A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less
Want to achieve more by doing less? Who doesn’t?
Well, Michael Hyatt has designed a system for that!
Use it, and you’ll be:
Who Should Read “Free to Focus”? And Why?
Free to Focus is about everyone who wants to be more productive.
So, whether you’re a time-waster who isn’t able to devise a system to become more productive, a professional who craves for better work-life balance, or a perfectionist who wants to increase your efficiency – Free to Focus is the book for you.
Possibly the best-structured on the subject.
About Michael Hyatt
Michael Hyatt is an American author, blogger, speaker, podcaster, and the former CEO of Thomas Nelson.
An ordained deacon in the Eastern Orthodox Church, he is also the founder of a fast-growing, Inc. 5000 leadership-development company.
Hyatt is, however, most respected as the author of several leadership books, two of which became Wall Street Journal bestsellers: Your Best Year Ever and Living Forward (co-authored with Daniel Harkavy).
Find out more at https://michaelhyatt.com//
“Free to Focus PDF Summary”
“It’s almost impossible to accomplish anything significant when you’re racing through an endless litany of tasks and emergencies,” writes Michael Hyatt and, in a sentence, sums up the bane of our existence.
Well, to use another sentence of the book: because “focusing on everything means focusing on nothing.”
In other words, it’s called focus, for a reason.
“The most productive business leaders I coach,” explains Hyatt, “recognize productivity is not about getting more things done; it’s about getting the right things done. It’s about starting each day with clarity and ending with a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment, and energy to spare. It’s about achieving more by doing less.”
And that brings us to the subtitle of Free to Focus: “a total productivity system to achieve more by doing less.”
That’s precisely what this book offers: a system which follows three simple steps, composed of three actions each.
Follow it, and you’ll reach the Promised Land, aka (in our modern age) stress-free Free Time.
STEP 1: STOP
Hyatt knows what you’re thinking:
“Stop? That can’t be the right word. Shouldn’t the first step in a productivity system be Go?”
No, he replies:
In fact, that’s where most productivity systems get it wrong. They jump right to showing you how to work better or faster, but they never stop to ask, Why? What’s the purpose of productivity? There’s a lot at stake with the answer. Unless you first know why you’re working, you can’t properly evaluate how you’re working. That’s why Free to Focus suggests to truly start, you must stop.”
1. FORMULATE: Decide What You Want
There are three common productivity objectives: efficiency, success, and freedom.
Now, most productivity systems strive to make you either more efficient or more successful. However, Free to Focus is all about the third one, least recognized objective of productivity: freedom.
In Hyatt’s opinion, freedom should always be “the goal, the true objective of productivity.” And that’s the underlying foundation of the Free to Focus system: productivity should free you to pursue what’s most important to you.
There are four aspects of this freedom as Hyatt understands it:
#1. Freedom to Focus
#2. Freedom to Be Present
#3. Freedom to Be Spontaneous
#4. Freedom to Do Nothing
All in all, for Hyatt, having the freedom to pursue what’s most important to you is more than just a prerogative to productivity; it’s also a prerogative to living a good and fulfilled life.
2. EVALUATE: Determine Your Course
Determining the course of your life is not a simple, but it’s an exceptionally important task. And it consists of two parts: charting where you want to go and figuring out where you are at the moment.
A nice tool which might help you to achieve both of these things is Hyatt’s Freedom Compass; more than just an evaluation instrument, the Freedom Compass serves as a master productivity guide and reappears throughout the whole book.
And it looks something like this:
As you can see, the Freedom Compass encompasses (ha, we just realized that we’ve always wanted to write that) four zones of productivity:
Zone 4: The Drudgery Zone
“The Drudgery Zone,” writes Hyatt, “is made up of tasks for which you have no passion and no proficiency.”
Basically, these are “the things you hate doing and aren’t any good at anyway. This is the worst kind of work for you to do. It’s a grind.”
In other words, we’re talking about things such as handling email, expense reports, booking travel, etc. You know, the things that take up most of your day.
Zone 3: The Disinterest Zone
This zone is made up of things that you’re proficient at, but not that passionate about.
For example, you might know to make Excel tables better than anyone at your office, but, for some reason, that always drains up your energy.
Well, that reason is called “lack of passion.”
Zone 2: The Distraction Zone
This is the zone made up of things you are pretty passionate about but have little or no proficiency for.
This means that even though these activities aren’t draining your energy (and you enjoy doing them), they probably waste a lot of your time.
In addition, you can’t make a significant contribution in any of these areas, and your lack of proficiency can be masked with passion in your eyes only.
Zone 1: The Desire Zone
“The Desire Zone,” writes Hyatt, “is the point where your passion and proficiency intersect, where you can unleash your unique gifts and abilities to make your most significant contribution to your business, family, community… and maybe the world.”
If you want to learn how to be free to focus and your destination is freedom, then you’re heading this way!
Zone X: The Development Zone
This is the final zone, one which has no fixed place but is very important.
Hyatt calls it the Development Zone.
It is “how to gauge work outside your Desire Zone but potentially moving toward it.” In other words, it’s your alchemy room where you transform Zone 2 and Zone 3 activities into Zone 1.
Maybe you’re high-proficient about something, but you have little passion for it; in Zone X, you’re developing passion then.
Or, even better, if you’re high-passion/low-proficiency, then in the Development Zone you’re building proficiency.
“This progression is important to keep in mind,” says Hyatt, “because our experience affects both passion and proficiency.”
Limiting Beliefs, Liberating Truths
Since evaluation is so important – one more thing.
Your life is driven by a collection of beliefs you have about yourself and your situation; and they are usually limiting and are the biggest obstacle in your effort to become more productive.
There are thousands of them, but, according to Hyatt, the seven that most impact our lives are in the left column of the table below.
As you might have guessed, the right column is filled with the liberating truths you should use to counter these limiting beliefs:
|Limiting Beliefs||Liberating Truths|
|I just don’t have enough time.||I have all the time I need to accomplish what matters most.|
|I’m just not that disciplined.||Working in my Desire Zone doesn’t require much discipline.|
|I’m not really in control of my time.||I have the ability to make better use of the time I do control.|
|Highly productive people are just born that way.||Productivity is a skill I can develop.|
|I tried before, and it didn’t work.||I can get better results by trying a different approach.|
|My circumstances won’t allow it right now, but they’re only temporary.||I don’t have to wait until my circumstances change to get started and make progress.|
|I’m not good with technology.||True productivity doesn’t require complex technology or systems. It’s more about aligning my daily activities with my priorities, and I can do that.|
3. REJUVENATE: Reenergize Your Mind and Body
Novelist Anne Lamott has once said: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”
And that’s what the last action from Step 1, “Rejuvenate,” is all about.
Personal energy is a renewable resource, says Michael Hyatt, and it can be replenished by seven basic practices:
Well, you know this already: depriving yourself of sleep doesn’t help your productivity! Numerous studies have shown this, so really, there’s no point in discussing it. Just sleep more and sleep better and you’ll both enjoy more the things you do, and do them more efficiently.
If your laptop’s battery is empty, it needs to be recharged; well, the same goes with you, and your body’s battery recharges on sleeping and healthy eating.
“Too often we tell ourselves we don’t have enough energy to exercise,” writes Hyatt, “but exercise itself is an energizer. It gives more than it takes. In fact, few things have as direct an impact on our energy levels as a decent workout. If you get moving early, it will pay huge dividends all day long.”
Remember that time when your day seemed so unbearable, and then a discussion with that childhood friend of yours replenished your energy?
Well, that’s because we’re social animals and we can’t live without that no matter how much you try.
“You can get plenty of sleep, eat a healthy diet, and work out every day,” says Hyatt, “but if you’re keeping yourself locked away from other people, not taking the time to invest in quality relationships with friends and family—or worse, hanging out with emotional vampires—you’re missing out on one of the most powerful energizers of all.”
If you’ve ever watched Shining, you already know what all work and no play does to Jack; if not, let’s just say that “a dull boy” is an understatement.”
If you don’t want to be like Jack – ineffective, uncreative, unfocused, unproductive, and mad as a hatter – you should “never discount the power of play in your life, no matter how many other serious things demand your time.”
Reflection comes in many forms: reading, journaling, introspection, meditation, prayer, or worship.
All of them are great for rejuvenating your mind and heart (#1 to #5 mostly rejuvenate your body, says Hyatt).
If you do not make enough time for them, you risk losing yourself.
We’ve told you quite a few times: if you want to own your day, you’ve got to make some room for you in it. And the best way to do that is to just unplug from everything: Netflix, laptops, smartphones.
Can you hear – nay, feel – that silence?
Well, it’s the sound of you rejuvenating.
STEP 2: CUT
“Once you have a clear view of where you are and what you want, it’s time to move to Step 2: Cut. Here you’ll discover that what you don’t do is just as important to your productivity as what you do. Michelangelo didn’t create David by adding marble. Ready to break out your chisel?”
4. ELIMINATE: Flex Your “No” Muscle
If you’ve ever watched Yes Man with Jim Carrey, you’re already aware that saying “yes” to everything in life eventually leads to some catastrophe.
“I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done,” noted Steve Jobs once, summing up how important is to say “no” in life.
“Even if we hate saying ‘no,’ we must understand that every ‘yes,’ inherently contains a ‘no,’” writes Hyatt, reminding us of David Brooks’ analysis of commitments and choices: they always mean “I’m not choosing everything else.”
And that’s good.
So, you must develop “a bulletproof strategy for gracefully saying no to new requests that are outside your Desire Zone and ultimately aren’t worth doing.”
These five tips should help you:
#1. Acknowledge your resources are finite.
#2. Determine who needs access to you and who doesn’t.
#3. Let your calendar say no for you.
#4. Adopt a strategy for responding to requests.
#5. Accept the fact that you will be misunderstood.
5. AUTOMATE: Subtract Yourself from the Equation
Now, whether you like it or not, there will be many tasks you’ll be expected to do that will not be in your Desire Zone. In fact, for most people, most of the day-to-day responsibilities are drudgery zone tasks.
What do with them?
Well, take advice from the book of one of the smartest guys of the past century, Alfred North Whitehead: “Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.”
You can automate things in more than one way, which is why Hyatt splits this chapter into four sections:
Self-automation is basically all about accepting the fact that you’re a creature of habits and understanding the power of habit.
In other words, if you turn dealing with some of the daily “drudgery zone” tasks into a series of rituals, then your mind will probably start treating them as such and stop wasting so much unnecessary energy over completing them.
Here’s a good start-of-the-day ritual:
• Empty your email inbox
• Catch up on Slack
• Check social media
• Review your Weekly Big 3 (see below, Section 8 for more), and
• Review your schedule
#2. Template Automation
“Automation means solving a problem once, then putting the solution on autopilot.” In the world of templates, that means noticing what you do on a daily basis and then using a template to do it.
If that sounds a bit abstract, think of email templates, for example: how much time and energy do they save, right?
#3. Process Automation
You can go a step further than template automation – with process automation.
“Whereas a ritual is more akin to a routine,” Hyatt makes a distinction, “a process workflow is more like the set of instructions you’d use to assemble a bicycle for your child or a new piece of furniture from IKEA.”
In these cases, “each step of the process is carefully detailed and written, ensuring anyone who can follow directions can successfully accomplish the goal.”
Here are the five most important steps to automate some of your processes (those in the IT sector already use them):
#4. Tech Automation
Speaking of the IT sector: the best automation, of course, is tech automation. Let’s put it this way: if you a machine can do something for you, then why should you do it?
There are a few nifty tools you should use to automate day-to-day processes:
• Email filtering software
• Macro-processing software
• Text-expansion software
• Screencast utilities
6. DELEGATE: Clone Yourself – or Better
“At its heart, delegation means focusing primarily on the work only you can do by transferring everything else to others who are more passionate about the work or proficient in the tasks.”
Why aren’t you doing that?
Because you’re a high-achiever and “cursed with being halfway decent at wearing all the hats in your business.”
Well, Michael Hyatt has some news for you: “If you insist on doing jobs for which you lack passion and proficiency, congratulations: you win the trophy for worst hiring manager ever.”
If you want to change that – learn a little bit about the delegation hierarchy and the delegation process.
The Delegation Hierarchy
The delegation hierarchy starts with your Freedom Compass: use it to easily see which tasks can be delegated and which you wouldn’t want others to do for you.
Of course, priority 1 are “drudgery zone tasks.” You know what’s interesting about them? Even though you may hate them with the fire of thousand suns, there’s probably someone out there who even likes them. She/he is the right person to do them.
The Disinterest and the Distraction Zone are the next two on your list, in that order.
“Once you’ve eliminated, automated, and delegated everything you possibly can from your Drudgery, Disinterest, and Distraction Zones, you’ll find your world opens up. It won’t happen overnight, but this is the goal – spending most of your time focused on Desire Zone activities.”
There’s only one reason to delegate things from your Desire Zone: not enough time to do them all. But, trust us, you will have enough time once you’ve gone over Steps #1-#6.
The Delegation Process
The Delegation Hierarchy is only part of Delegation: the process of delegation comes next.
It consists of seven self-explanatory activities, and the Freedom Compass covers only the first of them; the other six are just as important though:
#1. Decide what to delegate
#2. Select the best person for the job
#3. Communicate the workflow
#4. Provide the necessary resources
#5. Specify the delegation level
#6. Give the guys some room to operate and don’t micromanage
#7. Check in from time to time, though, and provide feedback as needed.
STEP 3: ACT
“Having cut out all the nonessentials, it’s time for execution. In this section, you’ll learn how to accomplish your high-leverage tasks in less time and, more importantly, with less stress.”
7. CONSOLIDATE: Plan Your Ideal Week
“A schedule defends from chaos and whim,” wrote once Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard. “It is a net for catching days.” “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything,” noted Eisenhower long before her.
In other words, it’s not like your plan for your ideal week would ever work; but the very existence of that plan will provide you with a net for catching the big fish; consider the small fish a bonus.
To plan your ideal week, though, you need to understand that whatever you’re doing consists of three types of tasks: front stage tasks, back stage tasks, and off-stage activities.
The front stage, of course, is the place where the action and the drama happen; in a way, the tasks for which you’re hired and paid constitute solely Front Stage activities.
Nevertheless, as any actor knows, all of these front stage tasks depend on your back stage preparation. “For most of us, Back Stage includes step-two activities (specifically, elimination, automation, and delegation) plus coordination, preparation, maintenance, and development,” writes Hyatt.
Finally, off-stage activities are the ones you do when you’re not working: mostly Step 3 goings-on and similar.
So, if you’re a writer, drafting and editing content is your Front Stage, emails and research your Back Stage; if you are a lawyer, your Back Stage consists of filing motions, but mediation and client meetings happen on your Front Stage.
Now that you know this, it’s time to sketch out your ideal week; to do that, you need nothing more but a calendar and a commitment to alternate between back stage and front stage activities – and reserve at least the weekend for some off-stage time.
For some help in this – and everything else – you can use Michael Hyatt’s online tools as well.
8. DESIGNATE: Prioritize Your Tasks
Greg McKeown has once said that “if you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”
And prioritizing is the next step: after you’ve planned your ideal week, it’s time to design it. And you can do this in six steps – which involve all of the steps we’ve gone so far.
Step 1: List Your Biggest Wins
Nothing good comes out of an unexamined life; Socrates was right in thinking that that kind of life is not even worth living.
Don’t make that mistake and start any given week with an evaluation of your previous one.
More precisely, with listing your top accomplishments and the things you’re most proud of.
Step 2: Review the Prior Week.
The after-action review comes afterward.
To do so, you need to answer three essential questions:
#1. How far did you get on your major tasks from the prior week?
#2. What worked and what didn’t?
#3. What will you keep, improve, start, or stop doing based on what you just identified?
Major tasks, by the way, are your Daily/Weekly Big 3. These are the 3 most important assignments you need to do, the major tasks which actually count for 80% of your success and efficiency.
Step 3: Review Your Lists and Notes.
Use your review time to see which tasks can be:
#3. Prioritized; and
Step 4: Check Goals, Projects, Events, Meetings, and Deadlines
“One of the biggest reasons people stumble with their most important goals and projects is they lose visibility,” says Hyatt.
The Weekly Preview process lets you correct that problem.
“This is about elevating your vantage point on your work,” Hyatt goes on.
“Review any goals you’re pursuing and reconnect with your key motivations. Just as important, take a moment to identify steps you could take in the coming week to reach your goal. Use this time to also review key projects and deliverables and identify what tasks you must do and which you could do to complete them.”
Step 5: Designate Your Weekly Big 3.
We’ve already told you a bit about your Big 3.
To decide upon them, use the time-tested Eisenhower Priority Matrix, which looks something like this:
Naturally, your job consists of prioritizing Quadrant 1 and 2 tasks, clearing out quickly Quadrant 3 tasks and eliminating Quadrant 4 tasks.
Step 6: Plan Your Rejuvenation.
We’ve covered this already in Major Step 3. Rejuvenation is non-negotiable, and that’s why you need to think about each week to what extent you’re recharging your batteries and to what extent you’re heading toward burnout. It’s not a choice.
9. ACTIVATE: Beat Interruptions and Distractions
And we finally made it to the last step.
And this one is all about strategies for “minimizing disruptions, maximizing focus, and making sure we can finish each day feeling like we accomplished what we set out to do.”
Interruptions: Breaking In
“Interruptions represent an external input that breaks your concentration,” writes Hyatt, “a drop-in visit, a phone call, an email or Slack message that pulls you away from the work you’re supposed to be doing. These are more than mere annoyances. They’re cancers gnawing at meaningful work.”
To deal with them, you need to limit instant communication and proactively set and enforce boundaries.
Yup, we’re talking about turning off your phone and putting a “Do Not Disturb” sign at your door if that’s what necessary.
Distractions: Busting Out
Now, interruptions are external forces which demand our attention; distractions, on the other hand, are internal drives which destroy concentration.
To limit them, you need to understand two things: 1) multitasking is a myth, and 2) jumping between easy and difficult tasks is more difficult than just staying on course.
In other words, with multitasking, you’re serially singletasking, and you’re just breaking focus; also, doing downhill work is counterproductive, because you don’t want to climb upwards once you’ve climbed down from the summit.
Finally, to focus more, in addition to all those rejuvenating things from Step 3, you can use these few helpful tips as well:
#1. Use technology to manage technology. (Apps that minimize distractions online; Google “focus applications”).
#2. Listen to the right music. (Background music that’s familiar, repetitive, relatively simple, and not too loud; even better, if you enjoy classical music.)
#3. Take charge of your environment. (Make your workspace work for you.)
#4. Declutter your workspace.
#5. Increase your frustration tolerance.
Key Lessons from “Free to Focus”
1. Design Your Freedom Compass to Determine Your Course of Action
2. Four Ways to Automate Yourself to Be More Efficient
3. Use Eisenhower Prioritizing Matrix to Decide Upon Your Big 3
Design Your Freedom Compass to Determine Your Course of Action
The most important instrument in Michael Hyatt’s exceptional “total productivity” kit is, arguably, the Freedom Compass.
Instead of showing the usual directions, Hyatt’s Freedom Compass shows the four zones of productivity:
#4. Drudgery Zone
#3. Disinterest Zone
#2. Distraction Zone
#1. Desire Zone
The fourth one encompasses tasks you have neither proficiency nor passion for; the third one those you have a proficiency for, but are not passionate about; the second one consists of the tasks you’re passionate about doing but lack proficiency for; and the first and final one – those where your passion and proficiency intersect.
Should we say more?
Direct your life toward Zone 1: The Desire Zone.
Four Ways to Automate Yourself to Be More Efficient
We live in the 21st century and, fortunately, this means that many of the Zones 4 and 3 tasks are easily automatized.
There are four ways to ease your passage through these deplorable Zones:
#1. Self-automate: turn yourself into a machine by becoming a creature of rituals and habits for at least half an hour a day;
#2. Template automation: use templates (Word, Excel, mail) for tasks that are repeated;
#3. Process automation: design processes and streamline your experience for less effort;
#4. Tech automation: it comes in many different forms, such as email filtering and macro-processing software
Use Eisenhower Prioritizing Matrix to Decide Upon Your Big 3
The Eisenhower Prioritizing Matrix asks you to divide your tasks into four quadrants in a 2 by 2 table grid, the columns of which are urgent and not urgent and whose rows are important and not important.
Naturally, you should focus your time and attention solely on tasks which are important and urgent and even not important, but urgent. Delegate and eliminate the rest of them.
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“Free to Focus Quotes”Productivity should free you to pursue what’s most important to you. Click To Tweet We should design our lives first and then tailor our work to meet our lifestyle objectives. Click To Tweet The best things in life will probably never be checked off a to-do list. Click To Tweet You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy back your time – and that amounts to the same thing. Click To Tweet People who can learn from their experiences and use those lessons to make positive changes in their behavior will advance quickly. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
Without an exaggeration, Free to Focus is perhaps the best-structured productivity book you can find on the market, rubbing shoulders with a classic on the subject, Getting Things Done.
You can’t go wrong if these guys say that, can you?
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