Chris Bailey: How to be More Productive in a World of Distractions

The world we live in now is full of distractions, but not all of them are as disruptive as you might think. Chris Bailey is a productivity expert, and he’s mastered the art of being more efficient and productive despite the ever-growing list of distractions we face daily. He discusses how to find your most productive self, discovering success, and much more.

Chris Bailey: How to be More Productive in a Distracted World

You know we all have so many data points in our past. And you know I look at everything through the lens of productivity. But you know this is what I so often find in writing about productivity is you know people want to focus more and people want to have more energy and people want to be more motivated by their work. But and so they try to look forward into the future to find ways to become more productive and more focused and more passion about what they do instead of looking behind and noticing wait. Every time I've been fired up about my work I was you know doing a podcast and maybe I should start a podcast. Every time I've been productive I've been taming distractions or have been on a deadline maybe I should find more deadlines or seek out ways to make my work a bit more threatening. You know every time I've had a ton of energy to bring to my work I've been taking a lot of breaks at work. I've been having a consistent exercise regimen or a meditation regimen maybe I should pick that back up. So yeah like you said we have all these data points but we just need to look back for them it seems weird to kind of look into the past but that's how we lift our lives up to this point and if we want to find a direction and a trajectory that's different from where we are that's more productive that's more focus that's more meaningful. I think that's a great place to start.

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Hey it's Srini. I know that you have heard me talking about my new book an audience of one. Reclaiming creativity for its own sake. So I want to tell you a little bit about the book. Have you ever heard an episode of The unmistakable creative and learned something and thought you want to apply that thing to your life and then suddenly forgot it. Well this book really is a blueprint of all the best advice that I've ever gotten from unmistakable creative guest for how to improve your habits for how to be more productive for how to avoid distractions for how to be more creative and you can download a free chapter at unmistakable creative dot com slash audience. Again that's unmistakable creative dot com slash audience and the book comes out on August 7.

Chris welcome to the unmistakable critic. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us.

Thanks for having me. It's good to be back. This is like time. Number three.

You're one of the rare few guests that we've had back more than twice. For good reason been a big fan of your work. Loved your latest book hyperfocus which we're going to talk about in detail. But before we get into all that I want to start asking you what did your parents do for a living and what impact did that end up having on the choices that you've made with your life and your career.

But both my parents are psychologists and so so I think this is why I try to dissect my own mind so much as well as the minds of other people and how we work and how we think and the biases we have. And they're also they're also quite risk averse which you know doing what I do for a living it's quite risky to be out on your own hopefully doing things for an audience of one which turns into an audience of many. And so you know that kind of blends into what I do so I do what I do despite the fact that I'm risk averse. But I think because of the fact that my parents are weirdos and are into psychology.

Yeah. Anytime I talk to somebody who has been exposed to a wide array of sort of personal development or information about how to manage their psychology I'm always of the impression that oh you must have been raised with this like perfect subconscious programming and turned out totally normal which I'm guessing you're going to dispel that myth for me. But what are the misperceptions that we might have about the fact that you had parents who were psychologists that would make us think that you're you've been raised basically.

I think that they wanted to continue working when they came home. Just like anybody else just like if somebody is a massage therapist for an example who comes home exhausted they might not give their family therapeutic massages every night. I think a similar thing is true. And my fiance whenever she's met my parents which has been quite often she's always afraid that they're going to dissect her and read her like a book. And the truth is that they probably could. But at the same time they don't really care to because it's just more work. And so I think I think that's a misconception. You know everybody kind of needs a break and your family is so often your break. You know it's where you recharge it's where you get more energy from. And so I think there's probably a few things that's played in the background about this but you know I think it's part of it's part of my story but not a big part of my story I think.

What lessons did they pass on about managing your own psychology. What are the narratives that you are raised with around mental health. The reason that I ask this is because I know in Indian culture the sort of default narrative around anything mental health as well therapy is for crazy people. We don't do that. And I believe that for a very long time until I found myself in a therapist office at 37 and my only question was what took me so long to get here.

Yeah it's yeah the narratives around mental health. I think this is the funny and I love these questions because they're making me think immediately off the bat as opposed to reverting to the same kind of points about the book. But I think the narrative around mental health was an interesting one because the families that we have both my parents sides there they were the ones who came to my parents for help and so very much you know maybe the the family outside of my parents wasn't so open about mental health but they were quite open about mental health. I've seen a psychologist not very many good ones who have actually helped me dissect my mind more than say a meditation practice good. But it's I think that that inclination towards exploration has been in the background. I think the openness is there but I just haven't really labeled as such. I hope that makes sense.

Yeah. To make sense. Do they pass on any particular lessons about managing self-esteem dealing with things like depression or failure or setback that you think have had an impact on who you've become.

I don't think so. And it might sound like an odd answer but it's just something we didn't talk about. Yeah

I think you know they were very much about promoting how we explored our own minds but didn't necessarily practice. And I think this was a hesitation that they had in a way where they didn't want to get us to be some way. They didn't you know get us to go to a particular church. They didn't get us to try to do a particular profession. They really just said OK you know find out who you are. And so the work was on me. And so there was you know kind of little guidance but I think that kind of scrappy mental nature kind of made for that the curious nature that is hopefully behind most of the things that I do today. Yeah. Is that that curiosity that's embedded with me maybe the tendency toward connecting different disparate different disparate pieces of information might be in me to be this is a this is a fun.

Well we'll get to that at the end because I know you talked about that in the other part of this that I wonder mainly because I'm working on an outline for a new book about the impact that our social programming has on us. You mentioned that they were risk averse and despite the fact that they were risk averse you have developed a capacity for arrest. I guess the question is then how does somebody who has been raised with social programming that is not them to be risk averse develop of capacity for risk.

Despite that programming I think that you find what you're so curious and passionate about that you will do that thing. Despite all the risk. And so I think when you know that you're so into something that you absolutely have to do it despite the risk that exists that's a sign that you've found something that you're truly passionate about. And you know some people have weird curiosities. I would include myself in that mix with productivity and so you know I think I've talked about this on the show before but there was a point when I graduated university and I received a few job offers where I had the choice of going the traditional route but I thought OK I'm so much of a nerd about productivity let's experiment with this let's explore this for a year. So I declined the job site to start what became the productivity project. And I think you know doing that despite the risk. So if you're risk averse I just think you need to find that thing that you can't stop thinking about that you can't stop just persevere rating on as he do other things. You know look at how you spend your free time what you consume what you connect who you talk to people about you know that's I think a sign that you're truly into something and you know doing. Like you say doing the work for the work's sake because you can't get it off of your mind and you can't think about doing anything else.

You chose not to accept the job right after college. So I wonder what would you say to people who might be listening who are either in college right now or about to finish college about what you've just said is this is something that you think everybody should do.

Or does it. Is it something that people should consider experimenting.

What your advice is definitely not something most people should do. What I would recommend I remember as a recruiter at a big technology company for a while through university and one of the things that we looked for when we were hiring people in fact the main thing that we looked for was how people spent their spare time. And so you know these were co-op students who were in university and the ones that we hired more often than not they were in the co-op program so they actually had some real experience. But B they had signals that they were curious about what they were studying beyond just University. And so I would look to that point as a starting point how do you spend your free time if you. It's the classic question if you if any of that you know he decided to give you all the royalties from his books and I decided to as well. You win this grand contest. And you know you don't have to worry about money any more you have a constant amount rolling in. How do you spend your time when you have that total flexibility. You know some random guy leaves you in his will for 100 million dollars. How do you spend every day of your life. And chances are you would spend it how you spend a lot of your free time already. You know whether it's reading books about productivity whether it's painting whether it's illustrating whatever your art happens to be I would look at that place as a place to start. And so I would find ways and this is going way back to when I graduate this is kind of fun you know find ways and places where what you're studying intersects with what you're passionate about.

If they overlap in the Venn diagram is just a circle. Then I think you continue for to find a career in that bit but you know the thing that I've realized in talking to people in exploring these ideas is wherever you work assuming it's a job you'll get a paycheck you know. So if it's for yourself you know you'll probably struggle to get by. But chances are you'll find a way because you give yourself no choice but to find a way. So I would look at where your skills and your passions overlap and use that as this as it might be common sense advice. But at the time the graduate I thought OK I have this degree and I have these job offers but there is little overlap between these offers and what I'm actually curious and passionate about so I found the overlap. It was productivity because I have a business degree. I couldn't find a job in which I could experiment and explore. So I said you know let's decline these jobs and experiment with productivity for a year which then turned into a career in IT which is now a calling and now I get to write books and do talks around the world about this idea so it can work out this way and if you give your self no choice but to make it work out that way I think your odds are even better now.

Well I'm glad about the passion idea and I think the thing that's interesting was that you preceded by saying that there are a lot of experiments and exploration which I think often people have this idea that there they have some pre-determined passion which is ridiculous because you have no datapoints make that kind of a decision about what you're passionate about. And I think that that when you really do find something engaging that's when a passion starts to emerge.

Yeah yeah it's yeah and I think you know we all have so many data points in our past. And you know I look at everything through the lens of productivity but you know this is what I so often find in writing about productivity as you know people want to focus more and people want to have more energy and people want to be more motivated by their work. But and so they try to look forward into the future to find ways to become more productive more focused and more passion about what they do instead of looking behind and noticing weight. Every time I've been fired up about my work I was you know doing a podcast interview maybe I should start a podcast. Every time I've been productive I've been taming distractions or have been on a deadline. Maybe I should find more deadlines or seek out ways to make my work a bit more threatening. You know every time I've had a ton of energy to bring to my work I've been taking a lot of breaks at work. I've been having a consistent exercise regimen or a meditation regimen. Maybe I should pick that back up. So yeah like you said we have all these data points but we just need to look back for them it seems weird to kind of look into the past but that's how we've lived our lives up to this point and if we want to find a direction and a trajectory that's different from where we are that's more productive that's more focus that's more meaningful. I think that's a great place to start.

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We've talked to you before about how you ended up sort of wedding where you're at.

And you kind of alluded to some of that and this conversation as well. Anything early on in your life that planted your seed for this interest of all things in productivity because for somebody as young as you are and decide you know what this is what I'm passionate about. A very strange passion.

Yeah yeah really is. I think it was feeling that the absence of things to do in my mind. And I first got this feeling of absence since kind of a weird way to phrase it but it really makes sense to me I hope it makes sense to. The first place I got it was reading Getting Things Done by David Alan which the whole system is about getting the things you have to do into an external list or some sort of system so that you have more attention with which to focus throughout the day and so that was kind of the first feeling that I had. You know outside of a vacation where I was actively doing a lot of work and had a lot of projects on my plate. Mind you these aren't very important projects. These these were like these were like book reports in high school way back when but I felt the feeling of OK I have so much to do. But I know that when I work on something that everything's somewhere that I can just totally focus and become immersed in what I'm doing. And so maybe maybe there's something to this whole productivity thing. And so I think so much of products that you know we talk about doing more and accomplishing more but I think there's that deeper feeling when it comes to a product that feels like we only get a bit of that feeling sometimes and it's often when we do something and it's not on our to do list and we cross that off and it feels amazing.

But I think we could feel that way all the time like let light go whatever we're doing. That's where we need to be. And I think that's kind of the power of working with intention behind what we do where there's that in the moment confidence that where we are is where we need to be. And I've gotten this feeling totally where you know I had that total confidence once more and it was on the publicity tour for the the last book of all places you know kind of a situation that I didn't expect to find myself in but somehow managed to get there where you know we were doing 10 interviews and a day back to back to back to back. But there was somebody all the time to get me water or get me food. And you know it just as I felt hunger beginning to encroach on my mental space. There was a meal in front of me and I knew there was somebody to OK. You have to go here now and we're going to drive you here and wherever I was I knew that that was exactly where I needed to be. And I think there's that confidence embedded within intention where we feel that sense of purpose in the moment and so I think you know that feeling is worth chasing them.

So what prompted this idea of hyperfocus.

I mean obviously we know that our issues with distraction or attention are at an all time high. We've had tell Newport here to talk about deep work. So what is it planted your we'll planted the seed for your interest in this subject in particular.

Honestly and this is it's tough to admit sometimes but it's noticing how distracted that I was after publishing the first book. And you know you have to have to know that a lot of the advice that I gave in the first book centered around focusing deeper and resisting distractions and managing our attention. But yet once that book was shipped I found myself in a state of distraction where you know I couldn't focus I was surrounded by novel notifications and it was because I wasn't on a deadline of some sort. And that led me to think OK if I'm in this situation as somebody who makes his living studying and speaking about him writing about productivity maybe other people who aren't as into productivity are facing this puzzle but you know be that I wasn't seeing the full picture of just how distracted we are and how we can actually tame these distractions as opposed to falling victim to them so that was very much the impetus. And but it's worth admitting because we're all human.

So let's get into the concept in this book.

Let's start with this idea of attentional space. Can you define it for us. And talk about how we can make ours better.

Yeah for sure. So we only have so much attention to give to the world around us in the moment. And I think most of us are aware that our attention is limited blah blah blah. We've heard this a lot of times before but we don't really internalize just how limited things are. And this is this is something that surprised me as you know going through all the research that I could find on the topic. Reading these these studies from front to back I don't know. I think a lot of people say they read studies from front to back but they don't actually do it. But essentially they're very dry they're very dry. Some of these studies. But we can only hold up after we pay attention to something we can only hold so much in our mind. At one time and a lot of the ideas in the research are surrounding attention they're kind of like difficult to connect with on some level. And I found this idea of a working memory capacity how much information we can hold in our mind at one moment coming up again and again and again and again where this is the mental scratch pad that we use to hold information in our mind. It's kind of like the the equivalent of a computer's RAM. But for our brain and it's very limited this working memory capacity so I use the term attentional space as a way of framing this idea and what we do when we focus on something is we welcome it into this attentional space. But you know like you're saying it's quite limited. We can hold we used to think we can hold around seven unique chunks of information in our short term memory at one time.

But the latest research shows that we can hold around three or four chunks of information in the world is structured around this you know it's structured around threes we have sayings like good things come in threes. And the third time's the charm and celebrities die in threes and you know chunk things naturally into threes and fours. A good example of this is phone numbers which are usually you know three numbers and three numbers and four numbers we don't say you know my phone number is 1 billion seven hundred eighty four million six hundred. But as we say my phone number is 1 6 1 3 8 and you know and this is how we're meant to think. And but the idea is that because we can only fit a few things in our mind at one time we need to manage our attention more deliberately. We can't carry on two conversations at one time we can't even do two complex things at one time at best we can do a complex thing while doing something habitual like working out while listening to a podcast or doing our laundry while we listen to a podcast or an audio book. And so it's essential and we can multitask with habits so we can use the attentional space to do that. But when it comes to our most complex work it requires so much of our attention that we need to give our attention to the complex tasks that we have more completely. And so it's it's this idea that by managing this space which is just what we're focusing on in the moment we better manage our life and every aspect of it.

So I think for most people hearing that the first thought that comes to mind is the things digitally that compete for your attention and after talking with Ghazaleh who's a neuroscientist whose work I'm sure are familiar with given the nature of what you do. The thing that became very clear to me is the importance of your physical space when it comes to attention management so what did your own show about this.

Yeah one of the more illuminating things that I saw repeating and reverberating through the research maybe he was talking about this too is the way that our attention is wired because the key I think to understanding distractions is that the reason we fall victim to them is that in the moment what we see as a distraction is just a more attractive object of attention than what we truly want and ought to be doing. And the way we see it as more attractive we are attention is wired to pay attention to anything that is one of three things by default. The first is anything that is pleasurable. We pay attention to. The second is anything that is threatening we pay attention to. And the third is anything that is novel. We naturally pay attention to. There's even a novelty bias embedded within our brains prefrontal cortex where we naturally get more of a release of dopamine a pleasure chemical whenever we focus on something that our brain sees as shiny. And this aided us well in our evolutionary history because you know instead of hyper focusing on building a fire for for our tribe or village we notice to the novel threat encroaching on our environment the saber tooth tiger that was sneaking up we paid attention to the threat we dealt with the threat and we evolved to live another day and build another fire. And the same is true with the novel pleasures in our environment where we evolved to notice berries hanging from a tree or potential mates which also allowed us to reproduce and aided our chances of survival. But these days you know there are many tigers roaming the streets there are some cougars but not very many tigers.

I should have made that joke in the book but the nearest threats are few and far between. And the same brain mechanisms that allowed us to survive through today are what are hijacked from anything that we see as a distraction. And so you know you talk about the environment we anything in front of us that is more pleasurable or threatening or novel than the work that we truly want to be doing. We're going to have to resist it and expend mental energy in order to to realign our attention towards what's more pleasurable and threatening a novel. Looking around me in the office right now I have a bunch of plants. I have a meditation cushion there's my turtle Edward basking on her rock. You can't tell the gender of a turtle when you get it. And there's various things that I could pay attention to. But I've designed this space so that nothing in it is more attractive in the moment than the work that I want to be doing. And of course most of the distractions are digital. So the phone is in another room. The iPad is in another room and I don't have a distractions blocker enabled on my computer right now but it's because a conversation like this consumes most of my attention in the first place. And so you know there's kind of two environments I think that we need to manage. There's the there's the physical environment and the digital environment. And I would I would lend even more credence to the digital environments because they're where we spend so much of our time.

I mean that's why I dedicate an entire chapter to environments an audience of one because I was just blown away by the impact both physical and digital environments have on all of your behavior. You know we've talked endlessly on the show about how to deal with distractions. I don't want to spend too much time on that idea. Let's get into this concept of hyper focus and what it means how you define it and what are the benefits in terms of performance that result from hyper focus.

Yeah. So I define hyperfocus it originates in HD literature where it's when somebody with A.D.H.D brings their full attention is something I use that same term but to mean this but to mean that that complete focus but coupled with deliberate attention. So in other words we choose what we focus on before we focus on something. And I think that's a key to productivity where the most productive people they don't work on this autopilot mode in response to the work that comes our way or lands in their e-mail inbox they're the ones who choose more often throughout the day what they focus on and what they work on before they work on anything. And so I think you know one of the beautiful parts about writing this book is is that I found that our attention has these natural rhythms that we follow. You know we're focused on something our attention then gets distracted. You know people have done distractions to death. I think everything surrounding that. But distractions too is fascinating. You know so we get distracted by something internal or external to us. There are about 50 50 in terms of what derails us and then we bring our attention back so we can model some steps by which we can hyper focus on our work and become more likely to do what Cal refers to as deep work. What Mihai chix sent me high refers to this flow state where we look up at the clock. We think 20 minutes have gone by and it's three hours since we started working on something so we're more likely to get into the state when we model some steps by which we can focus more deeply on our work.

After this natural rhythm that we followed to focus better. So we start by focusing on something so we can choose what to focus on in the first place. Then you eliminate as many external and internal distractions as you can. The key is there as you can because like a hiccup there will be things that come up over the course of working that you can't take like office visitors and things like that. And then once you've laid the groundwork you've chosen something to do that's important. You've eliminated anything that is more pleasurable threatening or novel in the moment than what you want to be doing. Then you bring your attention to that intention and continually draw it back while you bring your mind back gently. And I think that's the key is that our mind wanders an awful lot against our will. It wanders around 47 percent of the day but we only notice that our mind has wandered five times every hour. And so in other words we can fall down a rabbit hole of distraction or we can get into this state of mind wandering without intention quite often and we can fall into it for quite a long time without noting knowing that we're in it. And so now that's kind of the final step is bring our attention back when we notice that it's veered off the course.

Hey it's free. So as you've heard on a lot of our previous interviews my new book an audience of one reclaiming creativity for its own sake is now available anywhere books are sold.

And if you're like in the book and you want to do a deeper dive into all the concepts. I recently partnered up with creative live to produce a full day course called Designing systems that fuel creativity. You'll get access to 18 video lessons along with brand new interviews with podcasts just like Cal Newport and honors Ericsson. And right now it's just 74 dollars and you can go through the course on demand from the creative life app on your phone or from your computer. Just visit unmistakable creative dot com slash systems. Again that's unmistakable creative dot com slash systems.

So I think that most people understand the general concept behind this. But the thing is that what what I've learned at least is that the capacity for attention and to have it sustained over a long period of time is something that you have to practice building. I know for a fact that if you had asked me when I was 29 or 30 to sit down and to write for an hour hour and a half at the beginning of the day that would have been a tall order which is which is ironic considering how many more distractions that we have in the world today. I mean as somebody who is 80 I think for me many of these things are are necessities they're not things that I do because I'm passionate about productivity like yourself. Yeah. For me they're like if I didn't do these things I wouldn't get a damn thing done. But how do you how do people raise that capacity for her manager retention. I know you talked a bit about meditation. What are the other ways that can be done.

Well the way to raise their capacity to focus for longer is to lower how stimulated you are by default. And so we feel this sort of restlessness and boredom and anxiety whenever we transition downward from a state of high stimulation into a state of Lower stimulation that's the definition that I use for boredom is adjusting down into a state of Lower stimulation because once we're there we don't experience boredom anymore but it's as we're doing the adjusting that we feel restless and uncomfortable. And so I think this is something that is worth chipping away at over time where and a way to do this and a helpful strategy that I love is to shrink how long you'll focus for Intel you no longer feel that resistance so you know at the start if you're like me you might not be able to focus on one thing for ten minutes if you're not on a deadline and so you know shrink how long you're going to work on something until you feel no resistance to it so you know could I write for an hour today. No the thought of it puts me off. What about 45 minutes. Thirty two. Twenty fifty. Yeah I can do 15 and then refocus for 15 minutes you find that resistance level you tame distractions and then over time as you ritualize this idea you block off periods in your calendar to get into this mode over time you lower that default level of stimulation the amount of dopamine coursing through your brain because of this novelty bias that's embedded within us and you become better able to think more deeply about your work.

And this is I think something that the others miss is that it's we can't just tame distractions and then work productively every day. We need to over time chip away at this level of stimulation to think more deeply and focus on one thing for a longer period of time and so that that's what what I would suggest and this is easier said than done but it comes from its ways especially for somebody with A.D.H.D. But over time you begin to notice the quality of your attention increasing and and then you notice how much you accomplish increasing but also how meaningful your life is because this is you know kind of a big takeaway for me from this project is that the state of that. It's more than just productivity. You know we talk about how we should resist distractions because they do Rayleigh so often. But if there's one thing that shines through the research it's that the state of our attention is what determines the state of our lives if we're distracted in every moment those moment to moment experiences accumulate to create a life that is filled with distraction.

We live a distracted life and we never feel like we have a sense of purpose. But if we choose more often than not what we focus on and make that thing productive and make that thing meaningful whether it's a conversation with you on a podcast whether it's dinner with a loved one whether it's reading a good book and we bring our attention to that then our moment by moment experiences become more productive and meaningful and then those accumulate and build up to create a product in meaningful life. And I think this is you know we talk about distraction and stuff in the moment but this is the power of managing your attention is the state of your attention. Builds up to determine the state of your life. And so this just it's so worth you know you could tell I get a bit fired up by this idea. But it's because I've noticed this in myself. I feel more meaning in what I do and more fired up by what I do and it's because of these ideas.

Wow. OK so what. I'm stealing that phrase the state of your attention determines the state of your life and writing it in a blog post Albe make sure I credit you and link type refocussed even after credit me and that's fine.

I just want this idea to get out there man.

I agree because I actually wrote a piece on Medium titled that attention is the currency of achievement and I ended it by saying all you have to do is look at this one fact Mark Zuckerberg has become a billionaire by doing one thing capturing your attention.

Yeah that's so true. What is more novel or pleasurable or threatening than a Facebook notification which happens to be the same colors as as the the berries that we evolved to pay attention to maybe sex maybe sex. Yeah it's funny you know talking about mind wandering. I wrote a bit in the book about like what leads our mind to wander. And so the more immersed we become in what we're doing in the moment the the the the you know the happier we are. And the thing that leads our mind to wander the least happens to be sex. I have the list here number five and listening to music number four is playing in one way or another. You know a creative Abhi 3 is talking and investing in our relationships to is exercising and one is making. And you could do all five one time if you are

Amazing. I think that actually really makes a perfect segue to getting into this concept of scatter focus.

So you said basically when you know the section on scatter fingers I have this year in front of me and there's this quote that pulling up give me just a sec here. Actually you know what I don't have it in front of me but. Oh here it is just as hyperfocus are the most productive mode of the brain scatter focus is the most creative stat or focus can derail our productivity when our original intent is to focus. But when we're coming up with a creative solution to our problem planning for our future or making a difficult decision it's just as essential as hyperfocus can you expand on that yeah.

So distraction tends to fill the spare moment of our lives like water water is very much on my mind. It's a beautiful rainy day here in rainy Kingston Ontario Canada. It's feel so relaxing. I have the tea here. I have some water is very relaxing to talk to you it's such like a rainy day to spend indoors but it's I don't even know where I go see. Sometimes we distract yourself even even when we're really good at paying attention to things.

But yeah I think you know traffic flow is one of my favorite things to study of in addition to productivity. And if you look at how traffic flows down the highway what allows cars to continue moving forward isn't how fast they're moving. Paradoxically it's how much space exists between the cars that allows them to continue moving forward. And I would argue that our attention is much the same way now when our mind wanders against our will. It's terrible for our productivity because we're not progressing toward our intentions but when we set out time to deliberately let our mind wander and you know doing anything a bitch will get you into taking a bit longer of a shower in the morning swimming laps in the pool.

What other examples are related to water having your your morning tea or your morning coffee. This mode this mind wandering mode allows us to do three things at one time. It allows us to rest and so we expend mental energy whenever we have to regulate our attention in one way or another. This is why distractions are so exhausting. Some days we spend the entire day because we don't have a lot of work to do we just kind of bounce around between distractions and we find that we're exhausted and it's because we expend mental energy whenever we have to rely on our attention to focus on something and so we rest up when we're taking a shower swim laps or or go for a walk. But at the same time and this is a total you know kind of ball from left field because curve ball I think is the word that people use because I found that I had little energy when I was focusing all the time and I thought OK what the hell am I doing wrong. I'm choosing what to focus on I'm taming these distractions because there's a costly I'm bringing my mind back but it's because I never rested that I became burnt out and I found that I worked in a more reactive way.

And the fascinating thing that doing this led me to was where our mind wanders to when we let it rest and just just be and not focus on anything we think about the past a little bit when our mind is wandering but we only think about the past around 12 per cent of the time the rest of the time we're either thinking about the present and how to approach it more strategically or we're thinking about the future we think about when our mind is wandering we think about the present 28 percent of the time and we think about the future. 48 percent of the time and most of this time is spent on the immediate future we're thinking about what we're going to work on next we think about what we're going to do later on in the day and most of us only get this in the shower but. But it's worth getting this more often we think about our goals. Here is one step that that kind of changed the way I felt about this. This mind wandering Mogis.

Ok it's good for resting but I like focusing on things especially when they're novel and pleasurable and stuff but we think about our goals 14 times as much when our mind is wandering versus when it's paying attention to something.

And so in this way it's by paying attention to things that we actually move our work and our life forward but it's by stepping back and allowing some space between the cars that we that we set intentions that we let our mind rest and when we come up with ideas because when we connect the past to the present to the future that is when we come up with our most brilliant Eureka insights because we remember some nugget of information that we heard on a podcast a few weeks ago and we connect that to a problem that we're facing at work and then we form that connection and and bam we come up with an idea that we wouldn't have arrived at otherwise focusing on something and so I think it's it's because we bounced between these three mental destinations are past our present and our future. And we also think about the information we've accumulated and connected that this mode is so powerful and it's worth getting more of already damn.


Well I think that makes a really fitting end to a conversation that has been packed with of insight which is what I've come to expect from you at this point. After after two of these conversations so I want to fence conversation with my final question and that is what do you think it is that makes somebody or something unmistakable

I'm going to steal this answer from Seth Godin and I'm sure he gave gave this answer when he was on the show. I've noticed that Wanya but it says something is remarkable not in the way that it's great but in the fact that people will want to remark on it and about it. And I think the best ideas have that quality. Any book or show or anything that goes viral has that quality. I think what makes something mistaken is that it's worth talking about and sharing.

And that's my answer.

Amazing. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us and share your story and your insights. Listeners. Where can people find out more about you your work and the new book.

Yeah. The book is called hyperfocus. It's available in bookstores everywhere wherever books are sold.

Yeah my sight is a life of productivity dotcom and yeah just thanks for. I hope I hope there's some actual nuggets and for everybody listening.

We'll wrap the show with that thank you for listening to this episode of The unmistakable creative podcast while you're listening. Were there any moments you found fascinating inspiring instructive maybe even heartwarming. Can you think of anyone a friend or family member who would appreciate this moment. If so take a second and share today's episode with that one person. Because good ideas and messages are meant to be shared.

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Chris Bailey is an expert on productivity. He’s the author of the international best-selling book The Productivity Project, and his newest book, Hyperfocus, comes out in September.  

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