Book Summary: Get more done and get your life back.

Free to Focus book cover

Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less

by Michael Hyatt

Leadership coach Michael Hyatt says success and efficiency aren’t the primary objectives of productivity. Instead, he proposes it is freedom. The freedom to have a rich and fulfilling life at work and elsewhere. To help you find that freedom, he offers a three-part approach to reshape your relationship with productivity and a system to curate your focus rigorously. It’s a system to take control of your time “on and off stage” and create sufficient time margin so you have the freedom to be fully present wherever you are.

Hyatt says that our current notions about productivity are based on archaic, do-more, go-faster models that are legacies of the industrial era. And we need a new model based on an information economy where attention, not labor, is our most critical commodity. A model that focuses on the essential things and enables us to get the right things done. Free to Focus proposes that system.

The book is arranged around a three-part approach: stop, cut, and act. It includes access to an online assessment to determine your “productivity personality type” and productivity baseline. And there are worksheets and tools to guide your progress.

Hyatt is the founder and CEO of a leadership development firm and author of several New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling books. Previously, he was the chair and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Free to Focus provides a comprehensive approach and a collection of easy-to-implement ideas in a friendly, can-do package for building a new productivity system or enhancing your existing one.

In the author’s words: Everyone gets 168 hours a week, but it never feels like enough. Work gobbles up the lion’s share–many professionals are working as much as 70 hours a week–leaving less and less for rest, exercise, family, and friends. All those things that make life great. Most people think productivity is about finding or saving time. But it’s not. It’s about making our time work for us.

This summary reflects my takeaways from a useful book I recommend to others. Reading a summary isn’t a substitute for reading the book. There’s much more than I can cover here. Plus, this is my interpretation. If these ideas resonate with you, I encourage you to get a copy of the book from your favorite bookseller. Here are the Amazon links: eBook | Audiobook | Print


The fundamental objective of productivity is freedom. The freedom to:

  • Get the right things done by prioritizing what you do best and delegating or eliminating the rest. You’ll achieve better results, create more time margin, and be more satisfied with your work and personal life.
  • Be present and spontaneous because you have created that margin.

Productivity should ultimately give you back more time, not require more of you.

The three steps to the “Free to Focus” model: Stop, Cut, and Act

Step 1 – STOP

Reframe your productivity notions to fit the real world. Separate your high-leverage activities from your busy work. And take time to rejuvenate and recharge to boost your results.

Start with a productivity vision. Create a picture of what you want your life to look like, then fit your work into it.

Use the “zones of productivity” to identify what you should be doing, delegating, dropping or developing. Productivity begins where your passions intersect with proficiency:

  1. Desire Zone. Things that you’re passionate about and you’re proficient. Your high productivity zone where you use your talents and energies to make your most significant contributions.
  2. Distraction Zone. Things that you’re passionate about but you’re not proficient. Passion means interest, but minimal proficiency means minimal contribution. Tasks in this area are potential time wasters.
  3. Disinterest Zone. Not passionate, but you’re proficient. Things you’re good at but can’t get excited about doing.
  4. Drudgery Zone. Not passionate and not proficient. Tasks you hate and aren’t good at anyway. These tasks sap your energy.
  5. Development Zone. Tasks that are outside but moving toward your Desire Zone. There are low-passion/high-proficiency items and you’re developing passion, or they are high-passion/low-proficiency tasks and you’re building your proficiency.

Productivity comes from doing more of your Desire Zone and less of everything else.

  • Make a list of your routine tasks and activities, then evaluate each according to your passion and proficiency. Place them in the appropriate zone. Use the results to remind you to focus on your Desire Zone activities and use the next steps to delegate, automate, drop or develop the others.
  • Recognize that energy, not time, runs the show. Under the old productivity model, we think the solution to getting things done is more time – until we hit the wall. We need rest to recharge our mind and body – to restore our energy.
  • Use the seven rejuvenation practices: Sleep, eat, move (your body), connect (with others), play, reflect, and unplug. Ample sleep and unplugging are the most challenging for many of us.

Step 2 – CUT

Tap the power of “no” and use a not-to-do list to eliminate tasks. Use automation to get tasks done in the background. Delegate to get work done by others but to your standards.

First, cut the non-essentials. Tasks not in your Desire Zone are candidates for elimination. Review each item on your list outside your Desire Zone: does it really need to be done? Can it be eliminated?

  • Create a “not-to-do” list. Looking at the tasks that are outside your Desire Zone, what are the meetings, relationships, and opportunities in which you should never participate? They go on the not-to-do list.
  • Recognize that you are saying “no” all the time. Time is a zero-sum game, and yes and no are the two most essential words in productivity. Every time you say “yes” to something, you say “no” to everything else.

Second, automate what you can’t eliminate. For tasks and activities that remain after the elimination step, identify what requires your attention and how much, then try to automate using one of these approaches:

  • Self-automation. Build routines, rituals, and habits to tackle your high-priority tasks.
  • Template automation. As you’re working on a project, turn the elements you’ll use again into templates for future use.
  • Process automation. Create workflows – written “recipes” for doing particular jobs – then look for ways to optimize.
  • Tech automation. Use tech to manage tech, e.g., email filtering software, macros, text expanders, and other utilities.

Third, delegate what you can’t eliminate or automate. Delegate tasks to people who are more passionate and proficient at those tasks.

  • What to delegate:
    • Drudgery Zone. Eliminate the things you dread doing (and aren’t good at anyway).
    • Disinterest Zone. Being good at something doesn’t mean you should do it. Get rid of the time wasters.
    • Distraction Zone. Tasks in this zone require some thought. Look at them individually and ask, “is this something for my Development Zone? Should I develop my skills so I can move it to my Desire Zone?” If not, delegate it.
    • Desire Zone. Here, delegation is only necessary if you have more tasks than you can handle.
  • Delegating is buying back your time. Unless you learn how and why to delegate, you will never be free to devote time to the things that matter most — your top priorities, most meaningful relationships, and most worthwhile projects.

Step 3 – ACT

Minimize interruptions by limiting instant communications and setting and enforcing boundaries. Use task batching to increase efficiency. Conduct “previews” to plan your week and day and identify your “Big 3s” – the three most important tasks you want to accomplish this week or today.

Recognize that you have three “stages:”

  • Front stage: The tasks you’re paid to do.
  • Backstage: “Behind the scenes” tasks that support your front-stage activities, e.g., coordination, preparation, maintenance, and development.
  • Offstage: Time away from work.

“Preview” your week.

  • Review your previous week and plan your coming week – your on, off, and backstage activities.
  • Identify your Weekly Big 3 – the three most important things you need to accomplish to keep your key goals and projects moving forward.
  • Set a recurring appointment to conduct your weekly preview.

Batch your activities. Outline blocks of time on your calendar to accomplish similar activities in those blocks – similar set-up, actions, or location.

Head off interruptions:

  • Keep instant communications to a minimum and check email (or Slack, etc.) just 2 or 3 times a day.
  • Turn off all non-essential notifications on your phone and computer. Keep only those that are critical.
  • Establish and reinforce boundaries. Set expectations by letting people know your availability and response times, especially if you’re going offline for a while.

Manage distractions. Most times, we are the worst disrupter of our own concentration. Taking “a break” to check social media also breaks your concentration. It takes time to recover your focus.

Recognize there’s no such thing as “multitasking.” It’s actually task switching. Multitaskers may appear to work faster, but they produce less.

Get started and stay on track:

  1. Stop. Make space and time to plan and maintain your system. Recognize that it’s hard to make good choices when swept up in a frenzy of activity. Pause and step away. Clear your mind. Revisit your productivity objective and what it means to you. Consider what needs to change.
  2. Cut. The feeling of being overwhelmed may be due to an excellent reason. You may indeed have too much to do. Your to-do list may contain too many things or inappropriate tasks, threatening your productivity. Take another pass to eliminate, automate, and delegate what’s on your plate.
  3. Act. Starting is half the battle. Look for actions that will give you early wins in the productivity battle and build momentum.

Book details and where to buy it:

Get the book on Amazon: eBook | Audiobook | Print (affiliate links*)
Amazon rating: 4.6 of 5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.1 of 5 stars
Page count: 250 pages
Publication date: April 9, 2019
Author website: Win at Work and Succeed at Life | Michael Hyatt

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