Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt: Summary and Lessons

free to focus summary

“True productivity is about doing more of what is in your desire zone and less of everything else.”

Related: The 4-Hour Workweek, ReWork, Eat That Frog, Deep Work

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Free to Focus Summary

Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt is a great system to help you focus on working on the right things. First, you’ll stop and define what productivity means to you by formulating, evaluating, and reformulating. Then, you’ll cut the nonessentials by eliminating, automating, and delegating. Finally, you’ll act on by consolidating, designating, and activating.

Executive Summary

In a world where information is freely available, focus becomes one of the most valuable commodities in the workplace. 

Productivity is not about getting more things done; it’s about getting the right things done.

The Free to Focus productivity system follows 3 simple steps (with three actions each):

  1. Stop. Unless you first know why you’re working, you can’t properly evaluate how you’re working.
    • Formulate: how to clarify why you want to be more productive
    • Evaluate: how to find your highest-leverage activities
    • Reformulate: how to use rest to boost your productivity
  2. Cut. Here you’ll discover that what you don’t do is just as important to your productivity as what you do. Actions:
    • Eliminate: how to cut the nonessentials
    • Automate: how to subtract yourself from the equation 
    • Delegate: how to properly delegate work
  3. Act. You’ll learn how to accomplish your high-leverage tasks in less time and with less stress.
    • Consolidate: how to be more efficient by batching tasks
    • Designate: how to prioritize tasks
    • Activate: how to manage interruptions and eliminate distractions
free to focus produtivity flywheel

Step 1: Stop

Chapter 1 – Formulate: Decide What You Want

True productivity starts with being clear on what you truly want

The objective of productivity shouldn’t be efficiency or success, but freedom. Productivity should ultimately give you back more time, not require more of you.

Freedom to:

  1. Focus
  2. Be Present
  3. Be Spontaneous
  4. Do Nothing

You should design your life first and then tailor work to meet your lifestyle objectives.

Formulate your vision for what fewer, more productive work hours could make possible for you. 

How to formulate your productivity vision:

  • Start by defining what your productivity ideal looks like
  • Then break it down into a few powerful and memorable words
  • Finally, clarify the stakes by outlining exactly what you stand to gain if you achieve that vision and what you will lose if you don’t

Chapter 2 – Evaluate: Determine Your Course

You can evaluate tasks, activities, and opportunities based on two key criteria:

  • Passion: work you love and energizes you
  • Proficiency: how well you actually do something that generates results that other people can measure and reward

To determine where you are right now use a tool called the Freedom Compass. 

free to focus freedom compass

The 5 Zones of Productivity:

  1. Desire Zone. Where your passion and proficiency intersect. Where you are able to unleash your unique abilities to make your most significant contributions.
  2. Distraction Zone. Things you are passionate about but have little proficiency for, thus preventing you from making a significant contribution.
  3. Disinterest Zone. Things that you’re proficient at but you aren’t that passionate about. These tasks drain your energy.
  4. Drudgery Zone. Tasks for which you have no passion and no proficiency. This is the worst kind of work for you to do. 
  5. Development Zone. How to gauge work outside your Desire Zone but potentially moving toward it. If we have a hunch we could develop passion and proficiency with a task, we should stay open-minded about it.

True productivity is about doing more of what is in your Desire Zone and less of everything else.

Chapter 3 – Rejuvenate: Reenergize Your Mind and Body

Time is fixed, but energy can flex.

There’s an inverse relationship between productivity and time. The more hours you work, the less productive you’ll be.

The 7 practices to renew energy:

  1. Sleep. 7-10 hours per night (add a 30-min nap if needed). Turn off screens an hour before bedtime, add blackout shades, lower the room temperature, and use white noise.
  2. Eat. Eat natural foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, and meats. Be mindful when eating out. Stick with water as much as possible.
  3. Move. Exercise itself is an energizer. Physical activity primes our brains to operate at a higher level.
  4. Connect. Some people charge you up while others drain you. Be intentional about connections by conducting a social audit.
  5. Play. If you want to stay sharp, you need regular injections of recreation, exercise, and outright play into your busy schedule.
  6. Reflect. Strive to make time for reflection every day, either by reading, journaling, introspection, meditation, prayer, or worship.
  7. Unplug. Create rules to help you disconnect during nights, weekends, and vacations.

Step 2: Cut

Chapter 4 – Eliminate: Flex Your “No” Muscle

If we want to be free to focus, we must eliminate everything standing in our way. That doesn’t mean simply saying no to a lot of bad ideas; it also means turning down a ton of good ideas.

Time is a zero-sum game.

Every yes inherently contains a no.

Everything outside your Desire Zone is a possible candidate for elimination.

The yes-no-yes strategy to give a “positive no”:

  1. Yes. Say yes to yourself and to protect what is important to you. This should also include affirming the other person.
  2. No. The answer continues with a matter-of-fact no that is clear and sets boundaries. Do not leave any wiggle room or ambiguity.
  3. Yes. End the response by affirming the relationship again and by offering another solution to the person’s request.

How to renegotiate existing commitments:

  1. Take responsibility for making the commitment
  2. Reaffirm your willingness to honor your commitment
  3. Explain why honoring your commitment is not the best outcome for the other party
  4. Offer to help solve the problem with them

How to create a Not-To-Do List:

  • Start with the obvious candidates for elimination
  • List the meetings, relationships, and opportunities you should never pursue

Chapter 5 – Automate: Subtract Yourself from the Equation

The 4 types of automation:

  1. Self. Use rituals to make it easier for you to follow through on your highest priorities. The 4 Foundational Rituals: morning, evening, workday startup, and workday shutdown.
  2. Template. Automate repetitive tasks with templates. Examples: email templates and PowerPoint presentations.
  3. Process. Write an easy-to-follow set of instructions for performing a job or sequence. Correct the workflow as you gather feedback.
  4. Tech. Focus on the type of tool you need more than which tool you use. The 4 essential tools: email filtering, macro-processing, text-expansion, and screencast

To streamline your tasks, mark candidates for automation and pick one to tackle today. 

Chapter 6 – Delegate: Clone Yourself—or Better

Delegation means focusing primarily on the work only you can do by transferring everything else to others who are more passionate about the work or proficient in the tasks.

Some of us refuse to delegate by convincing ourselves we can’t afford it.

But the hours you spend on Desire Zone tasks will always be more profitable than the time you’re wasting anywhere else, so the cost of delegation pays for itself—and then some.

How to delegate:

  1. Decide what to delegate
  2. Select the best person
  3. Communicate the workflow
  4. Provide the necessary resources
  5. Specify the delegation level
  6. Give them room to operate
  7. Check in and provide feedback as needed

The 5 Levels of Delegation:

  1. Level 1. You want the person to do exactly what you’ve asked them to do—no more, no less.
  2. Level 2. You want the person to examine or research a topic and report back to you.
  3. Level 3. You’re giving the person more room to participate in the problem-solving process but you are still reserving the final decision for yourself. 
  4. Level 4. You want the person to evaluate the options, make a decision on their own, execute the decision, and then give you an update after the fact.
  5. Level 5. You hand the entire project or task over to someone else and exit the decision altogether.

Step 3: Act

Chapter 7 – Consolidate: Plan Your Ideal Week

Design your work to focus on just one thing at a time.

Batching: lumping similar tasks together and doing them in a dedicated block of time

MegaBatching: organizing entire days around similar activities to enable you to stay focused and build momentum.

The 3 categories of activity:

  1. Front Stage. The tasks for which you’re hired and paid. The key functions, primary deliverables, the line items on your performance review. If it delivers the results for which your boss and/or customers are paying you, that’s Front Stage work.
  2. Back Stage. Includes step-two activities (specifically, elimination, automation, and delegation) plus coordination, preparation, maintenance, and development. The tasks necessary for Front Stage performance.
  3. Off Stage. Refers to time when you’re not working. Off Stage is crucial to restoring your energy so you have something to offer when you come back to the stage.

How to plan your ideal week in 3 steps:

  1. Stages. Decide for each day if you’ll be Front Stage, Back Stage, or Off Stage. Reserve at least two days for Front Stage.
  2. Themes. Indicate what type of activities you’ll do on individual days during certain blocks of time. An easy way to start is to think of the morning, workday, and evening.
  3. Activities. Group the individual activities that will fall into those themes.

Chapter 8 – Designate: Prioritize Your Tasks

You need to systematically decide what deserves your attention now, what deserves your attention later, and what doesn’t deserve your attention at all.

How to do a weekly review:

  1. List Your Biggest Wins
  2. Review the Prior Week
  3. Review Your Lists and Notes
  4. Check Goals, Projects, Events, Meetings, and Deadlines
  5. Designate Your Weekly Big 3 Things to Accomplish
  6. Plan Your Rejuvenation

Decide what goes on your Weekly Big 3 using The Eisenhower Matrix.

eisenhower matrix

Spend 95% of your time on Quadrant 1 and 2 activities. Clear Quadrant 3 tasks quickly (delegate what you can) and eliminate all Quadrant 4 tasks.

How to design your day:

  • Plan days solely focused on tasks and refuse any meeting requests for that day
  • Shoot for three, and only three, key tasks each day (your Daily Big 3). Let your Weekly Big 3 inform your Daily Big 3
  • Schedule time to do your Daily Big 3 on your calendar

Chapter 9 – Activate: Beat Interruptions and Distractions

How to avoid interruptions:

  • Limit instant communication. Turn off your notifications and opt for delayed communication whenever possible.
  • Proactively set and enforce boundaries. Inform the relevant people you’re going offline for a period to focus by setting an autoresponder for your email. Sell your boss on why you need time for deep, focused work.

How to beat distractions:

  • Fight technology with technology. Example: Freedom lets you customize what apps and websites you can access during dedicated periods of deep work.
  • Listen to the right music. Background music that’s familiar, repetitive, relatively simple, and not too loud can aid focus (more on focus music).
  • Take charge of your environment. Make your workspace work for you (more about productivity spaces). Optimize your current workspace for focus by eliminating distracting items.
  • Declutter your workspace. Make an appointment with yourself on your calendar to organize your office – both physical and digital.
  • Increase your frustration tolerance. Train yourself for focus by choosing to stick uphill tasks.