Our daily life is filled with distractions. With all the blips and pings from our devices, there is rarely time to focus on anything. In his latest book Indistractable, Nir Eyal proposes a framework to tackle distractions and become indistractable.
Of course, one part involves managing external triggers (e.g., the usual culprit, technology). The more important part, however, involves managing internal triggers—in other words, ourselves.
Before looking at these two types of triggers, we need to define what a distraction is. A distraction is what pulls you away from what you set your mind on. Here, your intention is the key. You need to know what you intend to do at a moment. To become indistractable, you need to set your intention on how to spend your time.
Eyal suggests using your calendar to set your intention. If something is important, put it on the calendar. Cal Newport also uses this approach and schedule every minute in his work time. You probably don’t have to go to that extreme. Not everyone can plan how their day is turning out in advance. As long as you know what you want to spend your time on (even if it is binging on a Netflix series), you are already taking the first step to becoming indistractable.
Once we set our intention, then we can prepare to tackle potential distractions. These distractions can come from either internal or external triggers. While we can handle external triggers with hacks (e.g., no screen time after 9 pm), we are probably not good at dealing with internal triggers.
The big insight from Indistractable is time management is pain management. Humans are mostly driven by the desire to avoid pain. Think about when you last checked your cellphone while writing. Why did you do that? Is it to avoid to the discomfort of finishing a tricky sentence?
To address this, we need to learn to tolerate the discomfort that comes with finishing what we set out to do. You can start by keeping track of your emotions before you get distracted, noting what the emotion is, and explore it with curiosity. You can also try to make the task more fun by focusing on mastering the task or introducing some variety. Finally, remember that your self-image affects your actions. See yourself as someone who doesn’t get distracted but be kind to yourself when you slip.
One main technique that you can use to prevent distraction is making a pact to yourself. First, you precommit to completing a task. Then, you can make it harder or costlier to get distracted (e.g., putting your cell phone in a safe lock on an attic, having to donate $100 to a charity you dislike if you don’t complete a task).
The book also mentions practical tips on tackling distraction. It is pretty well-researched Surprisingly, I quite like the chapter about how to raise indistractable kids (I have none), and relationships.
- Technology is not the only one at blame for the age of distraction. We are are also responsible. The good news is we can work on it.
- Set your intention on how to spend your time. Timebox your calendar and don’t let other things get in the way whether they are internal or external triggers.
- Time management is pain management.
- Make a pact. Precommit to prevent distractions.