Book Review: Indistractable by Nir Eyal

A masterpiece after Hooked.

Indistractable by Nir Eyal

“ There is one universally powerful truth at the root of achieving our biggest goals: living the life we want requires not only doing the right things, but also necessitates not doing the things that take us off-track.” ~Indistractable, Nir Eyal

So what’s your superpower? Starting with this question, the author displays how distracted we are in our day to day life when his daughter asked this question and he was mentally out of the room. Nir was distracted and mentally out of the room focusing on things which weren’t important at that moment while playing with his daughter, like all of us who are constantly distracted from our environment and within.

What does it mean to be indistractable?

Author shows that being distracted is a normal cause of not paying attention to our active consciousness and our mind keeps up off track with many triggers which keep our mind filled with irrelevant things which aren’t necessary to build traction in the task at hand which later on leads to stress. Being Indistractable will help us bring focus and traction in our lives for doing the work which matters the most.

How to be Indistractable ?

In this book Nir Eyal Proposed a 4 Part Strategy to help you being indistractable.

Part 1: Master Internal Triggers

Author starts with asking a realist question on what motivates us? The truth is that we all have a risk averse nature and fear motivates us more than pleasure does. In our lives we constantly tug our way through the discomfort of life and anything which helps us remove that discomfort is addictive. Consider Liquor for example which many are addictive of ,and it can be anything from taking drugs to having sex.

Discomfort in turn costs us time while we try to escape our discomforts and if we want to master distraction then we need a way to deal with our discomforts. Author presents that by managing our time we can manage our pain and as a reversal process we can hack back distractions.

Distractions are mostly due to temptations generated within and the mental absence of our mind. Strolling with a day mindlessly on autopilot will lead to distraction more often than if we consciously plan our day and work on it vigilantly. We can manage our distraction from changing the way we think about them.

Nir explained that we can manage our internal triggers by reimagining it. Here’s a simple 4 step Guide:

  • Step 1: Look for the emotion preceding distraction
  • Step 2: Write down the internal trigger (e.g Crave to eat something while in middle of work)
  • Step 3: Explore the negative sensation with curiosity instead of contempt (Instead of thinking about the temptation, try shifting your mind to some other task at hand)
  • Step 4 : Be extra cautious during liminal moments. (Liminal moments are “distraction traps” that transition us from one thing to another, like picking up our phone while waiting for a traffic light to change).

Author argues that play doesn’t have to be pleasurable, it needs to keep our mind engaged. Deliberateness and novelty can be added to any task to make it fun and mentally engaging.

Part 2: Make Time for Traction

Starting with part 2 of the indistractable model, Author points out that it is not possible to be indistractable if you can’t distinguish what it is that is distracting you from? (Let the previous statement sync in your mind) The argument here is that you need to know what your traction is before even knowing whether you are distracted or not. And for the same cause your calendar should reflect upon the values that you have. It is important and a good guideline to help you gain traction over the important tasks. Author puts out a simple guide to make a timeboxed schedule to reflect upon the daily tasks and values in your day to day calendar to keep track of your time and commit to our calendar, review it daily, improve it weekly and reflect upon it (lastly rinse and repeat till you have a schedule that aligns with the values you have).

As in his book The psychology of money, Morgan Housel said “the world is full of unpredictable events so we should focus on our inputs which we have more control over rather than on the outcomes in the future”. So keeping with the spirit Nir explained, your inputs are much more certain than the outcomes and you should schedule time for yourself. As pointed out in his book, in everyone’s life there are zones for each person and in the center everything is YOU. And around you is your family and your peers ,your city and your country. Important note here is that everything starts with you and you should also give yourself some time.

Nir also pointed out that we should manage our important relationships and give them more time than what’s left over. If you have a significant one then you should go beyond your schedule to maintain the longer term important relationships and intimacy, also lack of close friends often lead us to depression and stressed life which is averse in the traction that you wanted to gain. At work we should sync as often as possible about our schedule so stakeholders in our life can know when to get in touch with you and when we are indistractable.

Part 3: Hack Back External Trigger

This is a main part of the strategy which you need to focus on more, as our environment can be extremely intimating .

Nir pointed out that external triggers often lead to distraction and not all of them are harmful. To simplify the process for irrelevant external triggers we all should ask a simple question: “Is this trigger serving me, or am I serving it?” By answering this simple question you can come up with strategies to tackle those external triggers which aren’t serving you and leading you to distraction.

In a study on medication dispensaries the mistakes which were minimised by just making professionals indistractable while they were dispensing the medicine. We should defend our focus and let everyone around us know that we are indistractable when doing focused work.

For distraction which are caused by email nir suggested that : We should respond less and break down emails on first read, use flags to keep track of emails and their response urgency. (A good rule of thumb is you should not read one email more than twice.) Also as an addition pointed out in Deep Work by Cal Newport: To minimise the email you receive we should understand the email and take our time to respond with clear instruction to remove ambiguity which will in turn leave us with less email to respond in the first place.

For distraction caused by Group Chats and real time communication, they have their use and should be used sparingly, the best thing you can do to defend your focus is to get in and get out.

Now to hack back unnecessary meetings it is suggested that you should make it mandatory to have a clear goal defined before having a meeting and brainstorm before the meeting, and to remove distracting devices while in the meeting to be fully present and be productive.

For the daily ringing and dinging smartphone Nir suggested a 4R Method to remove distractions from your smartphone:

Remove apps which you don’t need or you don’t use

Replace apps which are not necessary having in you phone to other place as desktop

Rearrange apps so that you don’t see them often

Reclaim the notification services from the settings of your phone for all apps.

For desktop nir suggestions are to keep your desktop home screen clean and clear as sky, as having clutter takes a heavy psychological toll on attention. And turn off our desktop notifications to hack back our attention and be on your way.

For articles which are on internet Nir suggests having them relocate to other devices and use of services like pocket (web extension + mobile app). Especially for reading articles which usually have many distracting advertisements. In the case of social media feeds he suggests to be more specific about pages which we visit, use URLs for our daily navigations and avoid having to be on the feed in the first place(use of online tools is also suggested in the book which helps you keep track and manage URLs).

Part 4: Prevent Distractions with Pacts

Nir points out that being indistractable does not only require keeping distractions out. It also necessitates reining ourselves in and precommits can reduce likelihood of distractions.

After successfully achieving the previous three parts, we should apply various pacts to reach being indistractable.

  • Effort Pacts — You can use these pacts by making unwanted behaviours more hard to do such as putting your mobile phone inside a locked drawer while working, etc. Also you can use various technologies which can help you keep on track.
  • Price Pacts — It adds a cost to being distracted and is most effective when you can remove external triggers that lead to distractions. These work when you are self compassionate and distraction is temporary.
  • Identity Pacts — Identity greatly influences our behavior and It is a precommitment to self-image for some task. We should become a noun as in from using phrases like “I can” to using “I am ” or “I don’t do X”. Sharing our pacts also helps us from being distracted and using simple rituals can have stupendous results.

The above four steps will help us be Indistractable, after this 4 part strategy Nir wrote more to go beyond being indistractable.

Part 5: How to Make Your Workplace Indistractable

In this part Nir focuses on workplace challenges and how we can overcome them. He points out that distraction is a clear sign of dysfunction which will later on lead to bad company culture. In places where expectations are high with low control over time can often be seen with signs of high stress and depression among their workers. Depression-like symptoms are painful in any workplace. As a remark he notes that Tech Overuse at work leads to company dysfunction and even more tech use later can make the situation worse for everyone working there.

Nir listed many of the challenges which companies often face when in dysfunctional state and fixing it will be a clear test for the company culture. As a worker in a company we should not suffer in silence and give our feedback on company channels, everyone’s voice matters and will help us and company to further improve upon.

Nir says, “Indistractable organizations, like Slack and BCG, foster psychological safety, provide a place for open discussions about concerns, and, most important, have leaders who exemplify the importance of doing focused work.”

Part 6: How to Raise Indistractable Children (and Why We All Need Psychological Nutrients)

This part is for parents who can’t communicate the benefits of being indistractable with their kids at home and help them to be indistractable.

Nir points out that we should not rely on easy, convenient excuses and deflect blames. Technological advancement fears are not new and we should be more aware rather than having to panic and shifting blames on the technology itself. Technology isn’t evil in itself and when used in conjunction with a healthy mindset it can lead to major breakthroughs and we should teach our kids to be indistractable.

Internal triggers are an essential part that drives behaviour in all of us. We need to understand that kids need psychological nutrients to fulfill their needs, because distractions are what can satisfy our deficiencies(Think about how great it will be if you get a cold ice cream on a hot summer day, the same is true for distraction. Work can get boring sometimes so any distraction which can help alleviate boredom will disrupt your traction). And kids also need the 4 part indistractable model to help them become indistractable.

A potential way we can teach our kids indistractable models is by engaging in traction activities together, justifying our timeboxed schedule to our kids and how it helps us achieve traction will boost the process of their learning, and it’s OKAY to let kids fail sometimes to make them understand the value of being indistractable at an early age.

In the next section of this part, Nir explains that we should teach our children to swim before letting them dive in. Before giving our kids devices such as Smartphones, we should test their tech readiness by giving them simple devices such as basic phones. As a good note nir pointed out that there’s no excuse for kids to have TVs and Laptops in their rooms. Kids need to have good sleep and there’s no substitute to it. We should remove all the gadgets which can disrupt our kids’ sleep and avoid any unwanted external triggers at home.

Kids also want autonomy in their decisions and we should give them their part of autonomy over their schedule and freedom, having them follow through their pre-commit and timeboxed schedule that has been decided by them. And we should teach them how the media(Youtube, Netflix, etc.) is designed to keep them engaged and give them a perspective of skepticism which is healthy for them in being indistractable. In short, we should let kids be incharge of their daily life to let them develop autonomously.

Part 7: How to Have Indistractable Relationships

In the final part of this book nir discussed how we can make our important relationships indistractable with the above 4 part model.

It is seen that being distracted in social situations can keep us from being fully present with the important people in our lives and we should block these unhealthy behaviors as well as create new social norms. He took an example of smoking cigarettes and how social antibodies generated in recent decades have made it a cardinal sin to smoke in another’s home.

As a final note in his book Nir noted some of the important tips to being an indistractable lover. Distraction can be an impediment in our most intimate relationships and we should reclaim time for togetherness with our significant other. Finally, now it’s our turn to BE indistractable.

The four part strategy by Nir is effective and has been applied by many in their lives with great success. Being Indistractable not only makes our life better but also for people who are around us. Whether we are in the workplace or at home, being indistractable helps us achieve what we want to become and follow through in our important relationships more effectively. If you still want to develop your focus and concentration over hard tasks after mastering this model, a good read will be “Deep Work” by Cal Newport. It is a great add-on to Nir’s past book “Hooked” where he gives insights on how big tech companies keep our attention hooked and how we can reclaim that. Overall it is a good book and everyone reading this should read it to hack back their time and attention.

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