Two Types Of Focus To Get Things Done And Be Creative

When everything demands your attention, here’s how intentionally planning for boredom can help you strengthen your attention span.
The smarter way to let your mind wander.

Have you ever felt guilty for doing absolutely nothing? According to Chris Bailey, an expert on productivity, it is not always a bad thing to do things that seem unproductive. In an interview with Vox, he explained that it is more important to set an intention on how you plan to fill your time. And yes, that includes binge-watching Netflix, if you wish.

Bailey’s book Hyperfocus discusses the idea of hyperfocus versus scatterfocus. “Hyperfocus is the most productive mode of our mind and scatterfocus is the most creative mode,” he explained. To reach hyperfocus, where our full attention is focused outwards on a single task, the tips are as expected: eliminate distractions, use timers and simplify your environment, if necessary.

While hyperfocusing is good for getting work done, scatterfocus (intentionally letting our mind wander) encourages creative insight. In this mode, we focus inwards and make mental connections to the ideas we have built before to produce new ideas along the way.

Unlike being randomly distracted, scatterfocus can contribute to improving your attention span, and help you identify and accomplish goals. Purposely allowing yourself to be bored during breaks in between tasks, or while commuting, gives your attention a rest and encourages reflection.

Hyperfocus is the most productive mode of our mind and scatterfocus is the most creative mode of our mind.

A 2012 study published in the journal Psychological Science revealed that our minds wanders to the future about 48% of the time, more than to the present and the past combined. We also consider our goals about 26% of the time while in scatterfocus mode, compared to just 4% when immersed in a task. This space allows for reflection on the gaps between our goals for the future and present actions or habits.

On his blog, Bailey revealed that he loves to knit, partly because the advantages of scatterfocus intensify when we do something habitual that we enjoy and that does not require our full attention.

Such “unproductive” activities remove the need to control our attention and behaviour, which uses up mental energy. That may explain why our best ideas seem to strike while we’re in the shower, on the toilet or taking a walk.

So the next time you make plans to spend an afternoon on a “mindless” hobby or choose to stare out the window instead of scrolling on your mobile device, remind yourself that you are reloading on mental energy to help you conjure up your next ingenious ideas.

    Feb 18, 2020
    Muneerah Bee
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