A wandering mind has a bad reputation. That bad reputation is partly justified. Because if we want to focus, and our mind wanders from a task, it can disrupt our productivity. However this state of mind can be remarkably powerful if entered into deliberately. Mind wandering is very effective if we want to solve problems, think more creatively, brainstorm about new ideas or if we want to refuel our energy and plan for the future.

Chris Bailey is a Canadian writer and productivity consultant who recently published a book called “Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction.” His book is a manual with practical tips for managing your attention – the most powerful resource you need to become more creative, get things done and live a meaningful life. Because in a world with so many incentives, it is sometimes difficult to let go of our focus.

Our brain and focus

Compare your focus with the use of a flashlight: the only thing you see is what is in the ray of the light. You don’t see the things around it, no matter how important and/ or interesting they are. This means that if you only focus on one subject, it is possible that you miss other important messages.

Bailey identifies how our brains have two modes that control our attention: focused mode and unfocused mode. Focused mode is a familiar state, and one that is most powerful when we focus on a single important thing. He calls this state of total focus ‘hyperfocus’. We slip into unfocused mode (‘scatterfocus’) when our mind wanders from a task, or when we let it wander, like when we go for a walk or take a shower. Scatterfocus focus help you focus on what is really important, without being too sensitive to external distractions. With hyperfocus you put your attention outward, while scatterfocus is about turning inwards. According to Bailey, hyperfocus is the most productive mode of the brain, while scatterfocus is the most creative.

Why is scatterfocus important?

Scatterfocus gives you the opportunity to formulate intentions and plans. It is impossible to formulate intentions if you are completely absorbed in the now. When you rest, your mind will automatically make plans for the future; you just have to give your brain some downtime for that.

It also nourishes creativity. This mode helps you connect old ideas and create new ones.
If your job requires you to be creative, the more important it is for you to use scatterfocus. Pauses between activities are also just as important as the activity itself because research has shown that this is the best way to learn, remember and make connections.

Scatterfocus also gives you new energy while hyperfocusing and the other hand costs a lot of energy.

Defocus

Are you often switching between activities? Can’t stay focused on one task for long? Do you need more time for work? And do you often choose less important tasks that requires less energy? These signals are letting you know that your energy supply is running out.

The secret to a balanced and healthy brain is variety. To keep your brain fit and balanced, you must switch between periods of focusing and defocusing. When you do this, you will become more productive. You will also have more energy and you will experience less stress. So don’t forget to take a break from your focus moment and take a defocus moment! A refreshing break meets the following conditions: it is and feels familiar to you, requires little effort, it is something you really want to do and is not an obligation.

Want to know more about productivity? Check out Chris Bailey’s TEDx Talk about his approach to productivity.

Good luck with defocusing!

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Ard Van Oosten

I am a psychiatrist trained in business management and researcher. My heart goes out to talent development. I connect knowledge of the brain with leadership and offer tools for personal growth and development.

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