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Productivity expert shares counterintuitive advice for getting your brain to focus better

He calls it "scatterfocus."

man at the computer looking at his phone with headphones on

Our minds are overstimulated, leading us to crave distractions.

If you have a hard time staying focused on a task, you're not alone. In a Crucial Learning poll of 1,600 people, two out of three responded that they have a hard time staying focused on one task or one person. And this difficulty focusing happens in both of the major areas of life, with 68% responding that they have a hard time focusing at work and 62% said they struggle to focus at home.

It's not surprising that most people have attention deficit issues, considering what the vast majority of us are carrying around with us all day long. It's no longer just other people who occasionally interrupt what we're doing, but rather our daily barrage of message, emails, app notifications, news headlines, social media check-ins, advertisements and other distractions our phones or other handheld devices offer us.

However, according to productivity expert Chris Bailey, it's not so much the distractions that are keeping us from focusing, but rather the overstimulation of our brains that cause us to seek out distractions in the first place.


In a 2019 TEDx Talk, Bailey, author of "Hyperfocus" and "The Productivity Project," shared that the key to focusing better isn't to try to try harder to focus, but rather almost the opposite: Rediscover boredom and let your brain wander where it will, or what he refers to as "scatterfocus."

The first step in combating the overstimulation of our brains is to consciously lower the level of stimulus. Bailey himself began trying this out with an experiment. He noticed that most of his day was spent going from screen to screen, from the moment he woke up in the morning to when he went to sleep at night. The biggest culprit was his phone, so he spent an entire month only using his phone for 30 minutes a day.

"It took about a week to adjust downward into a new, lower level of stimulation," he shared, "but once I did, I noticed that three curious things began to happen. First, my attention span grew. It was like I could focus on things, not effortlessly, but with much more ease than I could before this experiment started. In addition to this, though, as I was going about the world and especially when my mind wandered a bit, I had more ideas that my mind arrived at, and on top of this, I had more plans and thoughts about the future. Getting rid of one simple device led to these three effects."

The experiment was so successful that he decided to try to lower his level of stimulation even further. He asked his followers to share the most boring things they could think of for him to do, and he would choose one a day to do for an hour. After a month of doing things like reading the iTunes terms and conditions and watching a clock tick for an hour, he noticed the same kinds of effects as he did with his phone experiment. He was able to focus even more effortlessly, not because he had fewer distractions, but because he was less stimulated and therefore didn't seek the distractions in the first place.

Bailey makes a strong case for creating more empty space and less stimulation in our lives so that our brains are better able to focus.

Watch him explain:

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A photo of Jordan Anderson.

In 1825, at the approximate age of 8, Jordan Anderson (sometimes spelled "Jordon") was sold into slavery and would live as a servant of the Anderson family for 39 years. In 1864, the Union Army camped out on the Anderson plantation and he and his wife, Amanda, were liberated. The couple eventually made it safely to Dayton, Ohio, where, in July 1865, Jordan received a letter from his former owner, Colonel P.H. Anderson. The letter kindly asked Jordan to return to work on the plantation because it had fallen into disarray during the war.

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