Free to Focus

Free to focus : a total productivity system to achieve more by doing less
Publisher: Baker Books
Published: 3/5/2019
Everyone gets 168 hours a week, but it never feels like enough, does it? Work gobbles up the lion's share--many professionals are working as much as 70 hours a week--leaving less and less for rest, exercise, family, and friends. You know, all those things that make life great.

Book Summary - Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less By Michael Hyatt

Key Insights

The well-known adage, “Less is More” is not typically applied when speaking of business and work. Productivity is often gauged by the length of the to-do lists and the number of check marks on them. But in Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less, Michael Hyatt introduces the revolutionary idea that not-to-do-lists are actually more valuable and useful. In his book, Hyatt teaches a productivity system that outlines three elementary steps to achieving simplified success. They are: stop, cut, and act.

Key Points

Step One: Stop

In today’s society, we live a fast, busy, and preoccupied pace. While time is a premium, the way it is spent is often not measured by the level of quality activities, but more by the quantity of what we get done. Without realizing it, the amount of busyness we allow into our lives by the hour robs us of accomplishing what’s most important. We are easily distracted by what is right in front of us, what the world tells us is pressing, and by the addictiveness of the platforms we use for business and communication, i.e. social media.

The first step to regaining control of our time and its potential success is to stop, analyze, and recognize that our time may not actually be as productive as it feels. For example, when we let work time carry over into the weekends and even our vacations, which seems almost inescapable with the remote access (i.e. technology such as cell phones) that is constantly with us, our well-being pays the price and, by extension, the quality of our accomplishments.

Business leaders should take time to stop and assess how their time is being used and to evaluate their goals against how well their current activities support those objectives. Part of this analysis is considering both what they are proficient at as well as what is a passion. Being clear about what elements of the job mean most to them, along with the overall mission, will help business leaders know what activities to prioritize.

Step 2: Cut

Hyatt asserts that cutting is at the heart of productivity. In the rush of daily tasks, it is most important to identify what not to do, above what needs to be done. This is an innovative way to look at time management, but because of the nature of our modes of communication and information, controlling what doesn’t make it onto our desks can be the bigger challenge. Since time isn’t a renewable resource, it’s essential we are intentional about not wasting it.

Too often people have difficulty saying “no” to the demands put on their time, but by not saying “no” to certain things, they are unwittingly saying “no” to what could have filled their time, which may have actually been more important. This is an important perspective to keep when fulfilling Step Two… Cutting!

When the task is reducing the amount of work to contend with, there are three approaches. One is to cut the activity from the schedule or workflow completely. Another is to find someone who has the proficiency for the assignment and delegate the task to that person. In this way, it may actually be done faster and better than you could have fulfilled it. The third option is to automate the task, such as setting up an email template that significantly reduces the time spent on common work activity.

Step 3: Act

The third step in Hyatt’s productivity system is putting the first two steps into action. It has four approaches. The first is consolidation. This involves grouping together similar work activities, such as planning meetings on the same days or recording multiple podcasts in one setting. Designation involves careful attention to what is done when ensuring that the most pressing and necessary work is scheduled on the calendar along with their deadlines. Finally, activation minimizes the distractions so that the tasks at hand don’t feel like emergencies and can be handled with calmness and clarity.

People who are the most overwhelmed are the ones in greatest need of this productivity system, yet they may also be the most resistant to it. It’s an important paradigm shift to realize that getting things done the most efficient way possible is not the goal, but that what is being done, specifically, is most important. This is a very big difference that can take time to comprehend at first.

Passion can be the Best Measure of Priority

A counterintuitive idea presented in Free to Focus is the truth that passion should lead our activities. We tend to have an almost monk-like belief that the mundane and disliked tasks need to be done first to ensure we are effective. In reality, those things which we are both passionate and proficient at are a wiser use of our time, because those capabilities will ensure the tasks are accomplished faster and better. Tasks we may dislike might be delegated to someone else who has that proficiency, leaving us the time to accomplish our most meaningful work.

When our work is enjoyable and meaningful, there is a positive effect on our outcomes and productivity. One way to measure the level of passion, and therefore the productiveness of activity, is to record feelings associated with the various tasks at work. They should be divided into two columns: loathe or love. By keeping an inventory on every task during the week, assigning them to one of these to columns, a person can clarify what tasks will be done with greater speed and efficiency because they are enjoyable to the person vs. what is more apt to take too long. This list can then be used for analyzing what projects are best to take on and which ones to delegate.

Rituals are Good for Productivity

In addition to identifying what activities are most enjoyable, mechanizing those tasks through ritual can further enhance productivity. The benefits of rituals, when applied to work, is that they speed up tasks while preventing mistakes. They free up the mind to do more creative thinking since many cognitive decisions have already been made. An example of work-place rituals could include activities that regularly start the day such as checking email, listening to voicemails, and outlining the specific priorities.

Rituals can be compared to algorithms that are made from a series of ordered steps. Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work (2016), describes his “shut down ritual” which he has used to end his workday since he was a graduate student. On his ritualistic schedule is checking emails in batches, reviewing a perpetual to-do-list, glancing at his calendar for upcoming meetings or deadlines, and planning for the next day. In full mechanical style, he actually speaks aloud the two words: shutdown complete. He does this because it is a trigger that helps his mind let go of anxiety and thoughts that might follow him home. Newport says the ritual takes at least 15 minutes, and sometimes longer.

Delegation is the Core of Good Leadership

Many in leadership positions are high achievers with a tendency to be perfectionists. Delegation may be hard for these types, but it’s an essential skill for productivity and therefore successful leadership. In a nutshell, Hyatt asserts that any nonessential work that doesn’t tap into the leader’s proficiency or passion should be delegated!

Perfectionist leaders will often micromanage their teams, which is the opposite of being productive. Micromanaging removes the motivation for subordinates to step up and proactively get to work without being instructed. One example in the book is of former Navy Seal Jocko Willink who owns a consulting business based on his military experience. At one point, the number of projects to complete became impossible for Willink to oversee and he asked his subordinates to step up and completely take over some of them. To his surprise, not only did they effectively accomplish the tasks, but many of their solutions were quite different than his approach and, as it turns out, they were better! Willink cites this as the moment when his business was transformed. Suddenly he found himself free to do the high-level planning that had not been achievable before.

Where Possible, Automate

Some tasks don’t need to be delegated because they can be automated. This is essentially putting work on autopilot. While configuration is often required, once that work is done, the amount of time saved makes it worth the effort. Autoresponder email is a good example of automation. A way to identify which tasks can be automated is to evaluate the level of their repetitiveness. The level of independence or interactiveness is another criterion on which to measure the potential for automation. Independent work that doesn’t require the input of others can be a good candidate for automation. For example, many banks have automated their phone system to tell callers their balance and other basic information.

The Main Takeaway

We live in a world full of distractions. Paring down and focusing on what’s important is an essential yet rare skill in today’s businesses, as well as our personal lives. While the constant enticement of social media and disruption of technology, from emails to cell phones, can prevent us from being productive, even ordinary business work can fall into the category of distraction and perpetual busyness. In Free to Focus, Michael Hyatt provides new perspectives. He puts emphasis on not-to-do-lists and teaches that good business leadership includes delegating and automating as much as possible. This ensures there is ample time for leaders to focus on their passions and proficiencies because this is where he or she will substantially outpace their previous limitations. A productivity system is explained beginning with the three simple steps of stop, cut, and act.

About the Author

Michael Hyatt founded the Michael Hyatt & Company leadership firm based in Tennessee. Ranked by Inc. as one of Nashville’s top businesses in 2018, Hyatt has used his success to also become a popular blogger and podcaster with the title, “Lead to Win.”


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