Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life

Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life

by Nir Eyal

Indistractable offers a set of tools and techniques on how we can keep ourselves from getting distracted so that we can focus on what matters most to us.

Summary Notes

Be Indistractable

“I discovered that living the life we want requires not only doing the right things; it also requires we stop doing the wrong things that take us off track”

Have you ever felt distracted?

Distraction can range from understanding the need to complete something - an important task, a conversation with a friend, etc - only to find yourself thinking of other things. This could be the urgency to reach for your phone when you hear the notification beep, for example, or the need to scroll away on your social media account to just pass the time. All at the expense of the work you should’ve done. 

Distractions impede us from making progress toward the life we envision. We know that if we want to be more productive at work, we need to stop wasting time and actually do the work. Basically, we already know what to do. What we don’t know is how to stop getting distracted.

Most of us think that the presence of technology causes all these distractions. With this, there’s this mindset that in order for us to be productive, we must go offline and remove our devices. However, removing technology will only cause us to replace it with another distraction. What we need to learn is how to be indistractable.

To achieve this, we need to recognize and assess whether the activities we engage in lead us closer to our desired outcomes. Also, we need to understand what triggers our distractions. 

There are two main relationships to understand here. The first is the relationship between traction, meaning activities that we need to do to reach our goal, and distraction, meaning activities that pull us away from achieving our goal. The second is the relationship between internal and external triggers.

Being indistractable means striving to do what you say you will do. Indistractable people are as honest with themselves as they are with others. If you care about your work, your family and your physical and mental well-being, you must learn how to become indistractable.

Distractions will always exist, but managing them is our responsibility.

Actions to take

Know your Internal Triggers

“The drive to relieve discomfort is the root cause of all our behavior, while everything else is a proximate cause.”

Distraction is always an unhealthy escape from reality - this is the uncomfortable truth many of us prefer not to acknowledge. If you’re trying to escape the pain of something serious, this needs to be addressed. Only by understanding our pain can we begin to control our behavior and find better ways to deal with it rather than turning to our devices. 

We can manage distractions that originate from within by changing how we think about them. This can be done by reimagining the internal triggers, the task and our temperament. Being aware of liminal moments is also crucial. 

Liminal moments are transitions that lead from one thing to another. Do you pick up your phone whenever you see it just to "check" if there's a new email or post? Do you scroll through social media when you’re done with your task only to find that it took you hours doing so? While there is nothing wrong with these actions as it is, it can distract us away from the goal or task we want to accomplish.

Actions to take

Start timeboxing

“If I know how you spend your time, then I know what might become of you” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote, “People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time, they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy”. 

For proper time management, calendars are much more useful than to-do lists. When we create a schedule on our calendar, we do not start with what we need to do. We focus instead on why we’re doing it. Therefore, we begin with our values. 

According to Russ Harris, author of The Happiness Trap, “Values are how we want to be, what we want to stand for and how we want to relate to the world around us.” They are attributes of the person we want to be.

There are three key domains in life. They are your “self”, your work, and your relationships. In order to live by our values in each of these domains, we must reserve time in our schedules to do so. 

To achieve this, we can use an activity called “timeboxing”. Timeboxing helps you decide what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it. It’s a technique that can be used to make time for traction in each of your life domains.

Actions to take

Hack External Triggers

“Today, much of our struggle with distractions is a struggle with external triggers.”

External triggers often lead to distraction. Cues in our environment like notifications, calls from our cell phones and interruptions from other people take us off track. 

While they are not always harmful, we must learn how to discern whether the external trigger leads to accomplishing our task or distracts us away from it. To discern if the trigger is helpful or harmful, we must learn to ask ourselves: Is this trigger serving me or am I serving it? 

Our devices have features that we can utilize in order to make ourselves indistractable. In less than an hour, we can configure our phones and our desktops to help us focus on the work that needs to be done.

Actions to take

Create distraction pacts

“That’s what makes death so hard - unsatisfied curiosity” - Beryl Markham, West with the Night

Being indistractable does not only require keeping distractions out. We also need to rein ourselves in. To keep ourselves from getting distracted, we can utilize a powerful technique called “precommitment”. 

Precommitments are distraction pacts that help us stick with decisions we’ve made in advance. Precommitments can be in a form of an effort pact, price pact, or identity pact.

An effort pact prevents distraction by making unwanted behaviors more difficult to do. You can use apps that prevent you from using your phone for a set amount of time to help you stay focused. An effort pact can also be established by working with a colleague or a friend that can keep you accountable. 

A price pact adds a cost to getting distracted. Price pacts are most effective when you can remove the external triggers that lead to a distraction. An example of a price pact is putting a 100-dollar deposit before doing what you needed to. Only after completing the said task, will you get your 100 dollars back. While price pacts are effective, they work best when the distraction is temporary and the task requires a short time to complete. 

An identity pact is a precommitment to self-image. Identity greatly influences our behavior as people tend to align their actions with how they see themselves. For example, if you tag yourself as “indistractable”, you increase the likelihood of living according to the behavior of an indistractable person.  

Sharing your identity pact with others and adopting rituals can help you stay consistent with your goal.

Actions to take

Make your workplace indistractable

“Dysfunctional work culture is the real culprit”

Tech overuse at work is a symptom of a dysfunctional company culture. This often happens when a company promotes a cycle of responsiveness. This refers to when employees are expected to be available on-demand when a client/stakeholder needs them to be. 

For a workplace to be indistractable, it is important to create a venue where you can discuss how you can use your technology properly. It is also important to foster psychological safety in your work culture by facilitating open discussions to hear your employees out. 

Setting boundaries on when one will be available can help increase focus and productivity in the workplace, therefore generating better results.

Actions to take

Create indistractable relationships

“Social norms are changing, but whether they change for the better is up to us”

Our relationships with our friends, spouses, and kids also deserve to be indistractable. 

If you’re a parent, before blaming technology for your child’s lack of focus and interest, try to understand the source of the problem. Internal triggers drive behavior. According to a widely accepted theory of human motivation, all people need three things to thrive: 

  1. Autonomy - their ability to decide for themselves

  2. Competence - opportunities where they can learn and develop new skills

  3. Relatedness - forming connections with peers and family

Kids also need the same three things. When kids do not feel that they have autonomy, competence, and relatedness, they divert their attention to somewhere that can satisfy these. Most of the time, it’s technology that grabs their attention. 

Distraction in social situations can keep us from being fully present with important people in our lives. Interruptions degrade our ability to form close social bonds. We can stop the spread of unhealthy behaviors by developing social norms. 

If a friend starts fiddling with their phone during a conversation, you can ask them “Is everything okay?” This in effect can make that person keep his phone or respond. Either way, they are reminded that they need to be fully present. 

This is the same with our partners. Distractions can become an impediment to building intimate relationships. Work together on how you can spend more time together offline.

Actions to take

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