Last week, QuantumListing was lucky enough to have bestselling author Nir Eyal on our weekly webinar series to talk about his new book, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. While there is plenty to unpack from this incredibly dense and helpful book, Nir gave us a great summary of the key ideas that left the listeners eager to now read the book themselves. In fact, one viewer even ordered the book while on the webinar
Before writing Indistractable, Nir wrote the book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. Just by looking at the title of this book, it may strike you as ironic that the same author who wrote a book about how to get people hooked on technology also wrote about how to control your technology use.
Don’t worry, Nir doesn’t tell you not to use technology by any means. He just wants you to use it in a healthier way so that it doesn’t control your personal or professional lives.
As Nir explains his journey to writing the book Indistractable, he recalls that it was a greatly personal journey that brought him to begin researching the ideas behind the book. It all started one day when he and his daughter had great plans for a full day of activities; however, when Nir asked his daughter a question during their bonding activities, he couldn’t even remember her response because his attention was taken over his phone.
Due to this occurrence, Nir decided enough was enough and he was going to get to the bottom of the ever present problem in modern day society of attention deficiency.
But he first asserts that this problem did not originate with the omnipresence of smartphones or social media; rather, it has been an ongoing societal problem since ancient times, dating back to ancient greek philosophers. Plato and Socrates described the notion Akrasia, which is the human tendency to act against our better judgment.
Why is it that when we know what we need to do and how to do it, we instead resort to doing something else and not completing the task at hand? Is it that we lack a plan of attack or perhaps we just have short attention spans?
Nir gives us a great deal of tips throughout the webinar to help us better manage our time and to avoid distractions. While it is difficult to give justice to all of the incredibly useful information Nir bestowed upon us, here are a few of our favorite tips and tricks:
One of Nir’s most important pieces of advice was when planning your to do list or daily schedule, try to focus on the input of time rather than the output of what you want done. For example, say you have sales calls to make - don’t say, “I’m going to make 30 calls this afternoon” or “I am going to close 2 deals today.” Rather, a more effective plan would be to say, “I’m going to make sales calls for 2 hours.”
Do you know that you can successfully make 30 calls? Not necessarily. Plus, you probably cannot guarantee the amount of deals you close. What you can control, however, is the amount of time you devote to a certain activity.
That is, assuming that you give your undivided attention to that particular activity. This raises the question of how? If you plan the input, the output will follow.
If we know what we want to do and how to do it, why not just do it, as Nike suggests?
Another one of Nir’s tips that he repeatedly emphasized is that it’s okay to be distracted. Not only that, but it’s also okay to indulge in activities that are not necessarily productive without feeling guilty. Say you are about to write a blog post for your job. You start typing the title of the article, but then draw a blank so you resort to searching movies on the web.
There’s no problem with that, as long as your searching doesn’t lead to then, well watching a movie. So is it okay to watch a movie? Of course! But plan for it. Put it into your schedule, rather than doing it when you are supposed to be writing your blog post.
As a guideline, Nir says to limit your web searching to 10 minutes and use curiosity as your surfboard, and it will then pass. Similarly, he does not say to avoid all guilty pleasures like Netflix or social media. Rather, he suggests that you should plan out your schedule so that you make time for these leisure activities.
It’s easier than you may think if you construct your schedule in the right way. You can make time for all of these various activities by using what Nir calls a time boxed calendar. With this too, you can make your schedule in a block system that allocates a certain amount of time for each activity.
Remember, focus on the input of time rather than the output. Okay, but maybe your calendar is already full of meetings, reminders, and appointments. That’s why Nir provides us with a great schedule making tool that you can find directly on his website. Use it to start practicing good time management.
Check out this article to find the free tool, Schedule Builder, that helps you construct a simple and attainable daily schedule. At the end of the day, you will now feel accomplished with your time rather than distressed or guilty! I promise it works - I’ve already tried it and have found myself more productive even in just a couple days of using it. No more recycled to do lists now!
You may be okay with being distracted, but your health is not. The loneliness created by the constant state of distraction in today’s technology world hurts our personal relationships and is so harmful to our health that it’s even worse than smoking or obesity.
When looking at the word “distraction,” we can see it as the opposite of the word “traction.” So, if distraction is doing things we don’t want to do, then traction would be doing things that we do want to do. Both words come from the same root word and end with “action,” showing us that both are things that we do and control rather than things that happen to us.
For example, you might say that you got distracted by a project because your phone kept ringing, dinging, and pinging. Is the phone really the distraction, or is it just an external trigger. After we have an external trigger, we react either with distraction or traction, doing what we want to do.
There is another type of trigger in addition to external ones, which you may have guessed is called an internal trigger. These triggers come from thoughts within our own head through a process called a homeostatic response which is our way of escaping discomfort. Examples of these responses are incredibly simple; for example, you are hungry and you then eat or you are cold so you put on a sweater.
The first step in this difficult process is to master these internal triggers and understand the discomfort that we are trying to escape. Don’t hate the player, hate the game and don’t blame the symptom, blame the reaction. Two things we can do about it: the first would be to fix the source of the problem and the second being learning how to cope with it. While it is great to fix the problem, you can’t always do that.
People tell us we have to be happy all the time, which is both untrue and unhelpful. Don’t think that feeling bad is bad - part of being a human being is feeling uncomfortable sensations. Instead, learn to cope in a healthier manner so that we are led toward traction instead of distraction. If everything you do is prompted to escape a discomfort, that means that time management is pain management.
One of the ways to cope with this is to simply note the sensation and even write it down. Then, it’s important to get curious about this uncomfortable sensation and wonder why you are feeling this way. Lastly, you want to understand that your emotions will ebb and flow just like a wave. Start to impose a ten minute rule on yourself we discussed earlier..
During those ten minutes, you can’t give into temptation, but for just that allotted time. Once you surfed that uncomfortable feeling for ten minutes, if you still want to give in to it, go ahead. Otherwise, get back to the task originally at hand and make it feel like it’s something you want to do rather than something you have to do.
During Nir’s research for this book, he interviewed hundreds of people who all described themselves as easily distracted. The one thing all these people had in common is that they would say how everything is distracting and they can’t get anything done with all the demands in their life. When Nir asked them, what exactly were you being distracted from?
None of these people knew how to answer the question because they never had a plan or intent of what they wanted to get done. ⅔ of Americans don’t keep any kind of a schedule. How can you call it a distraction then if you weren’t trying to do something else?
In addition to these physical more tangible responses, we also use a homeostatic response to psychological triggers like loneliness or boredom. This is why if you’re feeling lonely, you may find yourself checking Facebook or if you are feeling bored, you may search the web for articles.
Communicate to your triggers that you are currently in focus mode and cannot devote your time to anything else for now. You can do this by using the Do Not Disturb feature on your phone, a note to colleagues on your computer, or even some technological tools like the Forest app on your smart device or SelfControl on your computer, which locks you into your task at hand and helps you avoid distracting stimuli.
Other helpful tactics include having a friend that helps you focus. This “focus friend” could be one of your colleagues or it could actually be someone online. There’s a tool called FocusMate.com that connects you with a stranger somewhere across the world who wants to focus on work for an allotted amount of time that you have chosen as well.
Nir’s last and maybe most important tip is to talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend. People who are self-compassionate have been found to be much more likely to achieve their long term goals.
We are not powerless, we can do it, and we all can get the best out of technology. It is our friend, rather than our enemy!
1: Manage internal triggers
2. Make time for traction
3. Hack back external triggers
4. Reduce distraction with pacts
Do you have some favorite time management tips? Do you think becoming indistractable is the skill of the century? Let us know in the comments!