Being indistractable: techniques from behavior expert Nir Eyal
Being indistractable: techniques from behavior expert Nir Eyal

How do you deal with distractions?

I asked behavior expert, Nir Eyal, to share his techniques — updated for the here and now…

1. Master your internal triggers

All distractions have an internal trigger — a feeling that underpins your desire to avoid the task at hand.

"Internal triggers are uncomfortable emotional states that we seek to escape from," explains Nir.

"With heightened anxiety and fear, we have more of these internal triggers. The world has become more uncertain, we worry about our health, many of us are worrying about keeping our jobs."

To become indistractable, assess your internal triggers honestly. Are you reading headlines or checking Twitter to be informed — or are you fleeing reality?

"We start to have a problem," says Nir, "if we watch the news so that we can worry about somebody else's problems halfway around the world —  as opposed to focusing on what's going on in our own life."

2. Make time for traction in your day

The key to focused work is setting an intention and building it into your calendar.

"It's absolutely critical — not only in our work life, but also our personal life — to schedule our time," Nir advises. "That's the only way to know the difference between traction, the actions you intend to do, and distraction, everything else."

"Sit down and ask yourself: how can I turn my values into time? We should measure ourselves based on whether we did what we said we were going to do, for as long as we said we would — without distraction."

3. Hack back external triggers

What about distractions that arrive externally, like social media notifications? For Nir, the key is customizing your setup.

"There's no doubt that media companies are hacking your attention," says Nir. "That doesn't mean we can't hack back: by turning off notifications, decluttering our desktops, changing our phone settings."

In 2020, many of us are working from home — and not all external distractions can be switched off!

"When you have other people who share your space at home, and you're trying to get work done, you have to interrupt the interruption."

"In my family, when my daughter was just 6 years old, we got what we call the 'concentration crown'. It's just a silly little hat that we wear! Whenever we do reflective work, we wear the concentration crown. This sends an explicit message to my daughter that we can't be interrupted."

4. Prevent distraction with pacts

These 3 steps create a solid foundation for the final technique: effort pacts.

"They are promises that we make with ourselves, with somebody else, or with a technology, to prevent us from getting distracted," explains Nir. "It's the firewall against distraction — the last line of defence."

Effort pacts are pre-commitments to a course of action. Make effort pacts when you're in a clear frame of mind, and you're less likely to act against your best interests later.

Nir's indistractability toolkit

"There are tools that I use every single day," says Nir. "In case everything else fails, they prevent me from getting distracted."

  • SelfControl — a free desktop app that blocks distracting websites for a set period of time.
  • Forest — a free mobile app where planting a virtual tree acts as a prompt to leave your phone alone.
  • Focusmate — connects you to another person somewhere in the world who also wants to do focused work.
  • Indistractable — Nir's award-winning book on how to control your attention and choose your life.