Skip to Content

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

Overflowing in-trays, ever-increasing task lists and not enough hours in the day – most leaders are familiar with this scenario. Many turn to productivity tools that promise to get them on top of their out-of-control workloads. But what if the solution is not to do more, but less? Based on his extensive experience and backed by research, leadership expert Michael Hyatt introduces a counterintuitive three-step framework to help you restore work-life balance, together with tools which allow you to become more productive by learning to focus on the things that matter most.


  • The modern “Distraction Economy” results in lost time and overwork.
  • Geater productivity should create time for what matters to you.
  • Evaluating your current situation in terms of proficiency and passion helps you determine your destination.
  • Seven practices help you renew your energy levels: sleep, eat, move, connect, play, reflect and unplug.
  • Time is finite; budget it as you would your finances.
  • Automate most routine and repetitive tasks with rituals, templates, processes and technology.
  • Delegation is more complex than simply handing a task to someone else.
  • Focus on one thing at a time.
  • Apply the 80/20 rule to your weekly tasks.
  • Your distractions are your worst enemy.

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

The modern “Distraction Economy” results in lost time and overwork.

Today’s always-on, always-available work culture causes distraction and results in people spending time on tasks that do nothing, or very little, for their businesses. This wasted time costs the economy billions. Surveys reveal that more and more people – up to 80% – work in the evenings and on weekends to catch up on their workload; an increasing number suffer chronic stress.

“Focusing on everything means focusing on nothing.”

Many tools and methods promise to help people become more productive. Typically, these tools and approaches do not tackle the root cause of chronic stress and distraction, however: the fact that people are unable to identify and focus on the tasks that matter.

Greater productivity should create time for what matters to you.

Often, people want to increase their productivity, so they can work more efficiently. They want to get through their workload quicker, hoping that this will help them catch up on all their tasks. This approach might work in factories, where tasks are consistent and repeatable, but not for knowledge work, which deals with ever-changing challenges and problems.

People also strive for greater productivity in a quest for success. For many, this simply means “more”: more profit or more clients, which in turn leads to an ever-increasing workload. The aim of greater productivity should be freedom: the ability to focus on the task at hand without distractions; to leave work behind when you spend time with family and friends; to change your plans spontaneously; and to help your brain recharge.

“True productivity starts with being clear on what we truly want.”

Consider your priorities and what you would like to achieve in life and at work. Ask questions such as how many hours you’re happy to work, whether you would mind working weekends and so on.

Evaluating your current situation in terms of proficiency and passion helps you determine your destination.

To increase your productivity, understand which tasks fill your time and which of the following productivity zones they fall into: “Drudgery,” “Disinterest,” “Distraction” or “Desire”. Tasks in the Drudgery Zone are those for which you have neither passion nor great ability. The Disinterest Zone includes tasks you do well, but don’t enjoy.The Distraction Zone marks tasks you like, but in which you lack proficiency. These tasks prove the most difficult to surrender or delegate because you’re passionate about them, and they give you energy. However, because you lack skills, Distraction Zone tasks waste your time.

“It’s not enough to be either passionate or proficient at a task…. You need to be both or your energy and performance will suffer.”

Focus the majority of your time on tasks in the Desire Zone, as these nourish your proficiency and passion. Put some tasks into the Development Zone as your passion and proficiency grow through personal and professional development. Categorizing tasks in this way will help you draw up your “Freedom Compass” which indicates the direction in which you should move: toward increasing your time in the Desire Zone and eliminating, delegating and automating tasks in other zones.

Seven practices will help you renew your energy levels: “sleep, eat, move, connect, play, reflect and unplug.”“

Studies show that working more than 50 hours a week does not increase productivity. Increasing time spent at work will not help you deal with your workload; increasing your energy levels will.

“Personal energy is a renewable resource.”

Lack of sleep, for example, affects you in much the same way as alcohol. It leads to bad decision-making, lack of focus and mistakes. Similarly, your diet and exercise regime affect your body and your brain. Stick to natural foods, hydrate often and schedule regular exercise throughout the week. The people with whom you spend time also affect your energy levels: Studies found that high- and low-performers affect the performance of those around them; invest time with people who give you energy. Occupying your brain with non-work-related efforts boosts energy levels. For example, play restores the mind by using different parts of the brain. Taking time to reflect and unplugging completely from work allows you to keep your focus on the bigger picture.

Time is finite; budget it as you would your finances.

Many people struggle to say no to requests and tasks, but you need to realize that your time is finite and fixed. When you agree to do something, you say no to something or someone else. For example, when you accept an invitation to a work dinner, you say no to spending time with your family.

“The truth is, even if we hate saying no, we’re unknowingly saying no all the time — every time we say yes.”

Be clear on your priorities – those tasks in your Desire Zone – and develop a strategy for saying no.As you would with your finances, identify crucial tasks and people and allocate your time and energy accordingly.

Automate most routine and repetitive tasks with rituals, templates, processes and technology.

Automation is useful for tasks in your Disinterest or Drudgery Zone. It enables you to do routine tasks with minimal brain power and time investment. There are four main types of automation: “self, template, process and tech.”

“Automation means solving a problem once, then putting the solution on autopilot.”

Self-automation means establishing rituals: a set of steps and actions you perform regularly, in the same way and same order. Create a ritual for starting your workday, for example, by checking email, catching up on other messages, and going through your tasks and schedule. Another useful automation tool is using templates, for example, to respond to common email requests. Process automation means documenting and optimizing a workflow in detail, so anyone could do the task without your input. Screencast utilities – programs that record your screen as you go through a task – can help. Tech automation includes keyboard shortcuts for words or phrases you use regularly, as well as email filtering, macro-processing and text-expansion software. Setting up automation requires time and effort but, ultimately, saves you time and brain power.

Delegation is more complex than simply handing a task to someone else; however, investing the time will pay off.

Another way to cut tasks from your to-do list is via delegation. Delegation means handing over tasks to someone with greater passion and skill for them than yourself.

“If you insist on doing jobs for which you lack passion and proficiency, congratulations: you win the trophy for worst hiring manager ever.”

To delegate successfully, invest time in the handing over process:

  1. Identify what to delegate – Prioritize tasks in your Drudgery Zone, then those in your Disinterest Zone and then those in your Distraction Zone.
  2. Find the person best suited to the task – Tasks that bore you or don’t play to your strengths might fall into someone else’s Desire Zone.
  3. Talk or walk them through the workflow – If you don’t know enough about the task to detail it well, explain the desired outcome.
  4. Ensure they have the tools and access they need to do the job – This includes informing others of your delegatee’s new responsibilities.
  5. Be clear about the level of authority granted – Do you want your delegatee to execute your instructions, research and make recommendations, or take full ownership of a task?
  6. Step back and let them do their job – Do not micromanage.
  7. Check progress and provide feedback – You remain responsible for the outcome, so check in from time to time, especially when someone is new to a task.

Focus on one thing at a time.

Multitasking affects productivity negatively. When you remove focus from a particular task you may need, on average, 25 minutes to properly re-focus. “MegaBatching” and planning your “Ideal Week” can help you dedicate uninterrupted time to one or similar tasks, thereby increasing your productivity and creativity. MegaBatching means grouping the same or similar elements of your work together; for example, meetings, checking email, writing reports or working on new projects.

“You can either live on purpose, according to a plan you’ve set. Or you can live by accident, responding to the demands of others.”

Structure your Ideal Week according to your Batches, while scheduling in time for breaks and non-work activities. Your Ideal Week will not happen exactly as you intend; however, being proactive and intentional about the way you want to spend your time helps you get closer and closer to that target.

Apply the 80/20 rule to your weekly tasks.

To plan your week, prioritize your tasks and decide which ones you want to or must handle. About 20% of input generally leads to around 80% of output. So, focus on finishing the small number of tasks – the 20% – that advance your business significantly instead of spending extra hours working through a long to-do list that has minimal impact on your bottom line.

“Be careful not to confuse urgency with importance.”

Schedule a “Weekly Preview”: a six-step process that grants clarity about the tasks you should focus on in a given week. Review your biggest wins, lessons learned, and lists and notes from the previous week. Assess the status of projects and goals. Identify your “Weekly Big 3”: the three things that you want to accomplish this week. Categorize tasks by urgency and importance. Your Weekly Big 3 helps you to determine your Daily Big 3 tasks. Your Weekly Preview should include scheduled time for recharging your batteries.

Your distractions are your worst enemy.

Multitasking might give you the impression you’re working more quickly, but, in fact, switching focus reduces your productivity. Limit interruptions – external factors that cause you to lose focus – by switching off notifications on messages, emails and phone calls. Let others know you’re blocking distractions by, for example, establishing automated messages that denote what times you’re available.

“A study by Hewlett Packard and the University of London found that when we divert our attention to incoming calls and messages, it dings our IQ by 10 percent; that’s twice the effect of smoking marijuana.”

Taking a break from complex “Uphill Work” results in pleasurable feelings and emotional gratification. Minimize the lure of distraction by using technology to prevent you from going onto social media platforms. Create an uncluttered workspace or switch workplaces, if doing so helps you concentrate. Increase your “frustration tolerance” and teach yourself to stick with complex tasks, resisting the pull of “Downhill Work” – the more you practice this, the easier it will become.

About the author

Leadership expert Michael Hyatt‘s other books include The Vision Driven Leader and Your Best Year Ever.

Michael Hyatt is the founder and CEO of Michael Hyatt & Company, a leadership development firm specializing in transformative live events, workshops, and digital and physical planning tools. Formerly chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, Michael is also a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of several books, including Living Forward, Your Best Year Ever, and Platform. His work has been featured by the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Inc., Fast Company, Businessweek, Entrepreneur, and other publications. Michael has been married to his wife, Gail, for 40 years. They have five daughters, three sons-in-law, and eight grandchildren. They live just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Learn more at


Employees, Attitudes, Productivity, Organization and Time Management Skills, Organizational Behavior, Self Help, Business, Money, Personal Development, Leadership, Psychology, Management
Health, Time Management in Business, Personal Success in Business

Table of Contents

Stepping into Focus 11
Step 1 Stop
1 Formulate: Decide What You Want 25
2 Evaluate: Determine Your Course 43
3 Rejuvenate: Reenergize Your Mind and Body 65
Step 2 Cut
4 Eliminate: Flex Your “No’5 Muscle 91
5 Automate: Subtract Yourself from the Equation 115
6 Delegate: Clone Yourself-or Better 137
7 Consolidate: Plan Your Ideal Week 161
8 Designate: Prioritize Your Tasks 183
9 Activate: Beat Interruptions and Distractions 205
Put Your Focus to Work 223
Acknowledgments 229
Notes 233
Index 245


Everyone gets 168 hours a week, but it never feels like enough, does it? 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. You know, 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. Just imagine having free time again. It’s not a pipe dream.

In Free to Focus, New York Times bestselling author Michael Hyatt reveals to readers nine proven ways to win at work so they are finally free to succeed at the rest of life—their health, relationships, hobbies, and more. He helps readers redefine their goals, evaluate what’s working, cut out the nonessentials, focus on the most important tasks, manage their time and energy, and build momentum for a lifetime of success.


“One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. No one understands this better than Michael Hyatt, and he’s engineered a new, easy-to-follow approach to harness this power in his new book Free to Focus.”–Tony Robbins, #1 New York Times bestselling author, Unshakeable

“Free to Focus will push you to use your time well and to become a better version of the person you were created to be.”–Dave Ramsey, New York Times bestselling author and nationally syndicated radio show host

“Great stories are thought through before they’re written. Great lives are the same. Mike gives us a framework to plan our lives in such a way that we won’t have to experience regret. This is a great book.”–Donald Miller, New York Times bestselling author; founder and CEO, StoryBrand

“Busyness is meaningless. What matters is consistently executing the work that actually matters. This book shows you how.”–Cal Newport, New York Times bestselling author, Deep Work and Digital Minimalism

“Michael Hyatt is one of the best leaders I know. Leaders rely on smart systems to help them lead in the office as well as at home, and Free to Focus provides the kind of system that every smart leader craves.”–John C. Maxwell, author, speaker, and leadership expert

“I’ve been where you may be now–buried under a mountain of daily tasks, watching my biggest goals and most important projects slip further and further out of reach. Here’s the solution. Michael Hyatt has created a productivity system that really works. Free to Focus does not disappoint.”–Lewis Howes, New York Times bestselling author, The School of Greatness and The Mask of Masculinity

Video and Podcast

    Ads Blocker Image Powered by Code Help Pro

    Your Support Matters...

    We run an independent site that\'s committed to delivering valuable content, but it comes with its challenges. Many of our readers use ad blockers, causing our advertising revenue to decline. Unlike some websites, we haven\'t implemented paywalls to restrict access. Your support can make a significant difference. If you find this website useful and choose to support us, it would greatly secure our future. We appreciate your help. If you\'re currently using an ad blocker, please consider disabling it for our site. Thank you for your understanding and support.