If you could buy a proven time management framework that gets rid of most of your daily distractions, how much would you be willing to pay?
In this case, it’s as much as Nir Eyal’s latest book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life” costs.
Nir’s framework draws upon a wide variety of disciplines and insights that are the keys to behavioural design: how each of us can improve our attention on things that matter.
And luckily, there are a range of strategies that you can use to regain your focus and become much more effective.
Step 1. Acknowledge most distractions come from within
Contrary to many, Nir is convinced that rather than purely blaming new technologies, such as apps and email why we struggle in achieving what we want, the truth is much more painful.
Because, we often choose to be distracted.
Ultimately much of the ways we allow distractions into our lives (checking our phone all the time, scrolling social media) is about putting off dealing with reality:
“the drive to relieve discomfort is the root cause of all of our behaviour, while everything else is an approximate cause” (p. 24).
We keep ourselves busy often precisely because there is something in our lives that we would rather not face whether it is loneliness, feelings of inadequacy, tasks that we don’t want to really do so we do other things instead.
To begin to understand why are you are often so distracted, it is crucial that you have an understanding of the internal triggers that pull you away from focused work.
These 4 key steps drawn from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can assist in starting to measure the distractions and, more importantly, their potential causes in your life:
- Pay attention to those feelings and thoughts that seem to surface before being distracted. Which thoughts or specific feelings do you see fleeting in your mind before you grab your phone and start checking email even after work?
- Write down these triggers. Keep a diary on what you are observing: are there specific moments, interactions, or just thoughts that seem to really trigger a distraction for you?
- Explore sensations. What are you feeling when you think about stressful issues in your life? Do you get a sense of tightness around the chest? Or sweaty palms? By reading these signs, we can get better in telling when we are likely to lapse into distraction.
- Observe what happens in liminal times. When we have a spare minute between activities e.g. changing from one activity to another, what triggers us to just reach for the phone? What if we waited 10 minutes before checking our phone?
By observing some of these questions and being part of this process, you can gain deep insights into what is actually driving some of the distracted behaviour that is making us to lose our focus on daily basis.
Controlling time is about values
How we choose to spend our time tells a lot about our values.
Controlling our time therefore is not just about creating a tight no-fun-allowed schedule but it is, in fact, a manifestation of our values and aspirations:
“By turning our values into time, we make sure we have time for traction. If we don’t plan ahead, we shouldn’t point fingers or be surprised that everything becomes a distraction. Being indistractable is largely about making sure you make time for traction each day and eliminating the distraction that keeps you from living the life you want- one that involves taking care of yourself, your relationships and your work” (p. 65).
Now, none of this is easy but takes a lot of practice and also putting in place strategies that allow you to focus more, such as using timeboxing and apps such as Pocket to set aside times for activities that matter.
Timeboxing is about dedicating a particular task to a particular time slot in your calendar and then actually only performing that task or activity during that time.
This might sound like an easy feat but trust me, how many of us are “just going to check that email quickly” or “just quickly check how many views my Tweet has”?
Yet, if you want to be serious about success you need to start controlling your time.
For example, the habits of top performers in Morten Hansen’s Great At Work study clearly also show that success does not depend on the number of hours worked but what you do with the hours you work.
It is one thing to schedule a time to do something and another to pay indistractable focus to what we actually do in that moment.
To make timeboxing an actual success, you need to put in place of strategies that help you to keep your focused.
With most phones, you can choose the “do not disturb” mode which means that most messages and calls will not come through while you are working.
You can craft a message to the person trying to reach you that you are, in fact, indistractable at the present and that you will return the call/text once you are available.
I actually added colour coding to time boxing: giving the different activities and tasks a different colour gives a visual baseline of which tasks are getting done, and which areas you need to schedule more time for.
I recently did this and wow, I have a lot to improve in how I divide my time across all the different tasks and commitments I have…
Controlling what you see and when
Browsing through the internet or even just quickly checking Facebook or Medium, we encounter many interesting online articles and often get sucked in reading those instead of actually working.
In order to control your reading time, the app “Pocket” comes handy: its sole function is to save the interesting articles you see online to enable you to read them later.
Combined with time boxing, you can save the articles and designate a time later during the day or week to read the articles with focus and not feel guilty about taking time to read.
You can even listen the articles on the app if you are too busy to read but would prefer to listen to them as you walk, clean or exercise.
Other tips are different browser add-ons that for example make your Facebook feed less about the news and more about what is worth seeing, and emptying your computer desktop and phone from unnecessary apps and figures.
Just seeing an empty desktop makes it easier to focus on what you need to do.
If you are constantly checking your social media apps, then delete those from your phone and again make designated times when you are on social media rather than 24/7 mode that many of us find ourselves in.
Even if many of these strategies sound like quick technological fixes, the basic message of the book is that an indistractable life is more worth living as you are able to live out your values by being present and focused.
And in the end it comes back to the question of you: are you willing to examine your own life, habits and thoughts closer and let go of those behaviours that are not helpful?