Book Review: Indistractable, How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life
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One of my biggest sources of stress is how easily I get distracted. Whether it’s procrastination or the pull of my Twitter feed, I often find myself doing anything other than the work I say I want to do. And then I berate myself for not focusing or finishing my to-do list. I also know that the days when I do focus, everything feels easier.
Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal lays out a few things we can do, in our life, at work (for the day job set) and even in our relationships to feel less distracted and get more done. He calls this finding traction (the opposite of being distracted).
I heard about this book on the Unemployable podcast and found it in my local library about a week later, so clearly the Universe wanted me to read it.
About Indistractable by Nir Eyal
From Goodreads: “In Indistractable, Eyal reveals the hidden psychology driving us to distraction. He describes why solving the problem is not as simple as swearing off our devices: Abstinence is impractical and often makes us want more.
Eyal lays bare the secret of finally doing what you say you will do with a four-step, research-backed model. Indistractable reveals the key to getting the best out of technology, without letting it get the best of us.”
I’ve read enough business, self-help books like this to know that they can be filled with platitudes and a lot of basic information you can find anywhere. What intrigued me is that instead of blaming social media and technology for the distraction, the author attempts to get at the root cause — ourselves.
It’s not exactly a new revelation that the reason we are so easily distracted is because of the work we’re afraid to do. But sometimes we need the reminder that outside distractions are a symptom of what’s going on inside of us.
Eyal breaks this down into four basic parts, and advises readers to move through these parts in order to become truly “indistractable.” He also includes worksheets and resources to help put his advice into action.
Deal with internal triggers.
What stops you from getting work done? What do you do when you feel distracted? How do you feel when you check Twitter instead of writing that blog post? These are some of the questions this section focuses on. You’re challenged to pay attention to how you feel and rethink your own motivations and time management.
To be honest, there was nothing new here for me, but the reminder not to blame my smartphone or Twitter was important. Yes, those things are designed to be addictive, but I’m the one pulling away from my goals to scroll and swipe.
Give yourself time for traction.
By traction, Eyal means the meaningful, focused work you’d rather be doing. That might be researching new tools or writing a smutty blog post. He uses the term “timeboxing” but it felt very similar to “calendar blocking” to me. If you don’t currently schedule your date in small increments, this will be a good primer for you.
He also advises to schedule time in for the “fun” stuff that distracts us. We don’t have to give up YouTube, Twitter, or whatever. But we do need to be mindful of where we spend our time.
“Hack” your external triggers.
I don’t love the term “hack” but I agree with the advice. Eyal lays out specific moments to get back your time and reduce distractions so you can focus. Some of these are office-focused, but others like “smartphone” and “online articles” work for anyone. He provides actual examples of things you can do like using browser extensions and websites to help you eliminate distraction while you’re at the keyboard.
Part of this section involves recognizing what the external triggers are and coming up with a plan to deal with them ahead of time.
Make a pact with yourself.
Eyal says this final step in being indistractible won’t work until you master the first three. But he claims it’s very effective. It involves making a painful promise to yourself that you’ll do something you hate if you don’t meet a goal or deadline. The example he uses is paying a friend $10,000 if he doesn’t get his book written by a certain date. I’ve also seen this done by promising to donate to a hated charity if you miss a deadline. According to Eyal, this only works once you’ve taken the steps to eliminate distraction but need an extra push. I think it’s important to point out that the “pact” should be painful but not something that cripples you financially.
Read it or Not?
So is this book worth getting from the library (like I did) or buying? That depends. If you read every time management, distraction-reducing thing you can find, there may not be anything new here. But if you blame distractions on social media, your phone, or something outside of yourself, it may be worth a look. And if you need something practical, you’ll find plenty of immediate tips you can try in multiple situations. It’s both aspirational and practical.
For me, it was a good reminder to look within when the outside world becomes too distracting.
Buy the book (affiliate link)