“Indistractable: How To Conrol your Attention and Choose Your Life” by Nir Eyal

“Indistractable: How To Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life” by Nir Eyal is yet another non-fiction book on productivity that I got hold of. I have to be honest though, that out of all the productivity and focus book recently, this has been one of the most practical and useful ones.

Traction vs. Discraction

I liked that in the book, Nir highlights two important concepts – distraction: something that keeps our attention away from our goals, and traction: something that helps us to advance to our goals:

“On the right side of the continuum is traction, which comes from the Latin trahere, meaning to “draw or pull”. We can think of traction as the actions that draw us toward what we want in life. On the left side is distraction, the opposite of traction, Derived from the same Latin root, the word means the “drawing away of the mind”, Distractions impede us from making progress toward the life that we envision. All behaviours, whether they tend toward traction or distraction, are prompted by triggers, internal or external.”

According to Nir, the triggers and distractions like tech, email, social media will be there all the time but it is our responsibility to manage them.

Being indistractable means striving to do what you say you will do.

One interesting thing that Nir points out is that distraction is a way for us to escape pain in our reality. This would essentially mean that time management is pain management.

Only by understanding our pain can we begin to control it and find better ways to deeal with negative urges.

What is pain motivated by?

Nir highlights several factors that motivate our pain that essentially come from our ancient survival instincs:

  • Boredom: we usually prefer doing thing rather than thinking;
  • Negative bias: this is when we are paying much more attention to negative events rather than positive (well, obviously, our brain has been trained to look for danger);
  • Rumination: “a tendency to keep thinking about bad experiences”.

This dissatisfaction and discomfort is actually our brain’s default state but we can use it to motivate us rather than push us to escape the reality.

Dealing with Internal Triggers

As I mentioned earlier, the triggers that drive our distraction can be either internal or external. For the internal triggers, Nir provides 4 important steps:

  1. Look for the discomfort that precedes the distraction, focusing in on the internal trigger.
  2. Write down the trigger: describe your trigger as if you were an observer.
  3. Explore your sensations: stay with your feelings and observe the before acting up on them.
  4. Beware of liminal moments (transitions from one thing to another throughout the day): e.g. when you are waiting in traffic and start checking your phone.

I liked these suggestions and started using some of them already. For instance, often when I am about to finish a long demanding task at work e.g, a long chat shift with the customers, I would start scrolling through social media instead of getting a proper break. That most often happens to me when I am, for instance, hungry. At the end, I am feeling even worse and I have not eater properly. So now I know that my tendency to scroll through social media is often for me a replacement (for some reason which I need to explore further) for having a good snack or a proper meal.

Similarly, when I finish my work day, I often spend some time scrolling through social media (this is my liminal moment) instead of actually starting on dinner or spending time with family. I have now replaced this with short walks to my garden or petting the dog or playing frisbee outside and it always gives me a much better refreshment for my mind and makes it a good transitional moment.

Some other suggestions for alleviating the boredom that Nir mentions are reimagining the task that you are working on (e.g. adding more fun and play to it) and not labeling yourself as lacking self-control (e.g. being gentle in your self-talk when it comes to distraction).

Making time for traction

Since traction pulls us in life to what we want to accomplish, it is essential to make time for it. This means that before you can do it, you would need to find your why and understand what is important to you so that you can make time for it.

You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it is distracting you from.

And here, Nir suggest a technique which is called time-boxing. Basically, it is blocking out the hours in your calendar for the activities that give you traction. This is something that I have been using some time ago but now started doing again and I think it is the technique that so far help me finish my days with the feeling of accomplishment. What I do is to timebox everything – time for myself, time for reading, time for family, time for work (in the work time, it is even more detailed breakdown). It helps me to objectively look at my schedule and see where I have time for things that matter to me outside of responsibilities that I have. I also found it to be a powerful activity for reflection and just seeing where your time generally goes.

Investing in People, and Yourself

As you can guess, Nir also mentions that scheduling relationship is equally important for having the quality time with those who matter to you. Additionally, scheduling time with yourself is also a thing – either it is an hour of quiet reading or a stroll outside or listening to an audiobook – all these thing still count as a part of traction if one of your goals is healthy and happy being.

The people we love most should not be content with getting whatever time is left over. Everyone benefits when we hold time on our schedule to live up to our value and do our share.

External Triggers

This is my favourite one because I feel like I have tested one million methods for removing those and I am still struggling: I don’t have social media apps on my phone and yet I still install them back, I don’t have a TV in my house, I have replaced the phone by the bedside with several books to grab for reading and yet again, I keep on slipping back. I am much better than before, but I feel like it is a constant battle for me.

I liked how Nir explained this in the book: “The more we respond to external triggers, the more we train our brain in a never-ending stimulus-response loop. We condition ourselves to respond instantly. Soon, it feels impossible to do what we’ve planned because we are constantly reacting to external triggers instead of attending to what’s in front of us.”

The key question that Nir suggests to ask yourself is:

Is this trigger serving me, or am I serving it?

Some practical suggestions that he mentions for dealing with external triggers are:

  • scheduling the replies from your email to go out not right away but later as most of the emails are not urgent;
  • sort our your messages and respond to the urgent ones right away but timebox some time in your week for non-urgent ones as you won’t need to respond to them right away;
  • prepare the agenda for the meeting and some discussion points and make sure everyone go through them as the meetings should be decision-making time rather than everyone getting up to speed (love this because I am really not a fan of meetings);
  • remove all the unnecessary apps from your smartphone, sort our in folders that ones that you use (some folders that I use are “Work”, “Mind”, “Running” etc.), remove all visual and sound notifications (they should not demand your attention unless you are looking for thing specifically);
  • an interesting suggestion on eliminating feeds: you can eliminate YouTube or Facebook feeds with browser extensions to keep you focused specifically on what you are watching (great idea, I have not thought of that but it is for me often a source of distraction);
  • another thing Nir mention is hacking back online articles – I already do something similar: I have IFFTP workflow installed and what it does is that when I see an interesting book or article idea, I just take screenshot for it, and it automatically emails it to me in the folder “Ideas” in my email. That way, I do not need to think about it and I have it saved for later when I need it.

***

The author goes in many many more details in the book and this is specifically why I appreciated it: it had so many great actually practical suggestions on many different aspects. I can definitely recommend to check it out!

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