan: That’s great! You talked about tracking where time goes when it comes to distractions. Do you document that? Is it important to do this evaluation in the beginning?

Chris: I think it’s helpful. Time tracking is weird. It’s such an ugly thing to do in the moment. You’ve had Laura Vanderkam on the Podcast (www.allanmckay.com/86/). She is colleague in the productivity world. She’s tracked her time every day for the last 10 years. Occasionally, she’ll crunch the numbers. These are personal techniques. If you don’t have an awareness of where your time goes (which will surprise you, things like the phone or tv), you will see your pain points. I will say though, full disclosure: It’s not for me. I have this time tracking cube on my desk called Timeular. Each side is labeled with an activity: “writing”, “meditation”, “meetings”, “email”, etc. I’ll flip it to whatever side I’m working on. That can be helpful. It’s about how we track our time.

Emails are a great example though. They take more of our attention than time. We check them on average of 88 times every day, but we only spend an hour on it every day. Some tasks consume more attention because we’re thinking about them as we’re doing other things. So I think time tracking is helpful but it doesn’t give the whole picture.

[32:08] Allan: I’m a big fan of eliminating distractions. Most of the time, my phone is on airplane mode. That way I can check my missed calls when I’m ready to be distracted. There are those validation notices from social media. There is an extension from Google Chrome that gives you a quote every time you want to go on Facebook. Do you think having a designated time in a day to do emails helps?

Chris: Absolutely! And apps like Freedom (a distraction blocker), Cold Turkey; Self Control or Rescue Time help. Cold Turkey is great because if you want to access these things, you can blacklist some distractions. You have to actually restart your computer to get access to these blocked things again. If you do any writing for your work, there is this app called Cold Turkey Writer where once you launch it, it hijacks your computer until you reach a set number of words or number of hours you want to work. It traps you. “Trapping Yourself in Productivity”. That’s a good title for a podcast!

[34:33] Allan: That’s the title for your next book!

Chris: Sometimes, we have an aversion to things. How stimulated we are by default dictates how difficult it will be for us to tame distractions. I love giving people tactical stuff:

Shrink how long you want to focus for — until you no longer feel the resistance to something. What if you had to write for 45 minute? It’s too long! 30 minutes? Too long! 15 minutes? I could write for 15 minutes. You tame distractions for those 15 minutes and set a timer and force yourself. If you feel like you can go longer — do so, but you don’t have to. 

But after that time, treat yourself to a distractions break to reward yourself for focusing.

That’s the thing about this state of Hyperfocus, as I call it: It’s difficult at first. We need to treat ourselves at first. When you get those apps, you feel anxious as you adjust downwards toward lower stimulation. The lower you are stimulated by default — up to a point:

  • The deeper you’re able to think and the better you’re able to focus;
  • The more the quality of your attention goes up;
  • You’re able to focus longer;
  • You work with great intention;
  • And what you lose in speed, you gain five times over in how much deliberately you work.

This is the state we need to be in more often, even though it’s difficult to get to in the first place.

[37:32] Allan: Training yourself to be less distracted is the ultimate goal, just like with meditation. Do you think you need to train yourself?

Chris: Absolutely! This book Hyperfocus spawned from an uncomfortable state. I give talks and coach people; but after my first book came out and I came off that deadline, I was more distracted than I had been in years! I tended to social media more often. I thought: I’m missing the bigger picture. So I started building that “murder map”. At the start, I couldn’t focus on something for longer than 5 minutes. Now, I can focus up to 1-2 hours with that deep level of energy and focus. I don’t mean to brag. We can all chip away at this over time. I really do believe that.

The tough part about this is the boredom that seeps in. We experience boredom is when we immediately lower our level of stimulation. That’s such an uncomfortable feeling, even though it’s a sign that we’re working in the right direction.

[40:08] Allan: You did an experiment with making yourself bored for a month, right? When I read that, I wondered if you were married.

Chris: My fiance is very patient, God bless her! There has been a lot of experiments that have been tough. There was one where I lived like a total slob for a week. Laziness is underrated. I think I’m one of the lazier people you’ll ever meet. I need to trick myself. With this boredom experiment, for an hour a day, I made myself bored. Focusing all day long is exhausting! I thought I would try out boredom. It’s not something we experience that often. For a month, I would make myself bored for an hour:

  • One day, I read the iTunes’ Terms and Conditions;
  • Another day, I circled all the zeros and counted them up in the first ten thousand digits of Pi [π];
  • Another day, I watched one cloud;
  • I waited on hold with lost baggage department at Air Canada. They lost my carry-on… Carry-on! How do you lose a fucking carry-on bag? I was on hold for 25 minutes, and after each time I hung up and called back — I would get the same lady. They really need to hire a second person. Maybe the wait time will then be 3 minutes.

The idea was to make myself bored while periodically sampling where my mind would go. And the main conclusion was: If you look for what allows for traffic to flow, it’s not how fast individual cars are moving — but rather how much that space that exist between the cars. (I am a big nerd on traffic flow.) I’m a big believer that our work is the same thing. The thing about distractions is that these breaks are amazing. But when they fill the time between tasks, it causes our attention to get better. This resting of our attention is the best thing we can do not only for our productivity — but for our creativity as well. The way our attention works is we only expend mental energy when we regulate our attention in one way or another: when we make a decision, or have to focus on something. When our attention is resting — when we’re doing something habitual — our mind wanders to some fascinating places. When our mind is at rest, that’s when the best ideas strike you. You aren’t focused on something: you’re probably taking a shower or taking a walk. It lead me to the fascinating places to which our mind wanders to.

I’m not advocating for boredom, by the way. Boredom is an uncomfortable emotion. After experiencing it for 30 hours that month, I’m not so sure we need more of it. But what we do need more of — is the space in between our work. We need to make more room on the highway. When our mind wanders, we tend to think about the future 48% of the time; it wanders to the present 28% of the time; and it wanders to the past about 12% of the time. The rest of the time, our mind is dull or blank. So when it bounces in between these three destinations, this is when we connect ideas that we accumulate. That’s when we rest, plan, set intentions. If intention lies at the heart of productivity — and we don’t really think about our goals when we are focused — we need un-focus deliberately. I call this “scatter focus” and we need to get more of it. 

[47:15] Allan: That’s great! I was curious about scatter focus. You’re right: Giving yourself permission to put aside time to go the opposite way is important. Whether it’s with dieting or working out, if you place these unrealistic expectations, you’re going to break down eventually.

Chris: The fascinating thing about the two mental modes is that on a neurological level, they’re anti-related to one another. When the brain network that support hyperfocus is activated, the task negative network is not activated that much. And the same goes vice versa. When our mind is wandering, the focus part of our brain is not activated. What it means on a neurological level is that we can’t both focus on something and reflect on something at the same time. It’s only by reflecting on something that we think strategically about it. If you feel you’re in this responsive cycle with the work that you’re doing — whatever part of your life you’re feeling that with — look to that. How often do you leave space between things? When you’re at dinner with someone, do you pick up your phone and start mindlessly tapping around while they’re in a bathroom — instead of reflecting on the meaningful conversation you were having, for example? Look for the space at that point! You will be surprised!

[49:49] Allan: That’s great! One thing I wanted to talk about is isolation, to minimize other people act as distractions.

Chris: That experiment was hell! We don’t realize how much other people motivate us and give us energy. The reason for this: We can do our work for extrinsic and intrinsic reasons. A lot of people focus on the extrinsic reasons:

  • I want to make more money.
  • I want to have more power.
  • I want more people to know my name.

But the intrinsic reasons are much more motivating, as research shows. The intrinsic reasons might be the love of the craft, the want to help people out. People motivate us quite a bit. Nothing will be more motivating for us than having our friend on the same team. Not having people around for 10 days (I believe it was 10), it was hell. I lost all motivation. People are the intrinsic reason why we do what we do.

I do a lot of talks. There is a bit of money in doing just one talk. And I found that at a certain point, I started to do it for the money. And it was precisely at that point that the feedback on the talks wasn’t as good. There were fewer standing ovations at that point. And it took me a while to figure out what changed. It was because I started to focus on the money and [recognition]. When I started to focus on wanting to help people out as much as I could, that’s when things turned around. Productivity is much the same way: People don’t motivate us. They should be the reason WHY we strive to be productive in the first place.

If you woke up and some nightmare apocalypse scenario happened overnight — and you’re the only person left on the planet — and the internet was still working, it’d be easier to get stuff done. You would be hyper productive. You’d get a lot accomplished. How productive would you be — REALLY? — if you had no one to share the fruits of that productivity with? This speaks to an essential idea: We need that deeper reason, beyond money or success, for why we should strive to be more productive. Or else, we wouldn’t give a shit. We’re just going to tread water. It’s such an essential idea that we connect with that intrinsic idea. If you don’t give a shit about the work, find something you do give a shit about — because you will be naturally more productive.

And this speaks to our attention. We only expand mental energy when we regulate our attention in one way or another. The more you care about your work by default, the more you’ll put focus on that work. You have so much energy, you’ll need to take fewer breaks. You’ll be able to enter into that flow state where you look up at the clock and think half an hour has gone by, but 5 hours have gone by. This is so critical that we connect to our work on that deeper intrinsic level, so we can’t not be be productive.

[54:46] Allan: So I guess accountability, in a way, can be really effective. Like you said, if everyone is dead, you don’t get to brag. The validation from other people is a big drive. There is a lot of external motivations.

Chris: One of the strategies that I recommend is having an accountability partner with your work. I coach people and I have them send me three intensions that they wish to accomplish at the end of each day; and then I ask, “How did that go?” I do this with someone else as well. That’s one way to trap yourself into being productive.

[56:06] Allan: I think that’s really powerful. When you’re held accountable, you have to step up.

Chris: And have someone who will push you a little bit. “These are not the things you’re capable of! I’ve seen you do better.”

[56:35] Allan: I think you’re right. It’s like having quality control. An important thing you’ve touched on is meetings. I used to work for ILM which we used to call “I Love Meetings”. What are you thoughts on meetings as a whole?

Chris: As a whole, it depends where you work. There are agile cultures where meetings aren’t as essentials. And there are other meetings where things are more bureaucratic where people need confirmation from everyone before making decisions. Are you on that side of too many meetings or too little (and the team is less cohesive because of that)?

The thing I find fascinating is how many meetings don’t have an agenda or a goal. How do you know a meeting went well? Or achieved its purpose? A lot of meetings don’t have a purpose. Never attend a meeting without an agenda or a purpose. It’s easier advice to give because things can be political. Having that focus — especially if you’re leading a team of other people — that is so essential! A meeting without an agenda shouldn’t exist. Sometimes I push back on someone who wants my time [by asking them], “What did you want to ask?” They say, “I can actually send that to you over email.” Suddenly, I get an hour of my time back.

Another thing you can do is look at your calendar and look at every recurring meeting that’s on there. Really question the value of those meetings. Sometimes, we attend them out of habit. Another thing to check is the attendance list: Not everyone needs to be there. If you’re running a meeting, you can fill in other people later if they have more important things going on. It’s a way of respecting other people’s time and your own time. If a meeting passes that criteria — focus on the meeting. Leave your phone in another room and get through the agenda quick. Focus on the meeting because it’s probably valuable.

[1:01:09] Allan: I think that’s great! That’s one thing I found in dailies when working on a film: You sit on a couch and watch footage. But when you have those deadlines, it’s more productive to have production have a list of people [who need to be there to present their stuff]. 

Chris: Something else to keep in mind. We talk about distractions. But sometimes, interruption is an essential part of collaboration. I would go as far as tp say, it’s a necessary byproduct of collaboration. There is a spectrum:

  • On the left, you have the hyper collaborative projects that you do: like launching a satellite at NASA where everyone needs to chip in. Information flows, you get information from other people and you feed them information back.
  • On the right, there are the focused things that we do: like a novelist who walks into his office who focuses on writing every minute of the day. They can’t have distractions.

Whatever you’re doing each moment exists on either side of that spectrum. If you’re more on a collaborative side, maybe don’t tame all the distractions in your work. But if you’re doing focus work, tame all the distractions. Working on film falls more on a collaborative side, but you can find the balance between the two.

[1:03:22] Allan: I really like that! During Obama’s reelection, his team had a chat room. You want information to come in selectively, like a constant feed. If you’re trying to get one thing done, that would be a nightmare. What are your thoughts on multitasking? I love to hear people brag, “I’m really good at multitasking!” I’m not! I’ve had weeks derailed because of that. Anyone who is multitasking, you’re distributing your attention that isn’t full to several things.

Chris: I went into writing this book with the preconception that multitasking is a terrible, terrible thing. The research that I found changed that on some level. First of all, it’s important to make a distinction between multitasking and rapid task-switching. Multitasking is paying attention to more than one thing simultaneously — which isn’t really possible. We can’t direct our attention to more than one thing fully. And task-switching is switching tasks every 40 seconds. And rapid task-switching is one of the worst things we can possible do for our productivity. The reason for this is something we call attentional residue: Within our attention are remnants of things we were just doing that remain in our attentional space. If we’re having a conversation and I go to make a cup of coffee, I’m not going to be entirely focused on that cup of coffee. Instead, I’m going to be recalling things we’ve talked about. That happens throughout the day.

However, when we’re on a tight deadline and switch, we actually think about it less. There is always that residue. When we switch between tasks — even in 5 minutes — there is always that remnant that costs us in productivity because we don’t have the attention to give from what we’ve just switched. Our attentional space is like our RAM. If it costs 10% of productivity, it’s not that big of a deal. The research shows that our work will take about 50% longer than if we were focused on one thing from start to completion because of that attentional residue.

When it comes to multitasking, we can multitask. But — and it’s a big “but” — only with habits. You can walk while listening to the Podcast and chewing gum. Habits only require attention when we have to intervene on them. When we don’t have to intervene, we don’t have to regulate our attention. That’s something to keep in mind: We can’t focus on one more thing at one time. Unless it’s a habit. But when it comes to the most productive things we can focus on, these tasks benefit from as much attention as we can bring to them. The less we switch from one thing to another, the less time the work takes. Multitasking is something I talk a lot about in Hyperfocus. Most of the advice people give is bullshit. I agree with you: It’s not something we can really do.

[1:09:50] Allan: It’s the flow state you’ve talked about. It takes time to switch tabs.

Chris: It’s not a good situation. To riff on this, this is the frame I use for this idea (and I’m happy to be talking to a more technical audience who understands what RAM is): This attention span allows us to focus on things. It’s the RAM of our minds. In research, it’s called our “working memory capacity”. It’s our mental scratch patch. But this space is very limited in two ways:

  • We can only focus on something for so long at once;
  • We can only hold so much at one time: 3-4 chunks of information. (That’s why we tell our phone numbers in chunks, in units.)

But we are able to increase how much attention we’re able to give to something in the moment. We talk about taking fewer breaks or not getting enough sleep. Not getting enough sleep shrinks how much we’re able to process in the moment by an average of 58%. We have 40% of our attention when we’re working on sleep deficit. We take on less meaningful tasks when we’re sleep deprived.

Other practices increase the amount of RAM in our mind. And one that does that the best — is meditation. One study had participants meditate for 45 minutes twice a week. They found that after two weeks, their working memory capacity increased by 30%. Meditation increases how much working memory space we have. We can’t multitask. We can’t carry out 3-4 conversations at one time. But we can do it by meditating and managing our attention in the first place.

[1:14:04] Allan: We talked about overtime vs productivity. Our industry is notorious for working crazy hours. I think there is an unnecessary amount of overtime and sleep deprivation. I’ve done some stupid hours and had burnouts. I’ve had conversations about burnouts. We are so proud about pulling all nighters.

Chris: The key thing to understand is we assess our productivity at a higher level when we are working in a sleep deprived mode. If we’re doing the work that’s okay with being done on 40% of capacity, we’ll make some mistakes that can be corrected later. But if we’re doing something that’s complex, it actually takes advantage of extra attention and requires extra focus, that’s a trap.

This is the tough part about researching productivity: When you get to assessing it, everyone has a different way of evaluating it. So do take this with a grain of salt. The best study that I’ve found found that after 35 hours a week, our capacity begins to diminish. We aren’t aware of our energy and how much we’re able to accomplish. Use this as a test. I would also ask folks to see how much we accomplish after being sleep deprived. When busyness doesn’t lead us to accomplishing anything of importance, it’s a form of active laziness. We don’t move our work forward. I’d say bring that awareness to how much you accomplish (not produce). Look at whether you accomplish what you’ve set out to do. That’s a way to avoid that trap.

[1:19:35] Allan: One of the things you’ve talked about is using caffeine strategically. Do you have any hacks for having more energy throughout the day? Is it a run to Starbucks? Or is it working out?

Chris: Most of us won’t break properly. What we see as a break from something work related to personal related, from a computer screen to [a smart phone screen]. The best way to let our brain rest is to do something that’s habitual. Going for a walk, swimming laps, walking to grab a coffee without a phone leads us to creative insights while we let our mind wander. We’ll make this time back by working strategically. With caffeine, it’s fun! I love caffeine. It leads us to focus longer and persevere on tasks, it helps us focus, it makes our attention less inhibited. The advice I would give is drink caffeine strategically, not habitually. Do you need the energy first thing in the morning? Because your productivity will go up if you’re doing focused work.

[1:23:14] Allan: What about working out? I’ve had several people recommend doing ice baths and cold plunges. You’d think it’d get easier with time. But every time, you feel like crying. But afterwards, you feel like you want to run everywhere and punch people in the face. I love drinking coffee but it doesn’t do anything for me.

Chris: Good for you, man! Exercise is the same way. It carries more oxygen to your brain and it prevents the energy spiral too. We’re wired to walk 5-9 miles every day. Most of us don’t get that much activity. When you have the most energy, chances are you’re going through a period of working out. Look for that data of productivity and see what you’re doing: sleeping more, working out more, drinking coffee before doing a task. We have enough data for when we’re most motivated.

[1:26:28] Allan: Hyperfocus comes out at the end of August. Where can people find out about you?

Chris: My first book is called The Productivity Project, you can find it in bookstores. Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction is at any bookstore or on Amazon: www.hyperfocusbook.com. My site is called www.alifeofproductivity.com.

[1:29:30] Allan: Do check out Chris’ website. There is some really cool stuff! I will definitely be reading your book.

Chris: Thanks for having me!


I hope you enjoyed this Episode. I want to thank Chris for taking the time. His book Hyperfocus is available right now: www.hyperfocusbook.com. I strongly recommend you check out his website too: www.alifeofproductivity.com.

My next Episode will be about building your outreach system. There is a lot cool Episodes coming up.

I’ll be back next Episode. Until then —

Rock on!

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