Jun 16, 2021
10 mins read
Lately, I have been very distracted. And after reading some articles online, just like them, I blamed technology and social media for distraction. So to get me back to focus, I picked this book up. Interestingly, I found out that wasting time on my digital devices was a symptom, rather than the cause of the distraction! It even gave me insights that I can use for company culture. If these interest you, keep listening!
Hi, I am Dae and you're listening to Dae Lee Book Club, the audio experiment.
Today I will be talking about Indistractable by Nir Eyal
Focus is key to success in any field. If you are distracted, you are hardly likely to finish something that will push you to become better and better leading to success.
But it's not easy since the world is full of distractions. Even entertainment can be distracted. I was talking to a friend before and she said that it took her half a day to finish a movie that was just under 3 hours. This was because she was trying to finish a report at the same time talking to people that she had to rewind or pause the movie continuously.
So if this is the case how do we stay productive?
The author wrote this book as an antidote to the distraction which is called becoming indistractable. And mastering this would be a skill that would be valuable in the years to come. I am no master yet at this but it has been really helpful.
While I was reading this book it hit me hard. Distraction starts from within. It is not external. We have always blamed technology, but think about it, if you give up your devices whether it be your phone, laptop, or tablet, you will still procrastinate. And this is so true since I end up dusting my books or doodling or start playing golf in my head even if I don't know how to play it. Our brains are high-level masters of inventing forms of distractions.
When we are distracted, we have to look at triggers to understand them.
A trigger is basically something that pushes us to do something. And this can be divided into two forms. External triggers, come from the outside. Like the ding of your notifications on your phone. On the other hand, there are Internal triggers, like feeling bored or stressed, that comes from within.
Interestingly triggers are not just distractions, it can lead us to traction too! Things that push us to pursue our goals and ambitions. Of course, distractions are the opposite, dragging us away from those goals and ambitions.
This is the reason why we can't only blame technology for distractions since we mentioned that traction and distraction come from internal sources. And to be really blunt, distraction is about escaping something uncomfortable, such as not speaking to your co-worker about an issue, finishing a report, or planning what you have to do for the week. Here is the hard truth - we blame or keep blaming technology for our inability to get things done and continuously avoid looking at the underlying problem. This was a punch in the gut for me.
But if the distraction is about escaping discomfort, shouldn't we just do things that are comfortable to us? The bad news is that humans because of evolution are hardwired for discomfort. It helped our ancestors survive. And because we are hardwired for it, it is just human to see things in a negative light, remember our painful experiences, and quickly get bored of things.
The good news is, understanding that humans are like this, we can use it to push us to traction.
Imagine this, you are sitting down working and suddenly you feel bored after a few lines of emails. Before you know it 30 mins have passed and you were just scrolling to Instagram or TikTok. It's actually not hard to imagine since it happens to most of us every day.
So how do we beat these internal triggers? one way that was mentioned in the book is to record them. Next time you feel yourself getting sucked into distraction, write down what you are feeling and what triggered it. Note down when it occurred and how you felt once you noticed the trigger.
By doing this regularly, you will soon be able to identify triggers. And when you are mindful of them, you will be able to let go of them. The psychologist Jonathan Bricker suggests a simple visualization technique: Imagine sitting next to a stream and watching your distracting thoughts being carried away on leaves floating on the water. I actually just imagine UFOs in the sky that represents my thoughts and a laser zapping them all into explosions.
Another tip from the book is to make tasks more fun. And this is the reason the apps and games on our phones get the attention, they are carefully designed to be engaging. Ian Bogost an interactive computing expert notes that having a system of rewards and challenges makes it an incredibly effective system for engagement. So this is applicable in your work. You can create the challenge of doing a task in record time while still keeping the highest standards. You can even think of serving customers in a new way.
Also, have some trust, believe in yourself, and have self-respect. It sounds all new-agey but what you believe about yourself has a huge impact on what you are capable of accomplishing. If you keep telling yourself that you are powerless when a distraction comes it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It sometimes is a battle based on my own experience but I learned that self-compassion is key, when your inner voice puts you down, use the same voice to talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend you care about. The mind is fascinating indeed.
This next method in the book is a lifesaver. When people ask me about being able to do a lot, it's because I have less time for distractions. After all, I was able to plan. I think one of the authors that I like, Grant Cardone, mentions that the blank spaces in the calendar are the devil. I don't know if I quoted that properly.
But here is the thing if you don't know what you are striving toward, it is impossible to tell what distraction is actually preventing you from achieving. This is why planning is important.
And when planning the best way to plan is to timebox. Setting specific slots in the weekly schedule for the completion of particular tasks.
But this doesn't mean we go crazy and stick to the minute we set. And it's not a guarantee too that we will be able to hit our targets. To be fair some things are really out of our control. Sometimes you'll have to work overtime, there will be emergencies, there will be things that you'd never expect. And that's fine. What timeboxing does is that it gives a framework that makes success possible. If you are not in control of your time, time will control you and it will slip away.
So here is how we can timebox based on the book. Most people might start with creating time slots for work. It's not the best place to start - The first thing you will need is to plan quality time for yourself. The reason is pretty simple. If you are not taking care of yourself, everything else from your work or relationships will suffer. So start with setting aside enough time for proper meals, sleep, and hobbies.
The second part of timeboxing is all about your relationships. Relationships are important because it is what center's you. So take time to give time to the people you love rather than giving them what is left over.
Only when the two are done, then you try placing time for work. True, most of us don't have the luxury of setting our own working hours, but that doesn't mean you can't control how you use the time you have in the office and at home. Timebox, solo work, emails, collaboration, and such. Yes, things might not always go according to plan, but the discipline will lead you to success sooner than later.
We can take a cue from the aviation industry in the 1980s. There were regulations set that forbade any airline staff from distracting pilots during take-off and landing because it was the most dangerous part of a flight.
Like take-off and landings, there are parts of your day that are more important than others. During those stretches, you need to be fully focused on the task at hand.
Use visual cues that make your current status visible to the people around you. Especially when you are working from home. The author's wife's solution is that she uses a colored card on the desk or a special hat.
Personally, I didn't have the luxury to do this so I just woke up earlier to get myself time without distractions. We do what we gotta do, no excuses.
If you are a leader in an organization, which my data tells me that my podcast listeners are, or are on the way to becoming a leader, you do have the power to cut down distractions. And the key is organization. For example, meetings can only be set when there is an agenda and what steps that they have taken already to tackle the problem. This makes people more prepared and intentional when it comes to scheduling meetings.
We've talked about personal distractions but let us look at structural distractions. These are dysfunctional work cultures.
Straight to the point, if your company is ineffectively organized and run, your attempt to become indistractable will be compromised. A common symptom to look out for is "free time" getting eaten up by work. Such as work overlapping with lunchtime.
Especially in the age of smartphones and having connectivity everywhere, companies expect their workers to be on-call and answer around the clock. And for some, if you resist you can get fired.
We can't really blame technology for this but it is a culture in which time is badly managed. In the long run, workers will be overburdened and will find distractions to compensate. So what can be done especially if you are a leader that wants to genuinely make a change?
A suggestion is to create a platform for employees to voice their concerns safely. Safely is the keyword. If they feel like they will get punished for expressing their opinions, they will keep quiet. And when they express their concerns, objectively see if these concerns should be addressed. Or if it is hard to reply verbally, you can assign meanings to emojis as a reply. Such as the eye emoji signaling that the concern is being looked at, a hug emoji signifying that the management is going to work on it and is sorry about it. Of course, all this won't mean anything if there is no follow-through.
Leaders have a special duty to cultivate that sense of safety by leading by example. Create a learning culture where people take calculated risks because they are not scared of failing or getting reprimanded.
But then again even before we do all these things, let's take a step back to try being indistractable. As mentioned technology isn't really responsible for our distractions, it is on us to dig deeper and understand the psychology behind why we do get distracted. And once we understand and become mindful of the triggers, we can counteract them. A quick actionable can be, every time you need the urge to be distracted or you catch yourself reaching for your phone, stop and postpone the distraction by 10 minutes. Think that you can reward yourself with the distraction after 10 minutes. Most of the time, you won't even notice that 10 minutes have passed and you will realize that you were able to finish what you were supposed to do. This technique I use a lot. I just used it a few minutes ago when I was making this summary.
So cheers to being indistractable!
Let's all work on it!
And that was a summary of Indistractable by Nir Eyal.
Share this with your friends and together let us all be indistractable.
I am always open to book suggestions so keep them coming. Feel free to tag me or message me on Instagram @daelee!