Don’t have enough time in the day? Regularly feel frustrated and over-worked?
You can safely blame it on distraction. On average, once you get distracted you will take 23 mins to fully get back into the flow of what you were doing. And we check our phone 100s of times a day. Even if only a small part of those distract us from what we are supposed to do, imagine the time it costs to get back to work. The quality of work suffers, our time with loved ones suffers, free time to rejuvenate suffers, sleep suffers. It’s important to be aware of the damage these seemingly little distractions are causing to our mental and physical health.
Awareness is just the first step. How to overcome Distraction? How to win back our time? How to become a person who is weaponized against the distractions? That’s exactly what Nir Eyal tries to tell us in his book “Indistractable ” . In this summary, I will unpack the following insights from his book -
What does traction (opposite of distraction) look like?
Making time for our values
Mastering internal triggers
Mastering external triggers
Prevent distraction with pacts
1. What motivates us to distract?
Traction is doing things that take us towards achieving our goals. Distraction is doing things that deviate us from achieving our goals.
It’s easy to blame tech for our distractions but the root cause lies mostly in ourselves. We actively look for distractions when we try to escape painful activities. Even when we seek pleasure, we are driven by the desire to free ourselves from the pain of wanting. Simply put the drive to relieve discomfort Is the root cause of our Behavior, while everything else is a proximate cause.
Most people don’t want to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that distraction is always an unhealthy escape from reality. It is just another way our brains attempt to deal with pain. Only by understanding our pain can we begin to control it and stop it from pushing us towards our distractions.
The key culprits to look for and deal with are:-
2. Make time for our Values
To make traction, we need to examine how we spend our time. And to do that, we need to begin with our values. Values are how we want to be, what we want to stand for, and how we want to relate to the world around us.
One effective way to make time for traction is through “time-boxing” which involves setting an “implementation intention” . Deciding what you are gonna do, when and where, drastically increases the chance of you doing it. Once you decide, focus on making sure you stick to the plan. Success is more about doing whatever you planned to do, even if you planned to watch a movie or daydream.
The 3 life domains we spend most of our time are - Ourselves, Relationships, Work. We should define and live our values in each of these 3 domains by reserving the appropriate time in our schedules.
Values for ourselves -
Taking care of ourselves is at the core. If we don’t take care of yourself, our relationships suffer and our work will suffer.
At a basic level, we need time for sleep, hygiene, and proper nourishment.
Don’t worry about the outcomes. Worry about the inputs - spending quality time in activities that are in sync with your values.
Values for relationships -
Satisfying relationships need 3 things - someone to talk to, someone to depend on, someone to enjoy. It comes naturally when you are young but becomes increasingly difficult when you grow old. Less time we spend with them, the easier it is to make do without them until one day it is too awkward to connect
Family and friends help us live our values of connection, loyalty, and responsibility.
People in our life should not be content with whatever time is leftover.
Everyone benefits when we schedule time for relationships and live up to it.
Recent studies have shown that loneliness is very dangerous to our health.
Values for work -
Unfortunately, anxiety-inducing signals like working late till night, Responding immediately to emails and messages have become necessary to showcase that you are a loyal member of the organization.
This effects the time we spend on ourselves and our relationships. If it ends up being more than we bargained for then we jump ship.
Our workdays are hectic mess - constant interruptions, pointless meetings, never-ending emails. Try to time-box these activities so that we get enough time for deep work.
Have a schedule at work that we stick to. Try to push back against things that come in the path of sticking to our schedule.
3. Master Internal triggers
We can manage distractions that originate from within by thinking differently about the trigger, the task, and our temperament. Furthermore, by reimagining an uncomfortable internal trigger, such as an urge to google something, we can disarm it.
The following four steps help handle intrusive thoughts:
Look for the emotion preceding distraction;
Write down the internal trigger;
Explore the negative sensation with curiosity instead of contempt; and
Be cautious during liminal moments.
One way to master internal triggers is to reimagine an otherwise boring activity. If you’re mowing the lawn, for example, instead of running away or rewarding yourself, look at the activity differently until you discover new challenges you didn’t see before (e.g beating a record time).
To reimagine your temperament, Eyal advises:
Avoiding believing willpower is limited;
Labeling yourself as having self-control; and
4. Master External triggers
Contrary to belief, external triggers aren’t always harmful. Of each external trigger, ask: “Is this trigger serving me, or am I serving it?” Does it lead to traction or distraction? If it’s the former, it serves you.
“Time spent communicating should not come at the sacrifice of time spent concentrating,” writes Eyal. “Group chat is great for replacing in-person meetings but terrible if it becomes an all-day affair.”
To minimize mobile distractions, Eyal advises:
Uninstalling the apps you no longer need;
Shifting where and when you use potentially distracting apps to your desktop instead of your phone;
Moving any apps that may trigger mindless checking from your phone’s home screen; and
Changing the notification settings for each app.
When reading online, save interesting content for later using an app like Pocket. Or, use “multichannel multitasking,” like listening to articles while working out.
5. Prevent distractions with pacts
Precommitments keep you from feeling distracted by removing a future choice. However, they should only be used after the other three indistractable strategies have already been applied.
There are three kinds of pre-commitment you can use to keep yourself on track:
An effort pact prevents distraction by making unwanted behaviors difficult to do. For example, using a Chrome extension like StayFocused to block websites like Facebook and Reddit.
A price pact adds a cost to getting distracted. However, you need to be aware of the following three pitfalls:
Price pacts aren’t good at changing behaviors with external triggers you can’t escape (e.g. nail biting);
Price pacts should only be used for short tasks; and
Entering a price pact is scary.
An identity pact is a precommitment to a self-image.
Living a good life involves not only doing the right things but also not doing the things that we know we will regret later. In this book, Nir Eyal, helps us understand the real reasons behind why we do things against our best interests. He also gives us tactics to deal with such distractions.
Overall it's a quick and easy read. I loved the book. I would rate it 4.5 out of 5.