In today's world, distractions abound. There are dings and lock screen messages and little red bubbles in the right hand corner of an app I swear have been sent to make me insane. Like so many people out there, the lure of procrastination draws me in on a regular basis.

Of course, I've gotten really good at disguising my procrastination as work -- something I've come to call "productive procrastination". For example, part of my job is promoting my business on social media, which makes it a convenient excuse to spend a bit too much time "researching" by scrolling through feeds. 

As Nir Eyal outlines in his new book, Indistractable, notifications are the big problem in this cycle. If my phone were across the room and I didn't hear the ding, feel it buzz, or see a lock screen notification I wouldn't be as compelled to check. This aligns with a 2018 article in Education and Health, which explained that unpredictable rewards work together with the push notifications to build a habitual cycle for people. 

Distraction is fueled by opportunity. Turn off your notifications.

This point was reinforced by one of my favorite examples from the book about flight attendants who were smokers. They were each polled about their desire to smoke at specific intervals during the flight. Some were on a four hour flight and others on a nine hour flight. If the desire to smoke was merely biological, they should have increased cravings at the same time. 

Instead, the study found that those on the shorter flight had their desire increase significantly within the last hour of the flight. Those on the nine-hour flight did not have cravings halfway through, presumably because they knew it was not an option. 

No opportunity, no distraction or craving. 

The same cycle happens when you get a ding, ping or buzz on your phone. The solution? Put it away or turn off the notifications. I removed notifications from everything on my phone except texts and calls -- everything else is retrieved on my action. And you know what? I've never been happier.

Question the intention of your distraction.

As I mentioned earlier, I can't completely ignore social media as the success of my business depends on me being there. So, how can I find balance? 

My brain wants me on social media because it is drawn to the appeal of rewards, so of course my first reaction will be to say I "need" to be there all the time. 

Instead of blindly accepting this, I asked myself questions to get at the root of what was required to meet my goals, like: 

  • Why do I need to be on social media?
  • What is the point?
  • What am I trying to achieve and what specific actions will get me there?
  • How long will that take?
  • What can be outsourced to keep me on track with my other goals?

These questions helped me determine I need 45 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening to meet my business' goals. Now that I know the amount of time, it gets blocked off every day to keep it productive. 

Setting the proper amount of time aside is traction on the way to reaching my goals --everything else is distraction and should be eliminated (or at least significantly reduced). 

Remind yourself what you're missing.

Our brains are all hard-wired to become distracted. If you want to change the pattern and stop being so distracted, you need a strong why. Nir sums it up beautifully when he says, "Being indistractable means striving to do what you say you will do."

When distracted, we over commit ourselves, miss deadlines, and show up late for meetings. In my case, allowing myself to procrastinate and use social media beyond the traction point means I need to work late or on the weekends. I have missed dinners with the family or my son's baseball game because I needed to work. To be fair, this is not exclusively the fault of procrastination or a little too much time on social media. However, being more intentional with my goals (which include time with family) will certainly help lessen the allure of productive procrastination. 

Distractions are everywhere, and they will likely continue to snowball because it is in a company's best interest to have all of us actively using their app or software. It is up to each of us to understand what those default settings are and change them if they don't align with our goals. 

For me, removing notifications was the first step. What will yours be?