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How to Hyperfocus in a World of Interruption

3 ways to control your attention in a world of distraction.

Key points

  • Increase your ability to concentrate and be more productive.
  • Discover ways to develop skills like being totally absorbed in a task.
  • Hyperfocus can be used strategically to improve your performance.
  • Improve your time management and learn to prioritize.

Our attention is distracted by the chaos of modern life. Hyperfocus is noticing what happens around us and deciding what deserves our attention. Our focus is a source of strength if we direct it properly but a weakness if we point it in the wrong direction. It takes self-discipline to filter and choose from the overwhelming information submerging us.

Rod Judkins
Source: Rod Judkins

A distinguishing feature of all the great artists, from Constable to Warhol, was their ability to focus relentlessly on what mattered. Great writers like Hemingway and Virginia Woolf developed hyperfocus by always watching and making notes on everyone and everything around them. Musicians like Lady Gaga and Björk pick up sounds and ideas from the street. Their switch is constantly 'on.' They are always watching and searching.

For years, the University of Maryland football players wore heavy shirts under their outer padding (or "armor") during games and quickly became soaked in sweat. One player, Kevin Plank, found it a real problem, so he focused on creating an undershirt designed to stay dry during even the most energetic games. It was so effective that other players on his team wanted one, and then word spread to others. He started manufacturing them and, in 1997, drove around the east coast selling from his car. He called his company Under Armour. The last time I looked, it had over $4 billion in annual revenue. When Plank saw a glimmer of potential in Under Armour, he directed all his attention toward its development. Nothing distracted him.

Your attention is a precious resource.

Direct your attention like a camera lens onto what matters—then bring it into sharp focus. Your most powerful resource is your concentration, but most of us are busy squandering it on the irrelevant. With focus, you'll get stuff done and be more fulfilled.

In 2002, Father Bernard McCoy couldn't find a cheap replacement for his ink cartridge when his printer ran dry. He discovered it was easy to source the pigment from suppliers and fill the cartridges himself. So why not do it for others? In between pumping out Gregorian chants in the monastery of the Cistercian Abbey in Monroe County, Wisconsin, he started an ink cartridge-refilling business with the other brothers. The company, LaserMonks Inc., soon produced hundreds of thousands of dollars for their charity. Problem-solving is essential, but finding problems is an even more vital talent to nurture. It's a skill that requires you
 to be alert and always on the lookout for opportunities. It wasn't
 an accident that he was a monk; he was used to tuning out external distractions and using mindfulness to develop higher concentration. The ability to ignore the modern world's noise helped him focus.

Focus your attention on where you are most productive.

Hyperfocus is the art of maintaining attention; it takes self-discipline to ignore the noise and look intensely. We solve problems every day but don't notice they could be significant. Solving a micro-problem often leads to a macro-solution, and hyperfocus is about seeing opportunities in the minutiae others miss.

Focus on where you can be most effective and what you can control. The ability to direct yourself is your main asset. What you choose to do and where you direct your energy is your choice. So point the spotlight on something you can solve and be prepared to say "no" so that you can say "yes" to what is essential.

  1. Focus on one big goal. Multitasking has a cognitive penalty: research has proved that multitaskers make more mistakes and take longer than if
 they'd focused on one thing at a time. In tests, people who thought they were good at multitasking performed the worst.
  2. Edit out distractions. Remove anything from your attention that distracts you from producing something brilliant. The successful people I've met aren't busy. They aren't talking on the phone non-stop, rushing here and there to appointments, popping in and out of meetings. They're hyperfocused. Some people need to look busy, so others think they're in demand. It makes them feel emotionally satisfied, but they don't advance towards their goals. The hyperfocused make defined steps toward what is important.
  3. Build your willpower. Attention strengthens your resolve because you must stay hyperfocused on the task.

This article is based on a chapter from my book, Make Brilliant Work


Judkins, Rod (2021) Make Brilliant Work, Pan Macmillan