Author: Nir Eyal
Indistractable. How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life Nir Eyal 2019
Who is the master of attention? (Indistractable.)
Indistractable. : Who among us has not flipped through the Facebook feed when it was necessary to prepare for the delivery of an important project? Didn’t spend hours on news sites trying to “focus”? Didn’t fall asleep with Instagram? Digital products – even those created with good intentions – are designed to create a habit in the user and a constant desire to return. Without realizing it, we reach the point where we are ready to sacrifice everything – dinner with friends, a walk with the children, time for creativity – for the sake of another date with a smartphone.
Nir Eyal tells how one day he and his daughter performed funny tasks from a book. At the next step, the child was asked to answer the question of what kind of superpower he would like to have and why. Distracted by the smartphone, Eyal did not hear his daughter’s answer, and when he woke up, there was no one in the room. This became a turning point in his life.
Deciding to deal with the bad habit of being distracted once and for all, he completely abandoned the smartphone, but the TV soon took the place of the smartphone. The radio came after the TV. Behind the radio are books. No matter how much you protect yourself, you will not move away from the whole world. This means that the fact that we are constantly distracted is a systemic problem, and a systematic approach must be applied to its solution.
This is what Nir Eyal did. After studying in detail how the human brain works and the mechanism of productive concentration, he developed a four-step program that helps to hit the Achilles’ heel of technology and regain control over their own attention, and therefore life.
The peculiarity of this book is that its author is a technology industry insider and the author of the super-bestseller Hooked. A tutorial on how to build addictive products has been a huge hit and has become a desktop staple at companies like Facebook, Google, PayPal, Slack, and Microsoft. Eyal knows exactly how gadgets, apps, and social networks steal people’s attention and force us to literally stay up all night, indulging in, at first glance, the safest of all, but in reality the same destructive addiction.
Ironically, Nir Eyal fell for his own hook but found a way to get off the digital needle and now shares with readers how to hack the system in his favor.
Step 1. Find and neutralize internal triggers
It is generally accepted that motivation appears as a result of a balanced impact of a carrot and a stick. In reality, gingerbread plays a much smaller role than stick. The desire to avoid discomfort affects us much more than the prospect of achieving what we want.
That is why we can tell ourselves as much as we like about the wonderful life that will come after the completion of a complex project, but without understanding the root cause that makes us distracted, the desire to check updates on the smartphone screen will always be stronger than reason.
Essentially, time management is pain management, and the only way to overcome the habit of distraction is to learn to endure discomfort.
All ex-smokers know that it makes no sense to try to break the habit through inhibitions and willpower. The stricter the ban, the stronger the pull. Instead of fighting the addiction symptom, try addressing the cause:
- Determine which feeling or thought precedes the action. For example, you can justify spending hours surfing the Internet with the fact that you are actually collecting material for an article, although, if you think about it, you just don’t want to do the difficult part of the work.
- Write down the trigger. Note what time it was, what you were doing at that moment, and how you felt.
- understand your feelings. Do not try to drive them away or fix them – just watch yourself. How does it feel to your body? Do you feel tingling in your fingers, do you suck in the pit of your stomach, and does your heart rate increase? As you turn your attention inward, you may feel the sharp impulse to distract yourself slowly fade away.
- Pay special attention to threshold moments as you switch from one activity to another. Let’s say you’re standing at a traffic light, you reach for your phone to quickly check the messenger, and in the end, you find yourself engaged in an enthusiastic correspondence at a speed of 70 km/h. Make a ten-minute rule. Want to get on your phone out of boredom? Allow yourself to do this, but only after ten minutes. Like the previous step, this will help you get through the sharp impulse.
Oddly enough, another great way to focus is to offer yourself a game. At its core, play is the intentional manipulation of a familiar situation in a new way. Joy, fun, and other pleasant emotions that we usually associate with the game are only a by-product and not at all an obligatory product of this form of activity. The task of adult play is not so much to bring joy but to help maintain focus on a task that was not very interesting before.
The idea is to challenge yourself in a new way in familiar conditions. For example, try to do the work in a shorter time or in a new way. Conditions and restrictions are the main engines of creative progress. Look for new approaches where no one is looking for them. This will allow you to disperse boredom and the hidden beauty of things, which means it will help you to do previously boring business longer and with pleasure.
All the latest research in the field of psychology suggests that the reality of our life directly depends on how we perceive ourselves, what we tell others about ourselves and what we think about human nature in general. If you sincerely believe that willpower 1 is exhaustible (and it is not), then, having felt the first signs of fatigue, you will attribute everything to the depletion of volitional resources and give up the lesson. If every time you fail, you blame yourself and scold yourself for your lack of self-control, you are unlikely to be willing to take risks and try again.
But mistakes and failures are inevitable. When you hear another accusatory speech from your inner critic, remind yourself that mistakes are part of the journey. It is thanks to mistakes and their development that we grow and develop. Talk to and treat yourself like your best friend. An attentive and caring attitude towards yourself increases endurance and not vice versa.
Step 2: Take Time to Focus
Now it’s time to push yourself on the path of concentration, and the first step on this path is to plan your time in detail. People tend to protect material things in every possible way, but they are very light-hearted about stealing time. If you don’t plan your day yourself, someone else will.
Your goal is to plan your day and week so that there is not a single empty hour left in them. Be sure to leave at least 15 minutes a week for reflection and debriefing. Ask yourself two questions:
1. How did I manage to follow my plan, and when did I get distracted?
2. How can I make my schedule better reflect my values?
Imagine that every week you run an experiment to find out what didn’t work last week and how to fix it next time.
But before you start detailed planning, you need to decide on your core values. After all, you can’t consider an activity as a distraction if you don’t know what it’s distracting you from.
Values are beacons on the path to the life that seems ideal to you. Most values relate to one of the three basic components of life:
1) personal well-being;
2) relationships with others;
Personal wellbeing. This area of life is at the heart of the pyramid, as the other two directly depend on your health and overall well-being. At the most basic level, your schedule should include adequate sleep, personal hygiene, and quality nutrition. In a broader sense, time for yourself is the time you dedicate to fulfilling New Year’s resolutions and moving forward on the path of personal development. Don’t focus on the results, but create the conditions so that they can appear. Whether you can fall asleep earlier and whether you have an idea for a new project is unknown. But in order for these events to have a chance to happen, you must intentionally go to bed at 10:00 pm and sit down at your desk at 9:00 am.
Relationships with others. Close relationships play a huge role in our lives. They give a sense of closeness, allow you to show loyalty, take responsibility, and get the same in return. Nevertheless, it is close relationships are usually built according to the residual principle. We spend most of the day at work, and the partner gets those miserable crumbs of attention that still glimmer in us in the evening. Try not to let relationships with family and friends take their course. Plan private time with children dates with a partner, joint dinners with friends. Make a pact and come together, no matter what happens. Take turns coming up with fun activities or picking a topic to discuss. Trusting relationships do not arise by themselves and die if they are not cared for. Invest time in loved ones the same way you invest it in work.
job. The cornerstone of a strong working relationship is transparency. Employees must clearly understand what is expected of them, what are the conditions of the corporate culture, what tasks can be postponed, and which ones should be given unconditional priority. In turn, the employer must see what employees spend their time on, how they prioritize projects, and what methods they use to solve problems. This will allow him to correct the general course and turn to the solution to a possible problem in time. Be proactive and create a personal calendar that your boss (or all colleagues) can refer to. You can make such a calendar for a day, a week, or a month. It is important that the planning horizon suits all parties. Check it with your superiors periodically. Regular meetings will help you make informed decisions and manage your priorities effectively.
Step 3. Disarm external triggers
Digital products are designed specifically to “hack” our brains. They send all sorts of signals, and you need to have remarkable willpower so as not to grab the phone when it gives out the next push notification. Of course, not all programs and triggers are bad and many are useful, but in order to distinguish bad triggers from good ones, one must constantly ask the question: is this trigger serving me now or am I serving it?
people. Colleagues and family are one of the main sources of distraction. Most often, they come to the table and, regardless of whether you are busy with something or not, ask questions and demand attention. But the more often we are distracted, the more we are mistaken, which is a working environment that can be especially inopportune.
The author suggests not to be shy to use external attributes that would give others a clear signal that you are busy. For example, it could be a sign on the table or a note on the monitor saying “I really need to concentrate right now, so please check back later.” Do not forget to discuss the meaning of the new sign aloud with colleagues – this will make it clear that you are serious and will help provoke a general discussion about the importance of concentration.
Have fun at home as much as you can. For example, the author’s wife made herself a crown from a simple luminous garland for a couple of dollars. Agree with the children that when you put on a crown or cloak, you become the King of Concentration and at that moment you should not be distracted. The main task is to send a clear visual signal to those around you before they enter your space.
Email. A significant part of work communication is conducted through e-mail. Constantly checking our mailbox, we justify ourselves by the fact that we are afraid to miss an important message, although in fact we are possessed by two laws of the psyche:
- the desire for reward – for receiving any new information, the brain rewards us with hormones of happiness;
- the desire for reciprocity – we feel obligated to respond proportionally to the actions of other people.
Since we can’t just cut email out of our lives, we need to tame it.
To receive fewer emails, you need to send fewer emails. Engage in work correspondence only during working hours. If someone sent you an email on a Friday night, respond to it—satisfy the craving for reciprocity, but set the system to automatically send the email only on Monday morning. In most email clients, this can be done in the mailbox settings.
Don’t be afraid to delay responding during business hours. When you receive an email with a not-too-urgent matter, reply, “Available to discuss this on Tuesday or Thursday from 4:00 to 5:00 pm If by that time it is still relevant, be sure to come in and we will discuss everything. ” You will be surprised how many problems and tasks will be solved by themselves.
Set aside dedicated time for your email and get in the habit of using tags. For example, set aside an hour at the beginning of the workday to check your inbox. Respond to the most urgent emails right away, and mark the rest with one of the tags: “reply today” and “reply this week.” So you can focus on important things, and when you return to work with mail in the afternoon, you will see in front of you not a chaotic, but a strictly prioritized list.
group chats. The author offers four simple rules that will help to ensure that group chats do not take too much time and do not clog the information space:
1. Leave immediately after reaching a consensus.
2. Warn colleagues that you will definitely read everything and contribute to the conversation, but at a certain time.
3. Do not invite random people to the chat: each participant must be irreplaceable in each specific situation.
4. Use selectively. Do not create a chat for any reason, sensitive and critical issues are best dealt with in person.
meetings. Often meetings are scheduled only because someone is too lazy to solve the problem on their own. Help your employees or colleagues stay focused by offering a few conditions:
- The meeting organizer presents the agenda to prospective participants in advance.
- It is forbidden to use smartphones and other devices at meetings. The host can show slides on a shared screen, but the other participants must use only a notepad and pen.
- The purpose of the meeting is to reach a common solution. Brainstorms and creative meetings are much more effective in one-on-one or in small groups.
- At the meeting, only those employees are present, without whom it is impossible to reach a solution.
- The meeting ends immediately after reaching a consensus.
smartphone. We are all addicted to our smartphones, but depending on and being addicted is not the same thing. The plan to disable the most distracting device will only take an hour:
1. Remove apps you don’t use. They only take up space and clutter up the visual space.
2. Replace apps with their desktop counterparts. You don’t have to leave Facebook and quit YouTube forever. Allocate special time for scrolling social networks and remove applications from your smartphone. You will still have access to entertainment services, but they will no longer be literally at your fingertips. Get back into the habit of wearing a watch so you’ll be less likely to reach for your phone.
3. Format your home screen. Only useful applications that make life easier and help you move towards your goals should remain on it.
4. Deal with notifications. Go to settings and set specific permissions to send notifications for each app. It is advisable to completely get rid of sound and visual signals and reduce the number of push notifications as much as possible. Learn how to turn on Do Not Disturb on your device. It will help to completely block notifications in a certain period of time (for example, from nine in the evening until nine in the morning).
desktop. Visual garbage on the desktop reduces productivity and kills concentration. If sorting your files neatly now seems like a daunting task, create a folder, name it “All” and move the files there. There should be one or two files on your desktop that you work with daily. And deal with notifications. Reduce the number of push notifications to a minimum, or better yet, completely abandon them.
online articles. Pages accumulated in the browser are an insidious external trigger. Even if you convince yourself that you’re postponing useful content, it can grab your attention just like Facebook’s news feed. Get a special application that processes only text and saves useful links in it. So you satisfy the need for new information and get rid of visual advertising.
timeline. It is important to remember that social networks are specifically designed to create addiction and a desire to return. No matter how hard we try, it is almost impossible to resist the temptation to flip through the tape. Luckily, there are free browser extensions that allow you to completely block the news feed on social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn and hide recommended videos on YouTube. The fewer hints and uncontrolled content you leave to yourself, the better. You will still be able to use all the useful tools (chats, group pages, etc.), but stop passively consuming content and proactively search for only what you are interested in at the moment.
Step 4. Secure your progress with a pact
Concentration requires not only the absence of distractions but also decisive action on our part. We must strengthen our own bastion in order not to succumb to the triggers that arise every now and then.
The author proposes to use the technique of preliminary commitment, the essence of which is to cut off the path to retreat in the future. As Odysseus, during his travels, ordered the sailors to plug their ears with beeswax, and tie himself to the ship’s mast and under no circumstances untie it so as not to succumb to the sweet voice of the sirens, the famous American writer Jonathan Franzen tightly sealed the port on his computer, which allowed to get him on the Internet.
The meaning of such tough measures is to make it as difficult as possible for oneself to proceed in the future and thereby help to stick to the decisions made.
There are three ways to do this:
1. Pacts for effort. In other words, make life difficult for yourself. Install an application or browser extension that will block access to social networks and distracting resources for a specified period of time. Don’t limit yourself to pacts with yourself: social pressure disciplines us perfectly. The problem is that in the age of personal computers and remote work, few people see what exactly we are doing. Collaborate with your closest colleague or have a video call with a fellow remote worker and agree to focus on your tasks for, say, two hours.
2. Covenants for money. The desire to avoid loss motivates us much more than the opportunity to gain. Therefore, try not to reward yourself for exemplary behavior, but to punish yourself for deviating from the course. For example, the author managed to get into the habit of morning exercises by sticking a hundred-dollar bill to the daily schedule and promising to burn it on the day of the pass. The prospect of losing money so mediocrely motivated him to practice every day. As in the previous case, you can enter into pacts with other people and, for example, agree to pay an accomplice a hefty sum if you do not submit the project by the agreed deadline. Money pacts work well in temporary situations and are worth the candle only on the condition that you can definitely survive the failure and not take yourself to death.
3. Pacts on oneself. How we perceive ourselves and who we think we are determine our lives in many ways. By setting ambitious goals for yourself, you force your brain to look for a solution and literally lead you to the finish line. Find a suitable label and assign it to yourself. You can become a non-smoker, a vegetarian, an undistracted person, anyone. Your subconscious mind synchronizes actions with what you repeat in your mind. Speaking out loud about your new personality is a great way to explain changes in your behavior to others and cement the pact. If assigning a new identity is not so easy, try teaching the same skill to someone else and start a ritual. According to many studies, these two techniques are the best for getting better at a difficult task.
Take a broader look at the problem
If employees are often distracted at work, the problem is not with employees or ubiquitous technology, but with a toxic corporate culture. The most distracted are those who live in constant tension and feel compelled to live up to unrealistic expectations. Another demotivating factor is the lack of recognition and gratitude for the work done. When a person feels that no matter how hard he tries, the result will be satisfactory at best, and the desire to invest in work quickly disappears. Those who are forced to constantly stay in touch and answer letters from the boss in the evenings and on weekends are more likely to burn out and lose efficiency faster than others.
How to avoid these problems:
- Let employees manage their own schedules. Try to maintain a working relationship during working hours. It is equally important for people to relax and have a personal space that is not busy with work.
- Be open to dialogue. Open communication is the key to a healthy and lasting relationship. Many bosses wonder why employees choose to silently quit rather than discuss problems out loud. Most often, this behavior indicates that the company does not have a culture of psychological safety. Psychological safety is the confidence that a person will not be punished or humiliated for asking questions, expressing ideas, and pointing out problems and mistakes.
Three steps to creating psychological safety:
1. Turn problems into creative challenges.
2. Openly admit your mistakes and ignorance.
3. Be curious and ask questions – show proactivity by example.
Team members who have a strong safety culture and open discussion of problems and concerns are less likely to be distracted during work hours, perform better, and, on average, demonstrate higher levels of happiness and satisfaction with their work life.
In relationships with children
As adults, we often make an attribution error and look for evil where there is none. Trying to explain the undesirable behavior of children by external factors, we shift the responsibility from ourselves to the world around us. Now social networks are blamed for everything, not so long ago, video games were the main enemies of young people, even earlier – television, radio, and even books.
Just as our body needs macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) to survive, so does the mind require its own nutrients:
- independence – achieved through the feeling that the child can manage his own life, he has freedom of choice and his choice is respected;
- competence – appears as a result of learning new things, understanding one’s progress and development, celebrating achievements;
- kinship – and not only with the family, but also with peers; it is very important for a child to have his own “flock” and to be his own in it.
The worse these needs are satisfied in real life, the more actively the child seeks their satisfaction online. The abundance of applications and their customization options, games with many levels, social networks – all these tools serve the basic laws of the human psyche.
So instead of blaming the next leap in progress, identify what internal triggers make children spend so much time online, and try not only to give an alternative but also to teach them everything you know yourself:
1. Teach children how to schedule according to their own goals and values. Just don’t try to make it your schedule. Your main goal is to help them realize on their own the need to study, take care of their health and connect with their family, without prohibiting fun activities. Screening question: “Is the way I manage my time working for me or against me? Am I happy with my behavior?
2. Teach them to recognize external triggers. Gadgets must be age-appropriate. A three-year-old child is not yet physically capable of self-regulation, so it makes no sense to give him a fully functional smartphone and expect him to establish a healthy relationship with the device. A good way to determine if a child is ready for a new gadget is to see if they know how to deal with external triggers. For example, how to turn off push notifications and turn on Do Not Disturb mode? Can he leave his smartphone in another room while chatting with friends or having dinner with his family? If not, the child is not ready, and all gadgets should be located only in common areas where you can regulate their use.
3. Teach them how to make their own pacts. By forcibly limiting time for entertainment, parents force children to resist and look for a way to get around the prohibitions, thereby pushing them to lie. Children are able to make pacts with themselves and keep promises from an early age, but only if they make their own rules and know how to use a simple timer. Plus, kids aren’t stupid. Knowing the ways in which manufacturers plant them on their products, they learn to resist them. Digital literacy and autonomy in decision-making will not protect the child from all possible mistakes but will help to return to the chosen path.
In relationships with loved ones
The habit of distraction is contagious. As soon as one at the table gets the phone, a coherent conversation begins to fall apart. This prevents us from truly getting close to important people and destroys the quality of connections. Yes, and it is difficult to abandon past patterns of behavior when friends and relatives continue to actively use them.
Fortunately, human communities – regardless of size – are able to develop “social antibodies” as a defense against behaviors that harm them. For example, before it was possible to smoke everywhere, forbidding a guest to smoke at home was considered a manifestation of rudeness. However, the social norm has changed and it is now considered rude to smoke in front of another person without asking their permission, even if you are both outsides.
It’s the same with technology. Let others know that they are violating the norms accepted between you. Be gentle and gently ask, “You’ve been on your phone for a long time. Did something happen?” Remember, whether the distractions are kids or technology, we make the rules at the table.
And the last tip – do not keep your smartphone in the bedroom. The reward for such asceticism will be long evening conversations with a partner, which means a deeper, closer, and soul-filling relationship.
Top 10 Thoughts
1. The habit of distraction is a way to avoid internal discomfort, which motivates us to act more than the possible reward.
2. To be able to manage your time means to be able to cope with negative emotions and endure discomfort.
3. To cope with addiction, we need to figure out what is the underlying reason that prompts us to act. An internal trigger can be boredom, unwillingness to strain over a difficult task, and fear of making a mistake.
4. Plan your daycare or have a gadget or other person do it for you.
5. Arrange your schedule to reflect your values and equally support personal well-being, relationships with others, and work efficiency.
6. When you receive a signal from the outside, ask yourself the question: “If I am distracted now, will the trigger serve me or will I serve the trigger?”
7. Once you’ve dealt with your internal and external triggers, secure your progress with whatever pact fits you. Involve friends and colleagues, tap into a financial interest, reinvent your personality—all means are good in the war against distraction.
8. If employees are often distracted at work, look for the root of the problem is a toxic corporate culture.
9. Children need to feel independent, competent, and accepted in the “pack”. The worse these needs are met offline, the more time they spend online.
10. Proactively change the norms in your environment and don’t keep your phone in the bedroom. Close relationships are one of our main needs and joys in life.
1 . Read the summary of Kelly McGonigal’s book Willpower. How to develop and strengthen.