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We kicked off the indistractable series last week with an intro to why becoming Indistractable is the skill of the century. Today, Nir is going to show you how to put it into practice.

Today’s video dives deep into the Indistractable model – how to control your attention and choose your life – so you can get started implementing it in your life today and become more productive.

The Indistractable Model

Watch the rest of the videos in the Indistractable series here.

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Read The Transcript

Nir Eyal:

Hi. My name is Nir Eyal, and I’m the author of this book ‘Indistractible: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.’ Today, I’m going to teach you how to become indistractible.

Nir Eyal:

So, we’ve all seen how the various pings, dings, and rings in our environment can cause us to get distracted in our day-to-day life. If you’re anything like I was, you’d plan to work on some big project, and yet find yourself drifting off task and doing something that you didn’t plan to do. Now, day after day can drift by like this. And you get to the end of the day, and you realize that you really didn’t focus on the few things you wanted to prioritize.

Nir Eyal:

Whether that’s at work, working on a big project, in your home life by spending quality time with the people you love, or outside of work taking care of yourself, your body, your mental, physical health … all of these things require your time and attention. So, how in this world filled with distraction do we do what we say we’re going to do to live the kind of life that we want to live? It all starts by understanding the four parts of the indistractible model.

Nir Eyal:

In order to understand what distraction is, we have to understand what distraction is not. The opposite of distraction is not focus, but rather the opposite of distraction is traction. Both words come from the same Latin root trahere, which means to pull. And if you notice, they both end in the same six letters. A-C-T-I-O-N, that spells action.

Nir Eyal:

Traction is any action that pulls you towards what you want to do. Things that you do with intent. Now, the opposite of traction is distraction. Anything that pulls you away from what you plan to do, things that you didn’t do with intent.

Nir Eyal:

Why is this so important? Number one, anything can be a distraction. Have you ever sat down at your desk and told yourself, “Now I’m going to work on that big project? Now I’m finally going to stop procrastinating. I’m going to do what I say I’m going to do right after I check email.” This is just as pernicious as checking Facebook, or watching a YouTube video. Maybe even more so, because when we do some task that feels like work but really isn’t what we planned to do, distraction tricks us into prioritizing the urgent at the expense of the important. I argue that even doing tasks like checking email, or scrolling slack channels, or whatever it is that you didn’t intend to do is just as much of a distraction if it’s not what you plan to do with your time.

Nir Eyal:

The second reason that this dichotomy is so important is that just like anything can be a distraction, anything can be an act of traction. I argue there’s nothing wrong with going on Facebook, or watching a YouTube video, or watching sports on TV as long as you do it on your schedule and according to your values, not according to someone else’s.

Nir Eyal:

We’ve got traction. We’ve got distraction. What prompts us to take these actions? Two types of triggers. The first type of trigger is what we call an external trigger. External triggers are the pings, the dings, the rings, all of the things in your outside environment that can lead you towards traction or distraction. Of course, they can be things like your cell phone, or your computer. But it turns out in an office setting, workers tell us the number one source of distraction is not their computer or their phone. It’s actually other coworkers. There are ways that we can hack back all of these external triggers to make sure they don’t lead us towards distraction.

Nir Eyal:

Now, as prevalent as these external triggers are, the number one source of distraction is not the things around us, but rather studies find the number one source of distraction is what is going on inside of us. Internal triggers, these uncomfortable emotional states, is the ultimate root cause of our distractions. In fact, the reason we get distracted is the same reason we do all sorts of things. The seat of human motivation is all about escaping discomfort, some kind of feeling that you want to escape from.

Nir Eyal:

When we’re feeling lonely, we might check a social network. When we’re uncertain, we Google. When we’re feeling bored. Where do we go? Well, we might check the news, a sports score, Pinterest, Instagram. Any of these tools can satisfy these uncomfortable internal triggers. What does this mean? This means ultimately that if all human behavior is prompted by desire to escape discomfort, that means that time management is pain management. The most important first step of the four to becoming indistractable is to learn tactics to master those internal triggers.

Nir Eyal:

Now, there’s a lot of tools and resources that I talk about in my book for how to do that, but I want to skip ahead to the second step in the indistractable model: how to make time for traction. You know, I interviewed hundreds of people over the past five years. Many of them were very good at managing distraction, and many of them really struggled with going off task. One trait that I noticed among every single person I interviewed who struggled with distraction is that they did not keep a timebox calendar.

Nir Eyal:

Despite the fact that so many people would complain to me and say, “I can’t get anything done because my kids want that, and my boss asked for this, and did you see what’s happening in the news? I can’t get anything done.” When I ask them, “What exactly did you plan to do? What did you get distracted from?” Many people would take out their phones, and they’d show me their calendars, but there was all this white space on the calendar. Maybe a meeting or two.

Nir Eyal:

Well, here’s the thing. You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from. The fact of the matter is if you don’t plan your day, somebody is going to plan it for you. Think about how much money and effort we spend on keeping our stuff safe. We have security systems in our homes. We have alarms in our cars. We keep our money in banks behind vaults. But when it comes to our time, we let anybody just come on by and steal it.

Nir Eyal:

Well, if we want to make time for traction, we have to decide in advance how we want to spend our time. What I advise as part of the second step of making time for traction is to start with your values. Values are defined as the attribute of the person you want to become. Now, it’s not my job or anyone else’s to tell you what your values should be. What I want to help you do is to help you live out those values, so that you can become the person you know you can be.

Nir Eyal:

How do you do that? Well, you start with these three life domains, starting with the you domain. In the you domain, you make time for your values that relate to being the kind of person you want to be by taking care of yourself. Of course, if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of others, and we can’t do our best work.

Nir Eyal:

The next domain is the relationship domain. Psychologists tell us that we are going through an epidemic of loneliness. And the reason this is happening is because people aren’t planning time in their day for their most important relationships. We tell people, “Yeah, let’s get coffee sometime. But we know that those things won’t happen unless we decide to dedicate time for it.” If there are important people in your life, whether that’s your significant other, your kids, your best buddies, make sure to have regular time on your schedule, on your calendar to spend time with the people that you love.

Nir Eyal:

And then finally is the work domain. Now most people, if they do keep a calendar, start with that domain. But of course, that should be the last domain. First we have to take care of ourselves, then our relationships, and then finally our work life. Well, what do we have to make time for in our day to live out our values at work?

Nir Eyal:

Well, if part of your job requires you to think, to reflect, do you have time in your schedule to do that? These days, making time in your schedule to simply think is a real competitive advantage. So many of us are constantly reacting to things, whether that’s the pings and dings of email, or yet another meeting we have to attend that we have no time to actually think. It behooves you to make time in your calendar to sit down and think, to strategize, to work through your problems without distraction.

Nir Eyal:

So, we can use these tactics and make ourselves what’s called a timebox calendar. Now, psychologists have found in thousands of studies that making what’s called an implementation intention, which is just a fancy way of saying planning out what you are going to do and when you were going to do it, is a very effective tactic to make sure you do what you say you’re going to do. By making a timebox calendar that is planning out in advance how we want to spend our time, we become much more likely to do what we say. Why? Because for the first time, if you time box your day, you’ll be able to look at your calendar and say, “Ah, everything on my calendar is traction.”

Nir Eyal:

Anything else, even those distractions that might trick me like thinking that email is what I want to do when I really want to work on that big project … everything else that’s not on the calendar is instantly by definition a distraction. So, making that timebox calendar is a very effective way to make sure you stay on track.

Nir Eyal:

Now, one additional thing you want to make sure you do is to synchronize your schedule. This is a highly effective technique that involves sitting down with the stakeholders in your life, the people who you owe time to, and synchronizing your schedule to make sure that you’re more likely to stay on track. Well, what might this look like?

Nir Eyal:

Let me tell you about my household. A few years ago, my wife and I were constantly fighting about household responsibilities. We’d been married for about 18 years now, and this became a constant source of disagreement. My wife would argue with me about why didn’t I take out the trash, or why wasn’t I doing the laundry? And my argument to her was, “Honey, if I don’t do something, just tell me to do it. What’s the problem?” But what I didn’t realize is that I was giving her yet another job. I was turning her into my babysitter. And how we fix this problem is quite simple. We use this technique that psychologists tell us is very effective to make a timebox schedule, and then most importantly, synchronize that schedule with each other.

Nir Eyal:

So, once a week on Sunday afternoons, we sit down together and we look at each other’s timebox calendar. Now we know exactly what each of us has to do, and there’s no more guesswork because we know exactly when we plan to do it. Not only is this technique very effective in our homes, it’s also very effective in the workplace.

Nir Eyal:

If you have a boss or a manager that you struggle to communicate with in terms of how you spend your time, sitting down with that boss or manager for just 10 minutes once a week and showing them your timebox calendar is a very effective technique. Here’s why. Many managers today, they lob over all sorts of tasks and deadlines without really understanding how long those tasks really take. If you take the time in advance to make a timebox calendar and show your boss, “Hey, look. Here’s how I plan to spend my time, and here’s the list of things I won’t have time for. Help me reprioritize.” By showing your boss your calendar and saying, “Here’s what I have time for, and here’s the list of things I won’t have time for. Help me reprioritize those tasks.” You’re involving your manager in that process. You’re essentially managing up.

Nir Eyal:

One technique that psychologists tell us is incredibly effective when it comes to helping us do what we say we’re going to do is to use what’s called an identity pact. An identity pact is when we call ourselves a noun. We have some kind of moniker that we use to help us stay on track. This comes from the psychology of religion. For example, when someone calls themselves a devout Christian, or an observant Muslim, or even a vegetarian, they become much more likely to do what they say they’re going to do. For example, a vegetarian doesn’t wake up every morning and say, “Hmm, I wonder if I should have some bacon.” No, a vegetarian does not eat meat. It is who they are. And we can do the same exact thing when it comes to managing distraction.

Nir Eyal:

That’s why the title of my book is Indistractible. That’s your new moniker. To review, the four basic steps of becoming indistractable are, number one, master those internal triggers. Number two, make time for traction by turning your values into time. Number three, hack back those external triggers, and finally prevent distraction with pacts. Now that you know these four basic steps, you can proudly call yourself indistractable. You can be the kind of person who decides for themselves how you spend your time, how you spend your life by controlling your attention. Of course, there’s a lot more information in my book Indistractible: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. I’m Nir Eyal, and thanks for joining me.

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