Book Review – Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey

Sometimes I’ll pick up a book, can’t put it down, and finish it in a few days. Other times I’ll keep trying to read it before bed, but my mind will inevitably wander, such that I’m less and less likely to pick it up each night. Months may go by before I finally buckle down and finish it. This book was the latter.


Not that I disliked the book; on the contrary, it has many good and useful points in it. But for whatever reason, most nights it just wasn’t clicking. So it wasn’t until my most recent trip back to the US where I took some time during the day and finally finished it.


I would put Hyperfocus in a category I like to call ‘science-help’. It is the sort of self-help, self-improvement non-fiction books that focus on one particular idea in an approachable way, but cite many sources and scientific papers as evidence to their claims (though usually as a general bibliography by chapter at the end rather than in-line citations). Other examples might include Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, Mindset by Carol Dweck, Grit by Angela Duckworth, or Atomic Habits by James Clear.


This particular book, as the title would suggest, focuses on hyperfocus. More specifically, how multitasking is counter-productive, and it goes through some of the ways to eliminate distractions and bring more intentionality to our focus. Some might include: having a distractions list (a pen and paper next to you where you can jot down distracting thoughts while you work so that they don’t run on loop in your head) or setting an hourly alarm chime where you assess where your focus is each time it goes off. The idea is to maintain focus each time that you intend to be in the hyperfocus mode.


What the title may not convey, and what ends up being the second half of the book, is the equal importance of scatterfocus. Scatterfocus involves allowing the mind to wander and daydream, allowing for more creative solutions to crop up. Bailey emphasizes the importance of taking breaks (at least every 90 minutes and for 15 minutes for every hour of working time) and leaning into boredom. The key point, though, is that scatterfocus time is also done with intentionality; decide when you are taking that time and do it without ‘trash’ distractions like social media.


Ironically, since I finished the book I’ve probably spent more time on my phone, though part of it was from being on vacation and having more free time. While lots of the general advice in the book I had come across in various other sources before, it doesn’t hurt to have a reminder and I’ll work to divide my day into Hyperfocus and Scatterfocus periods as I get back into the swing of things.

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