How to avoid distractions? Nir Eyal tells us how.

‘People guard their personal property more than their personal time’ – the line from the Indistractable Book from Nir Eyal really struck a chord like no other.  That our most precious asset – our time- is wholly unguarded – needs to be called out and considered by all of us.

When I started reading the book, I assumed it would be a documented version of the highly discussed and debated Netflix movie Social Dilemma. Wherein the author would pontify on the obvious hooks and traps laid out by the Facebooks and Twitter and the general attention-deficit of this generation (notwithstanding his previous work on how to exactly develop these hooks in tech products). And then offer up some obvious solutions like turning off notifications, blocking distraction-free time to do deep work and the importance of making connections in the real world.

I was wrong.

Halfway through the Indistractable book, I have had to pause and write this post because the book is brimming with observations and practical ideas that I would like to examine in detail over multiple posts. At various points I found myself nodding my head vigorously in agreement and the book has already given me enough bang for the buck.

At the very outset Nir Eyal admits that he tried all sorts of rigorous abstaining techniques to ward off social media. And like the most of us, he found himself returning to it with renewed vigour.

One of the earliest concepts that the book touches upon is on how we need to stop blaming Facebook, Whatsapp or Netflix (enter your drug of choice) for distracting us. Do they offer ready-made easy distractions? Yes. Is this only a post-social media problem? No. 10 years ago television was also labelled with the same necessary evil derision for offering easy stimulants.

What we need to examine is that these stimulants distract us away from what?

Any form of distraction is just a means to avoid discomfort or pain in life.

Had a bad review at work? Got into a passive aggressive fight with the spouse? Generally dissatisfied with your career trajectory? You will be much more likely to picking up your phone to check your emails or messages. As the Indistractable book states - Distractions are just one of the ways for our brains to deal with pain.

After almost 1.5 years of being camped up with the husband, I have become very aware of the triggers that are huge time-drains. Only one of us needs to be feeling depressed/anxious/insecure for it to lead to the two of us to find some way to bridge over this wave of emotion. One bad interview experience, would prompt random ordering of desserts, finding a passable Seth Rogan movie and a more than a few pep talks interspersed over the next few days. Despite recognizing this cascading time loss while in the moment, for an event that will ultimately have no consequence a month down the line, I immediately imagine an oversized comical version of my mom scoffing that that’s what relationships are all about, and I then dutifully submit to it ofcourse.

And this is despite that fact that as a couple, we are extremely and dare I say disproportionately mindful about our careers, our future goals and our time.

So then what is the solution?

The first step is to be mindful of these internal triggers. Recognizing when and why you go on this path of time-distraction is crucial for you to attempt to overcome it. One way suggested is to write it down.

For instance, every time I would find my mind wandering to the aforementioned disastrous interview, I would automatically reach out to my phone and watch a random youtube video. And ofcourse before I know it, I have spent the next 30 minutes watching clips from the Conan show.

Now that I have started writing down whenever my mind goes on the journey of Why-did-I say-that-in-the-aforementioned-disastrous interview, I just take a breath and squash the thought like an annoying little bug. It helps me track these thoughts better and manage it way better.

Another concept talked about in the Indistractable book is to have self-compassion. Our minds can be our biggest bullies – which is ofcourse how almost everyone seems to suffer from the Imposter Syndrome. Nir Eyal suggests that you talk to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend.

So imagine your friend did a disastrously stupid thing at work. And then she comes crying to you after beating herself up about it. I would first assure her that almost everyone does stupid things on a regular basis at work. Ofcourse give her examples of my own work screw-ups. No work that we do is life-threatening. The worst-case scenario is that you call up the client and highlight how you messed up. The client would also in high- probability just be pissed off temporarily and give you an opportunity to fix it. You should take this as a learning opportunity and in the future always check for X.

Why don’t we talk to ourselves with the similar degree of self-compassion? Why do we always imagine end-of-the-world scenarios?

The toxic guilt that we put ourselves through is quite ridiculous. It just increases anxiety and depression which is further self-limiting to our overarching goals.

So now in my next disastrous interview experience, I will try to self administer a pep talk. I will think about the comically bad interview experiences threads on Reddit and Twitter. I will think about how I am sure to laugh about it in a few months.

And then just move on. Because as Nir Eyal said, we have got to be frugal with our time.

Imagine a hypothetical trading platform for money vs time in life. Would you trade a year of your life for $10,000? Is there an amount that you would trade it for? As Naval, the OG internet philosopher suggested in his famous tweetstorm – Start putting a monetary value for your time and then decide on whether the task you are about to do is worth it.  

You might find yourself becoming Indistractible!