💡 Top 3-5 Ideas, Concepts, or Quotes
- Timeboxing by prioritizing our values
You don't have to believe everything you think, you are only powerless if you think you are.
You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it’s distracting you from.
🔦📒 Highlights & Notes
The images presented below are all from the book. I do not own them.
When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck.
— Paul Virilio
What’s Your Superpower?
Just as eating too much junk food leads to health problems, the overuse of devices can also have negative consequences.
- We need to learn how to avoid distraction. Living the lives we want not only requires doing the right things but also necessitates not doing the things we know we’ll regret.
- The problem is deeper than tech. Being indistractable isn’t about being a Luddite. It’s about understanding the real reasons why we do things against our best interests.
- Here’s what it takes: We can be indistractable by learning and adopting four key strategies.
Traction actions are actions that draw us toward what we want.
Distraction actions do the opposite.
All actions — distraction or traction — are prompted by triggers, internal or external.
Internal triggers cue us from within. Hunger. Cold. Emotions. They prompt us to do something about those triggers. If you're hungry, you're prompted to eat.
External triggers are cues in our environment. Notifications, calls, alerts, people, objects, and so on. Everything that doesn't come from within.
We want companies to innovate and solve our evolving needs, yet we must also ask whether better products bring out our best selves. Distractions will always exist; managing them is our responsibility.
Being indistractable means striving to do what you say you will do.
- Distraction stops you from achieving your goals. It is any action that moves you away from what you really want.
- Traction leads you closer to your goals. It is any action that moves you toward what you really want.
- Triggers prompt both traction and distraction. External triggers prompt you to action with cues in your environment. Internal triggers prompt you to action with cues within you.
Master Internal Triggers
What Motivates Us, Really?
By pleasure, we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul
The drive to relieve discomfort is the root cause of all our behavior. Every reason is intimately related to this.
We cannot simply blame our smartphones for distracting us.
We have to deal with the root cause of our distraction — otherwise we'll find other ways to distract ourselves.
Distraction is not about the distraction itself. It's about how we respond to it.
- Understand the root cause of distraction. Distraction is about more than your devices. Separate proximate causes from the root cause.
- All motivation is a desire to escape discomfort. If a behavior was previously effective at providing relief, we’re likely to continue using it as a tool to escape discomfort.
- Anything that stops discomfort is potentially addictive, but that doesn’t make it irresistible. If you know the drivers of your behavior, you can take steps to manage them.
Time Management Is Pain Management
If pain drives our actions — towards either traction or distraction — then we must become better at managing pain.
If distraction costs us time, then time management is pain management.
Where does our discomfort come from?
We're hardwired for it. We can be happy — but we can't be happy all the time.
Why? Because "if satisfaction and pleasure were permanent, there might be little incentive to continue seeking further benefits or advances." — if we were always happy and content, we wouldn't ever do anything to advance.
There are four psychological factors that make satisfaction temporary
- People would rather shock themselves than be bored
- We pay more attention to the bad than the good — bad is stronger than good
- The subconscious comparison of oneself to an unachieved standard
- "If you’ve ever chewed over something in your mind that you did, or that someone did to you, or over something that you don’t have but wanted, over and over again, seemingly unable to stop thinking about it, you’ve experienced what psychologists call rumination."
- No matter what we achieve or what happens to us, we always return to a baseline level of satisfaction
Dissatisfaction and discomfort dominate our brain’s default state, but we can use them to motivate us instead of defeat us.
Dissatisfaction is what drives us to do better. Be better.
Not being happy IS normal.
It’s good to know that feeling bad isn’t actually bad; it’s exactly what survival of the fittest intended.
- Time management is pain management. Distractions cost us time, and like all actions, they are spurred by the desire to escape discomfort.
- Evolution favored dissatisfaction over contentment. Our tendencies toward boredom, negativity bias, rumination, and hedonic adaptation conspire to make sure we’re never satisfied for long.
- Dissatisfaction is responsible for our species’ advancements as much as its faults. It is an innate power that can be channeled to help us make things better.
- If we want to master distraction, we must learn to deal with discomfort.
Deal with Distraction from Within
Certain desires can be modulated, if not completely mitigated, by how we think about our urges.
- Without techniques for disarming temptation, mental abstinence can backfire. Resisting an urge can trigger rumination and make the desire grow stronger.
- We can manage distractions that originate from within by changing how we think about them. We can reimagine the trigger, the task, and our temperament.
Reimagine the Internal Trigger
We can't control the thoughts and emotions that pop into our heads. However, we can control what we do with them.
We shouldn't try to fight the urge. We need new methods to handle intrusive thoughts. Follow these four steps:
- LOOK FOR THE DISCOMFORT THAT PRECEDES THE DISTRACTION, FOCUSING IN ON THE INTERNAL TRIGGER
WRITE DOWN THE TRIGGER
- Note the time of day, what you were doing, and how you felt as soon as you noticed the internal trigger that led to the distracting behavior.
- Do this as soon as you are aware of the behavior.
EXPLORE YOUR SENSATIONS
- Stay with the feeling before acting on the impulse.
BEWARE OF LIMINAL MOMENTS
- Liminal moments are transitions from one thing to another throughout your day.
- Basically; what you do between tasks. For example, checking your phone while waiting for the traffic light to change.
- These are not dangerous per se. The dangerous part is doing them for "just a second", leading to us getting off track for a much longer duration.
Instead on action on a distraction right away, tell yourself that it's fine to give in, but you have to wait ten minutes.
By reimagining an uncomfortable internal trigger, we can disarm it.
Step 1. Look for the emotion preceding distraction.
Step 2. Write down the internal trigger.
Step 3. Explore the negative sensation with curiosity instead of contempt.
Step 4. Be extra cautious during liminal moments.
Reimagine the Task
Fun and play don’t have to make us feel good per se; rather, they can be used as tools to keep us focused.
We fail to have fun because we don't take things seriously enough. Not because we need to "add some sugar" to the task.
This means that we don't have to run away from the pain of a task using rewards to help motivate us.
Instead, we should "pay such close attention that you find new challenges you didn't see before."
An example — Mowing a lawn
“It may seem ridiculous to call an activity like this ‘fun,’” he writes, yet he learned to love it. Here’s how: “First, pay close, foolish, even absurd attention to things.” For Bogost, he soaked up as much information as he could about the way grass grows and how to treat it. Then, he created an “imaginary playground” in which the limitations actually helped to produce meaningful experiences. He learned about the constraints he had to operate under, including his local weather conditions and what different kinds of equipment can and can’t do. Operating under constraints, Bogost says, is the key to creativity and fun. Finding the optimal path for the mower or beating a record time are other ways to create an imaginary playground.
Fun is looking for the variability in something other people don’t notice. It’s breaking through the boredom and monotony to discover its hidden beauty.
But... "finding novelty is only possible when we give ourselves the time to focus intently on a task and look hard for the variability. Whether it’s uncertainty about our ability to do a task better or faster than last time or coming back to challenge the unknown day after day, the quest to solve these mysteries is what turns the discomfort we seek to escape with distraction into an activity we embrace."
- We can master internal triggers by reimagining an otherwise dreary task. Fun and play can be used as tools to keep us focused.
- Play doesn’t have to be pleasurable. It just has to hold our attention
- Deliberateness and novelty can be added to any task to make it fun
Reimagine Your Temperament
To manage discomfort, we need to think of ourselves differently.
Many people believe that self-control is limited. That we only have so much willpower available to us. And to this, people believe that we run out of willpower when we exert ourselves. This is what psychologists call ego depletion.
We use this belief to rationalize distractions. For example, sitting on your couch, eating ice cream and watching netflix after work, thinking that you are "spent."
Ego depletion, however, is not real. People who don't see willpower as a finite resource do not show signs of ego depletion.
Therefore, it is the perception of ourselves that determine our willpower.
Ego depletion is caused by self-defeating thoughts, not any biological limitation. Willpower acts more like an emotion. In the same way we don't run out of anger or joy, we cannot run out of willpower. Willpower comes and goes as a response to what is happening to us and how we feel.
Believing that you have poor self-control leads to less self-control. So instead of telling ourselves that we've failed because we're deficient, we should show self-compassion by being kind to ourselves when we experience setbacks.
If we decide we're powerless to resist temptation, it becomes true.
If we tell ourselves we're deficient by nature, we'll believe every word.
You don't have to believe everything you think, you are only powerless if you think you are.
- Reimagining our temperament can help us manage our internal triggers.
- We don’t run out of willpower. Believing we do makes us less likely to accomplish our goals by providing a rationale to quit when we could otherwise persist.
- What we say to ourselves matters. Labeling yourself as having poor self-control is self-defeating.
- Practice self-compassion. Talk to yourself the way you’d talk to a friend. People who are more self-compassionate are more resilient.
Make Time for Traction
Turn Your Values into Time
Time is our most precious asset. It is, however, in most cases left unguarded. If you don't plan your days, someone else will.
Therefore, we need to make a schedule.
The most common approach is a to-do list. This is not enough — many tasks gets pushed from one day to the next.
Instead of focusing on what we need to do, we need to start with why we're going to do it. To do that, we must begin with our values.
Values are "how we want to be, what we want to be, what we want to stand for, and how we want to relate to the world around us" according to Russ Harris. In essence, they are the attributes of the person we want to be.
Values are never achieved — they are only to be pursued. Like a guiding star. They help us navigate our life choices.
There are three life domains that categorize our values.
- You (center)
In order to live our values in these domains, we have to schedule time for them. Only by setting time for traction can we avoid distraction.
You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it’s distracting you from.
We tend to perform better under the constraints of a schedule. Limitations give us structure.
A blank schedule and a long to-do list gives us too many choices which leads us to performing worse.
The most effective way to make time for traction is by timeboxing.
Timeboxing is simply deciding what you're going to do, and when you're going to do it.
The goal is to eliminate all white space on your calendar so you're left with a template for how you intend to spend your time each day.
Keeping a timeboxed schedule is the only way to know if you’re distracted. If you’re not spending your time doing what you’d planned, you’re off track.
It doesn’t so much matter what you do with your time; rather, success is measured by whether you did what you planned to do. It’s fine to watch a video, scroll social media, daydream, or take a nap, as long as that’s what you planned to do.
Creating a timeboxed schedule
To do this, you need to decide how much time you want to spend on each domain of your life.
How much time do you want to spend on yourself? On important relationships? Work?
Work is not just paid labor. It can also include community service, activism, and side projects.
Figure out how much time in each domain would allow you to be consistent with your values.
👉 Start by creating a weekly calendar template for your perfect week.
Spend 15 minutes on your schedule every week and refine your calendar by asking these two questions:
- Reflect: When in my schedule did I do what I said I would do and when did I get distracted?
- Refine: Are there changes I can make to my calendar that will give me the time I need to better live out my values?
Each week is a mini-experiment. The goal is to figure out if the schedule you've made works or not. Then you get to reflect and refine. When you're following your schedule, you'll be able to easily distinguish between traction and distraction.
Your schedule can change. Your life changes, so of course your schedule can, too. But once you've set your schedule, the idea is to stick to it until you decide to improve upon it for the next round. Be more like a curious scientist, rather than a drill sergeant. You should be getting better with each iteration.
- You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it is distracting you from. Planning ahead is the only way to know the difference between traction and distraction.
- Does your calendar reflect your values? To be the person you want to be, you have to make time to live your values.
- Timebox your day. The three life domains of you, relationships, and work provide a framework for planning how to spend your time.
- Reflect and refine. Revise your schedule regularly, but you must commit to it once it’s set.
Control the Inputs, Not the Outcomes
Never blow off appointments you've made with yourself.
Taking care of yourself is the core of the three domains because the other two depend on your health and wellness.
By setting aside time to live out your values in the “you” domain, you will have the time to reflect on your calendar and visualize the qualities of the person you want to be. With your body and mind strong, you will also be much more likely to follow through on your promises.
You (at the very least) need to schedule time for
- Proper nourishment
Other ways to take care of yourself include
- Listening to audiobooks
- Practicing a hobby
What happens when we don't accomplish what we want to, despite making the time?
The author often had trouble sleeping. When that occurred, he'd get irritated that he wasn't getting enough sleep - and about how groggy he'd be in the morning. This is rumination. Then he started repeating a simple mantra, "The body gets what the body needs", effectively taking the pressure off himself to sleep.
Our job to give our bodies the proper time and place to rest. What happened after that is out of our control.
The author started looking at him waking up in the middle of the night as a chance to read on his kindle. He wouldn't worry about when he fell back aslseep. If he wasn't tird enough to fall asleep right at that moment, he reasoned that his body had already gotten enough rest.
This is how he fixed his rumination. Once the rumination stopped, so did his sleepless nights. He started falling back asleep in minutes.
The takeaway is that, when it comes to our time, we should stop worrying about outcomes we can’t control and instead focus on the inputs we can. The positive results of the time we spend doing something is a hope, not a certainty.
The one thing we control is the time we put into a task.
- Schedule time for yourself first. You are at the center of the three life domains. Without allocating time for yourself, the other two domains suffer.
- Show up when you say you will. You can’t always control what you get out of time you spend, but you can control how much time you put into a task.
- Input is much more certain than outcome. When it comes to living the life you want, making sure you allocate time to living your values is the only thing you should focus on.
Schedule Important Relationships
The people we love most should not be content getting whatever time is left over. Everyone benefits when we hold time on our schedule to live up to our values and do our share.
This is how friendships die—they starve to death.
- The people you love deserve more than getting whatever time is left over. If someone is important to you, make regular time for them on your calendar.
- Go beyond scheduling date days with your significant other. Put domestic chores on your calendar to ensure an equitable split.
- A lack of close friendships may be hazardous to your health. Ensure you maintain important relationships by scheduling time for regular get-togethers.
Sync with Stakeholders at Work
- Syncing your schedule with stakeholders at work is critical for making time for traction in your day. Without visibility into how you spend your time, colleagues and managers are more likely to distract you with superfluous tasks.
- Sync as frequently as your schedule changes. If your schedule template changes from day to day, have a daily check-in. However, most people find a weekly alignment is sufficient.
Hack Back External Triggers
Ask the Critical Questions
It has been found that when people are interrupted during a task, they tend to subsequently make up for lost time by working faster, but the cost is higher levels of stress and frustration.
Hide your phone from view. Then your brain is able to focus on the task at hand.
External triggers can be both good and bad. But receiving too many can wreck your productivity and happiness. To separate the good from the bad, ask "Is this trigger serving me, or am I serving it?"
- External triggers often lead to distraction. Cues in our environment like the pings, dings, and rings from devices, as well as interruptions from other people, frequently take us off track.
- External triggers aren’t always harmful. If an external trigger leads us to traction, it serves us.
- We must ask ourselves: Is this trigger serving me, or am I serving it? Then we can hack back the external triggers that don’t serve us.
Hack Back Work Interruptions
- Interruptions lead to mistakes. You can’t do your best work if you’re frequently distracted.
- Open-office floor plans increase distraction.
- Defend your focus. Signal when you do not want to be interrupted. Use a screen sign or some other clear cue to let people know you are indistractable.
Hack Back Email
- Break down the problem. Time spent on email (T) is a function of the number of messages received (n) multiplied by the average time (t) spent per message: T = n × t.
- Reduce the number of messages received. Schedule office hours, delay when messages are sent, and reduce time-wasting messages from reaching your inbox.
- Spend less time on each message. Label emails by when each message needs a response. Reply to emails during a scheduled time on your calendar.
Hack Back Group Chat
Rules for using Group Chat
Use it like a sauna
- Stay a while but then get out. It's unhealthy to stay for too long.
- Schedule it
- Be picky about who's invited -- not everyone needs to be there. Everyone present should be able to add or extract value from the conversation.
Use it selectively
- Chat should be about quick, ephemeral things.
- Important topics need time, traction, and separation from the rest of the chatter.
- Real-time communication channels should be used sparingly. Time spent communicating should not come at the sacrifice of time spent concentrating.
- Company culture matters. Changing group chat practices may involve questioning company norms. We’ll discuss this topic in part five.
- Different communication channels have different uses. Rather than use every technology as an always-on channel, use the best tools for the job.
- Get in and get out. Group chat is great for replacing in-person meetings but terrible if it becomes an all-day affair.
Hack Back Meetings
- Make it harder to call a meeting. To call a meeting, the organizer must circulate an agenda and briefing document.
- Meetings are for consensus building. With few exceptions, creative problem-solving should occur before the meeting, individually or in very small groups.
- Be fully present. People use devices during meetings to escape monotony and boredom, which subsequently makes meetings even worse.
- Have one laptop per meeting. Devices in everyone’s hands makes it more difficult to achieve the purpose of the meeting. With the exception of one laptop in the room for presenting information and taking notes, leave devices outside.
Hack Back Your Smartphone
- You can hack back the external triggers on your phone in four steps and in less than one hour.
- Remove: Uninstall the apps you no longer need.
- Replace: Shift where and when you use potentially distracting apps, like social media and YouTube, to your desktop instead of on your phone. Get a wristwatch so you don’t have to look at your phone for the time.
- Rearrange: Move any apps that may trigger mindless checking from your phone’s home screen.
- Reclaim: Change the notification settings for each app. Be very selective regarding which apps can send you sound and sight cues. Learn to use your phone’s Do Not Disturb settings.
Hack Back Your Desktop
- Desktop clutter takes a heavy psychological toll on your attention. Clearing away external triggers in your digital workspace can help you stay focused.
- Turn off desktop notifications. Disabling notifications on your computer ensures you won’t get distracted by external triggers while doing focused work.
Hack Back Online Articles
- Online articles are full of potentially distracting external triggers. Open tabs can pull us off course and tend to suck us down a time-wasting content vortex.
- Make a rule. Promise yourself you’ll save interesting content for later by using an app like Pocket.
- Surprise! You can multitask. Use multichannel multitasking like listening to articles while working out or taking walking meetings.
Hack Back Feeds
- Feeds, like the ones we scroll through on social media, are designed to keep you engaged. Feeds are full of external triggers that can drive us to distraction.
- Take control of feeds by hacking back. Use free browser extensions like News Feed Eradicator for Facebook, Newsfeed Burner, Open Multiple Websites, and DF Tube to remove distracting external triggers.
Prevent Distraction with Pacts
The Power of Precommitments
- Being indistractable does not only require keeping distraction out. It also necessitates reining ourselves in.
- Precommitments can reduce the likelihood of distraction. They help us stick with decisions we’ve made in advance.
- Precommitments should only be used after the other three indistractable strategies have already been applied. Don’t skip the first three steps.
Prevent Distraction with Effort Pacts
An effort pact prevents distraction by making unwanted behaviors more difficult to do.
Like putting your cookies in a safe
- An effort pact prevents distraction by making unwanted behaviors more difficult to do.
- In the age of the personal computer, social pressure to stay on task has largely disappeared. No one can see what you’re working on, so it’s easier to slack off. Working next to a colleague or friend for a set period of time can be a highly effective effort pact.
- You can use tech to stay off tech. Apps like SelfControl, Forest, and Focusmate can help you make effort pacts.
Prevent Distraction with Price Pacts
A price pact is a precommitment that involves putting money on the line to encourager us to do what we say we will.
We're often more motivated to avoid losses than to seek gains. Losing hurts more than winning feels good. This is known as "loss aversion."
The Pitfalls of Price Pacts
PRICE PACTS AREN’T GOOD AT CHANGING BEHAVIORS WITH EXTERNAL TRIGGERS YOU CAN’T ESCAPE
- Price pacts only work when you can tune out or turn off the external triggers.
PRICE PACTS SHOULD ONLY BE USED FOR SHORT TASKS
- If we are bound for too long, we associate the pact with punishment. This can lead to resentment of the task or goal.
ENTERING A PRICE PACT IS SCARY
- But that's illogical because the pact makes success much more likely.
- "Expect some trepidation when entering into a price pact, but do it anyway."
- PRICE PACTS AREN’T FOR PEOPLE WHO BEAT THEMSELVES UP
- A price pact adds a cost to getting distracted. It has been shown to be a highly effective motivator.
- Price pacts are most effective when you can remove the external triggers that lead to distraction.
- Price pacts work best when the distraction is temporary.
- Price pacts can be difficult to start. We fear making a price pact because we know we’ll have to actually do the thing we’re scared to do.
- Learn self-compassion before making a price pact.
Prevent Distractions with Identity Pacts
One of the most effective ways to change our behavior is to change our identity.
Our perception of who we are changes what we do.
An identity pact is a precommitment to a self-image that helps us pursue what we really want.
With that in mind, what identity should we take on to help fight distraction? It should now be clear why this book is titled Indistractable. Welcome to your new moniker! By thinking of yourself as indistractable, you empower yourself through your new identity. You can also use this identity as a rationale to tell others why you do “strange” things like meticulously plan your time, refuse to respond to every notification immediately, or put a sign on your screen when you don’t want to be disturbed. These acts are no more unusual than other expressions of identity, like wearing religious garb or eating a particular diet. It’s time to be indistractable and proud!
Telling others about your new identity is a great way to solidify your pact.
Another way to reinforce our identity is through rituals.
Our identity is not fixed. Our self-image is flexible and is just a construct in our minds. It's a habit of thought — and habits can be changed for the better.
- Identity greatly influences our behavior. People tend to align their actions with how they see themselves.
- An identity pact is a precommitment to a self-image. You can prevent distraction by acting in line with your identity.
- Become a noun. By assigning yourself a moniker, you increase the likelihood of following through with behaviors consistent with what you call yourself. Call yourself “indistractable.”
- Share with others. Teaching others solidifies your commitment, even if you’re still struggling. A great way to be indistractable is to tell friends about what you learned in this book and the changes you’re making in your life.
- Adopt rituals. Repeating mantras, keeping a timeboxed schedule, or performing other routines reinforces your identity and influences your future actions.