The next time you are on a train, at an airport, or in line at a supermarket- pause. Unplug from your own phone and just observe. Notice how many people are slumped over in submission to their smart phone devices. But, why? We rarely question it. Nir Eyal's newest book, Indistractable, provokes a re-examination and offers an inside out approach to become more connected to ourselves, to our family and to our colleagues.
The last time I encountered Eyal, I was a guest participant in one of his workshops for Hooked, his book about forming and breaking habits. In Indistractable, co-written with his wife Julie Li, he explains how to hack back distraction and gain traction in our lives. Now that we have gotten hooked to our smart phones, our apps, and our social media feeds, Eyal spells out ways to become more present and use technology to flourish.
Indistractable, manages to make Nir Eyal the Marie Kondo (author of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up) of time management.
We have normalized constant distractions. We relinquish our own head space for regular beeps, tremors and vibrations to pull us away from a conversation with a loved one, or a colleague's update, in order to check out a social feed. After re-examining my own choices for constant interruption, I realized it is all a bit weird.
In Indistractable the largest lesson is that our distraction problem is deeper than technology. The book helps us examine the actual reasons we do things against our own best interests. Eyal frames the process of becoming less distracted in terms of four phases.
Phase 1: Master
In the first section of the book, Eyal explores the root causes of distraction and helps you to identify what truly motivates you so that you can master internal triggers. As he states, "Time management is pain management".
Phase 2: Make Time
Eyal defines traction as "actions that draw us toward what we want in life". It is important to schedule time for yourself, with your family, and for your work. Blocking out time is helpful because "You can't call something a distraction unless you know what it is distracting you from".
Phase 3: Hack Back
It is important to determine if an external trigger (e.g. your Facebook feed) is serving you or if you are serving it. For example, group chat is meant to be used occasionally. Eyal shared that even the employees at Slack only use the Slack app intermittently and intentionally. They do not use Slack channels as their constant and regular form of communication.
Phase 4: Use Pacts
Eyal recommends making precommitments with yourself and others to anticipate and prevent distraction. Precommitments help you to stick to your decisions in advance. For example, Eyal shares how he uses Focusmate when writing. With Focusmate you essentially have a work buddy, connected through videi, who may be on a different continent. You simultaneously and quietly go about your work. Their presence provides friendly peer pressure to stick to (for example) a timed writing commitment.
My three biggest takeaways from Indistractable are as follows:
Start with What Matters
I took Eyal's advice and decluttered my laptop's desktop of all but one folder. By removing external triggers from my line of sight, I now literally exhale calmly each time I turn on my computer. I smile at my pretty desktop with its customized image and one remaining folder. The clear space provides instant zen. I also hacked a constant 'do not disturb' feature on my laptop so that I no longer hear beeps each time a new email enters my inbox. I schedule time later specfically to go through email.
Structure Frees You Up
I love the paradox that structure frees us. By becoming a timebox machine and scheduling in time for yourself, your family and your work you can celebrate tiny successes throughout the day. We value what we measure- and setting aside time for an activity is a type of measurement.
I've long been a proponent of play: it is a form of experimentation and discovery. By taking even a few simple steps towards the direction of becoming indistractable, you begin to schedule and prioritize play as much as you do work. Play and rest become core values that you actually practice.
Indistractable is a great book to help you realign your values and activate them: in real time.