July 7, 2020

What I learned about productivity from Michael Hyatt’s Free to Focus

I have to say that I was quite excited when Michael released his new book Free to Focus. I have been reading many of his other books (mentioned below) and found his books easy to read and his advice very practical and based on things that he has done in his life.

Who is Michael Hyatt?

Michael Hyatt is an American author, podcaster, blogger, speaker, and the former chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson. He has written several books about leadership, planning, and goal setting, including The Vision Driven LeaderYour Best Year EverLiving Forward and more.

Free to Focus is a book that shares Michael’s lessons on productivity. Being the CEO of Thomas Nelson and now running his own company, Michael is obviously a very busy individual, but he has managed to balance his work and family priorities after trying to do it all.

Here is what I learned from Michael on productivity:

What is your end goal for productivity?

The first thing you need to reflect on is what your end goal for productivity is. Michael provides a few wrong answers. For example, your end goal is likely not efficiency. If it is, it means that you are trying to get more work done in the limited amount of time and you are in a never-ending race with work. And we all know that there is always more work to be done. Your end goal is likely not success either. Again, success breeds more and more work. Take it from me, when you get promoted and have bigger salaries, there is a lot more work involved.

No, the end goal for being more productive, as Michael learned, is freedom. That’s why he named the book Free to Focus. It’s the freedom to work on the things that matter to you. The freedom to be idle when you want. The freedom to be spontaneous with your time and energy.

The four zones of productivity

Before going into the four zones of productivity, I would first like to point out the difference between proficiency and aptitude. Looking at the two, it seems like two very similar words. But there is a small but significant difference between the two. Aptitude is a skill you have. If you have aptitude, you have that skill. However, if you have proficiency, not only do you have the skill, it is also valuable to the market in some way. You may have an aptitude writing, but if you never share what you write to others (in the form of books, articles, blog posts, etc.) then you cannot say that you are proficient.

This difference is important because the four zones of productivity are identified through the passion that you have for something and your proficiency.

  • Your drudgery zone is for tasks where you are not passionate about, and you are not proficient in
  • Your distraction zone is for tasks where you are passionate in, but you are not proficient in
  • Your disinterest zone is for tasks where you are not passionate in, but you are proficient in
  • Your desire zone is for tasks where you are both passionate and proficient in

The point? You want to minimize as much as possible, any tasks that are outside of your desire zone. Here, Michael’s first suggestion to have more productivity is to eliminate the tasks that you do not have to do yourself.

Beware the excuse that things are temporary

I have heard myself say it and I have heard some of my coworkers say it. “Oh it’s only for a few weeks.” or “It will only be a few months”. It may be temporary now, but if you do not change it, it will be permanent.

Practice energy management

Equally important to the idea of ‘time management’ is the idea of energy management. How do you manage, recharge and otherwise make sure that your energy levels stay high throughout the day? Michael says there are seven practices for energy management:

  • Sleeping well
  • Eating foods that bring you energy
  • Moving throughout the day (this might mean walking, exercise, yoga, etc.)
  • Connecting with others that bring you energy (you know those good friends that help energize and excite you after conversations)
  • Playing. Remember when you were younger and you were excited to hop on the playground or to run around with a ball. Find activities where you do it for the fun.
  • Reflect. Reading, journaling, meditating, praying or worship are all forms of reflection. These can all help you to connect with the bigger why in your life.
  • Unplug. This is more than just unplugging from your devices. It’s about getting work out of your mind. Don’t think about, read or do work.

Saying no

Some of us may find it hard to say ‘no’ to things in life. Heck, I know that I find it hard to say ‘no’ without some form of compromise. But Michael says that this is a critical part of being productive. You have to say ‘no’ to things so that you can say ‘yes’ to tasks in your desire zone.

Think of this another way, any time you say ‘yes’ to anything in your life, you are also inherently saying ‘no’ to something. Saying yes to working overtime means you are saying no to dinner with your partner. Saying yes to working on weekends means saying no to family time.

In other words, we say yes all the time without really thinking about what we are saying no to. And Michael is suggesting that we should all consider saying ‘no’ more often, except more consciously.

The five levels of delegation

Delegation is an important part of being productive. When you find yourself with tasks outside of your desire zone that need to get done (and remember, elimination is the first step so don’t do things you don’t have to do), one option is to delegate the task to others. While it may not be part of your desire zone, it may be a part of someone else’s desire zone.

There are, in fact, five levels of delegation. This breakdown is important to managers and anyone that delegates because you can understand the small nuances of delegation through the breakdown.

The first level of delegation is doing exactly what I say. Follow my instructions to the letter. Don’t deviate. I have looked at the different options and considered that this is the best path to follow.

The second level of delegation is research only. Do the research. Look at the different options. Then report back to me where I will make the final decision.

The third level of delegation is to do the research. Analyze the options. Recommend the best option. Then, if I agree, move forward.

The fourth level of delegation is to do the research. Analyze the options. Take action on the option that you think is best. Tell me what you did and then report back to me on your progress.

The fifth and highest level of delegation is I explain what I want done and then you take it all the way forward. You don’t need to let me know what you did or report on your progress in any way.

Recognizing these five levels of delegation is important because the fifth level is where you get the most gains in productivity, but starting out, you won’t get the fifth level right away. As you delegate, you have to slowly train and educate the people you are delegating to, to ‘level’ up in delegation experience.


Check out Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt and learn more about how to be free and productive with your time.

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