We like to say that there are never enough hours in the day.
But, what if there really was enough time to accomplish everything we wanted to in a day?
It may sound crazy, but you actually hold the power to be “indistractable.” That’s at least what Dr. Nir Eyal – author of Indistractable – has found to be true. He outlines four steps to becoming indistractable and regaining control of our lives.
Here’s what we’re unpacking today:
- The sources of distraction
- Internal and external triggers of distraction
- Using tech against tech to achieve real traction
This post is based on a podcast with Dr. Nir Eyal. You can listen to the full episode here and below.
Sources of distraction
How do you classify a distraction?
Dr. Nir Eyal: So, you have traction and you have distraction. Now, what prompts us, what comes before the action that leads to traction or distraction, is a trigger.
There are two types of triggers: external triggers and internal triggers. External triggers you’ll be familiar with. These are the pings, dings, rings, all of these things in our environment that prompt us to either traction or distraction.
There’s nothing wrong with these triggers. It’s about what we use them for. Are we using them or are they using us?
It’s really about asking, “Is this tool serving me or am I serving it?”
However, in my research what I discovered was the most common form of distraction was not the pings and dings, it was in fact the distractions that come from within us.
The most common sources of distraction are called internal triggers. Internal triggers are uncomfortable emotional states that we seek to escape.
Neurologically speaking, we do not do things for the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Everything we do, every behavior – traction or distraction – is motivated by one thing: the desire to modulate our mood to escape discomfort.
Everything we do is done out of a desire to escape discomfort. It’s called the homeostatic response. That means time management is pain management.
1. Master internal triggers
Walk us through the first step to becoming indistractable.
Dr. Nir Eyal: The first step is to master those internal triggers. If you don’t learn how to manage the boredom, the uncertainty, the fatigue, the stress whatever it is that you are using that prompts you to use a device, to use a distraction, no life hack, no productivity book, no technique is going to save you.
We have got to come to grips with the real reasons. This is why I thought it was so important to write Indistractable. We use distractions like babies with a pacifier.
They help us escape uncomfortable sensations. So, we can do two things to master our internal triggers. We can either change the source of the discomfort (fix the problem) or learn tactics to cope with that discomfort in a healthier manner.
2. Make time for traction
Dr. Nir Eyal: Step number two is to make time for traction or turn your values into time.
Turns out, two-thirds of Americans don’t keep a calendar. You cannot call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from.
So, if you show me your calendar, I should be able to see what it is you wanted to do with your time and you have no right to say, “Oh, I got distracted.” Because, if you didn’t plan your day you get no sympathy.
You have to plan every part of your day, down to the minute.
People say they need time for flexibility and to be spontaneous and what if their schedule changes. I show you how to conquer all that stuff.
But, the fact is if you don’t know where you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to do for every minute of the day, even if it’s doing nothing, even if you’re meditating, even if you’re just daydreaming, it’s got to have a place in your calendar.
You’ve got to make time for traction or you can’t complain about getting distracted, because how do you know what you got distracted from?
3. Decrease external triggers
Dr. Nir Eyal: The next step is to hack back the external triggers.
This is kind of the stuff that a lot of people think about hacking back: the pings, dings and rings on your phone or your computer. There are a lot of very simple steps that we can take that most people don’t.
However, those are just two environments: your phone and your laptop. Turns out there are actually eight different environments, one of the most pernicious forms of distraction is the open floor plan office.
Every copy of Indistractable comes with a screen sign. You pull it out of the book, you fold it into thirds and you put this bright red sign on your computer monitor or screen. It says, “I’m indistractable at the moment, please come back later.” Now that’s just one example of many different tactics that we can use.
4. Make a pact
Dr. Nir Eyal: Finally, the last step of the four is something we have to do after we’ve done the other three.
After we master internal triggers, after we’ve made time for traction, after we’ve hacked back the internal triggers, the last step is to prevent distraction with pacts.
Now, this is one of the most well-studied and oldest ways to prevent distraction: making some kind of pre-commitment to make sure we don’t get distracted later on. This is where we can actually use tech against tech.
There are thousands of free tools. So, I show you how to use these tools, how to make these different pacts in your life so that you can prevent distraction and not get pulled away from something that you wanted to do.
If you want to live the kind of life that you dream of, if you want to be the kind of person that you yourself admire, someone who keeps promises to themselves, you have to learn how to become indistractable.