Becoming indistractable is the skill of the century, according to Nir Eyal.
We couldn’t be more excited about Nir Eyal’s newest book, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. Living in today’s society has become increasingly problematic for most people, as adults and kids alike are glued to screens and are, simply put, distracted. As the bestselling author of Hooked, we wanted to get Nir’s take on how we can become indistractable and lead healthier, more productive lives. Check out the informative Q&A below, and don’t miss the opportunity to get copies of Indistractable for your team, organization or classroom.
When did you realize you had a great follow-up book to your bestseller Hooked? Was there something that happened that helped you realize how much we all struggle with distraction and need strategies to help us become less distracted?
The seminal moment for me was when I was with my daughter one afternoon and we were playing a game. We were reading through this book of activities that daddies and daughters can do together, and one of the activities was to ask each other this question: “If you could have any superpower, what superpower would you want?” I remember asking the question, but I don’t remember my daughter’s reply because, while she was telling me what her superpower would be, I was distracted. I was on my device looking at something. I don’t even remember what it was, and I wasn’t paying attention to her.
If I told you it just happened once, I’d be lying. I was distracted many times, not only with her but also when I was out with my friends. When I was sitting at my desk trying to get some work done, I would constantly be doing something that I didn’t plan to do. And so that’s when I realized that if I’m struggling with this problem, other people must be as well. I figured who better to reveal how to put distraction in its place than the guy who wrote a book on how products are designed to be engaging.
What are the first steps to minimizing distraction in one’s life?
First, one must understand what distraction is and is not. The opposite of distraction is traction. Both of these words come from the same Latin root “trahare” which means “to pull”. You’ll notice that both end in the same six-letter word, action. So, traction is any action that pulls you towards what you want. Therefore, distraction is any action that pulls you away from what you really want to do.
The first step to minimize distraction is to understand what you want to do with your time. You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from. Once you know what you want to do with your time, you can actually work the four steps of the indistractable model to make sure that you spend more time in traction and less time in distraction.
Can you tell us more about the four steps of the indistractable model?
The four steps of the indistractable model are about hacking back all distraction. We can work our way around this model starting with mastering our internal triggers. Internal triggers are these uncomfortable emotional states that we seek to escape. You can use all the life hacks and productivity tips out there, but if you don’t fundamentally understand that the reason we get distracted is to escape psychological discomfort, you will always get distracted by something.
Step two is to make time for traction. That’s done by planning your day and syncing your calendar with your colleagues, with your family, etc.
The next step is to hack back the external triggers. These are the pings, dings, and rings—all of the things that take us off track. In the book, I explain how to hack them back, not only on your phone, but also your work environment, meetings, and email. All of these places that we work in can take us off track. It’s important that we learn how to hack back those external triggers.
The last step is to prevent distraction with packs. Here we can use a very old technique called making a pre-commitment, which allows us to stay on track when we’re tempted to be distracted. When you use these four techniques in concert, you become indistractable.
I love the example of app categories mentioned in Indistractable: primary tools, aspirations, and slot machines. Can you elaborate on what these mean and how to best arrange them on our phones for efficiency and minimizing distraction?
The idea here is that we want to remove the external triggers that don’t serve us. Whenever we think about external triggers, we need to understand that they are not all bad. These pings, dings, and rings are helpful if they prompt us towards traction as opposed to distraction. So if an external trigger helps you do something you wanted to do, that’s wonderful. It’s moving you towards traction. But if it’s taking you off track, towards something that you didn’t plan to do, it’s a distraction. We have to start by asking ourselves, “Is this trigger serving me or am I serving it?” And then we can decide which of these external triggers we keep in our life versus which ones we excise from our life.
A great tool to minimize external triggers is rearranging our phones. We don’t need every app on our home screen. We can tuck those away in screen two, three, four, five so that they’re not constantly distracting us. Your home screen should only consist of primary tools: the things that we use every day that we absolutely need, such as email, calendar, or maps. Aspirations, such as fitness or productivity apps, can go on page two.
Lastly, there are the apps that we want to either take off our phone completely and only use on the desktop, or really tuck away somewhere difficult to get to. We call these slot machine apps. This comes from Tony Stumamine who noticed that many apps—social media and gaming, specifically—are designed to consume our time. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, as long as we use it on our schedule as opposed to on the app maker’s schedule.
What’s your best advice for ensuring people are present and prepared for meetings?
Meetings are a huge source of potential distraction. How many pointless meetings do we attend every week? Countless meetings. A lot of times people call meetings not for the company’s benefit but for their own psychological pacification. Far too many people call meetings because they are too lazy to do the work themselves.
One of the ways we can make sure that that’s not the case is to simply create an agenda and briefing document ahead of the meeting. This makes sure that we only call meetings that are really needed.
How do we cut down on email from a productivity efficiency standpoint if it is the channel we primarily use to build relationships and drive revenue?
Email is not going anywhere, but there are some simple things you can do to make sure you get the best out of email without it getting the best of you. When I was writing Hooked, one of the psychological tricks I discovered that many companies use is this idea of a variable reward—that there is some kind of uncertainty that keeps us engaged. Email is the mother of variable reward because it always has this element of uncertainty. What does the email say? How urgent is it? Is it good news or bad news?
It turns out where we waste time on email isn’t the replying to emails, it’s the unnecessary rechecking of emails. One way to combat this is to label each and every email by when it needs a reply. If it needs a reply today, we label it as such. And if it needs a reply this week, we label it with that heading as well. If we have time in our calendar to only reply to the emails that need a response today, we’ll leave the rest of them for some time in the week where we have more time.
Unfortunately, what happens is that many people think every email is urgent, so they end up checking email too frequently. Because they’re constantly checking and rechecking, they forgot which email needs a reply when. By labeling emails according to the urgency of when they need a reply, you are answering far fewer emails per day, and you’re only answering them during your allotted time.
What do you hope most people will take away from reading Indistractable?
The popular narrative today is that technology is manipulating us, it’s addictive, and it’s hijacking our brains. I think that narrative has gone way too far. It’s not based on science, it’s not helpful, and it’s just not true. In fact, there are all kinds of things we can do to put technology in its place and make sure we get the best out of it—whether that’s in the workplace, for our kids, or, most importantly, for ourselves. We must become indistractable. This is the skill of the century.
This post was written by Karlyn Hixson, Marketing Director at BookPal. She is currently reading Great Leaders Have No Rules by Kevin Kruse.