Nir Eyal

Building an indistractable culture

05 Jan 2020   |   Productivity

Nir Eyal

Building an indistractable culture

05 Jan 2020   |   Productivity

What are we talking about?

Productivity, specifically how to be indistractable at work.

Why are we talking about it?

Two positive worktrends are coming our way. One is that we are doing more creative, innovative, or knowledge-based work than ever before. The second is that we are increasingly in charge of our own time, whether that be flexible hours or remote work.

However, most of us have not trained our brains for the responsibility of doing really important and human work on an open schedule. And all the technology around us isn’t helping. It’s not the cause, as we’ll see, but it’s not helping.

If we can spend more of our day being indistractable, both our work lives and our personal lives will improve dramatically. In fact, Nir Eyal says that it is the most important skill of the century.

What this episode is about

In his book, Nir lays out a four-step plan for becoming indistractable.

1. Master internal triggers

2. Make time for traction

3. Hack back external triggers

4. Prevent distractions with pacts

Mastering internal triggers

Despite all the talk around how technology is distracting us, Nir says technology didn’t start the fire. We’ve always been distractible and we’re wired that way. He says it’s the difference between proximal causes vs. root causes.

At the root of our distractions is discomfort. We seek out things that help us avoid our discomfort. Which leads to one of Nir’s best quotes:

“Time management is pain management.”

We often blame the triggers around us, but the internal distractions are much more destructive.

Nir says, “Technology is the not the cause of distraction. It’s just the latest tool that we use to take our minds off of our discomfort.”

“If Facebook shuts down tomorrow, are we all going to start reading Shakespeare and Chaucer? We need to deal with the internal distractions before blaming tech.”

Making time for traction

Nir prefers the term traction as opposed to focus. Once you master your internal triggers (and send me a note when you do), then, you must make time for the things that are most important to you and align best with your values.

This doesn’t mean you spend all day doing work and meditation. You can plan out your time using timeboxing.

The secret here is that you can plan out when you do things rather than just on impulse. We can get lulled into believing we are working when really we are just jumping from one task to another.

Nir says, “Email is more distracting than watching a youtube video. At least when you are watching a video, you know you are not doing what you intended. When you are doing email, you can convince yourself that you are actually working.”

Also, “Time you planned to waste is not wasted time.”

In general, we don’t guard our time well enough. We need to be very careful when we attend meetings that have no agenda. Or when we get pulled into a discussion where we aren’t needed.

Nir said that your boss will likely be supportive if you show your schedule. Rather than just saying “No, I can’t do that,” show your calendar and ask what you should remove to get a new task done.

Hacking back external triggers

Don’t just blame the technology. Even Slack, which is the latest punching bag for bad productivity, has strict rules about how their employees use the product.

It’s not too hard. Turn off your notifications and only check them when it’s time to.

Creating an indistractable work culture

However, creating an indistractable workplace is much harder than just worrying about notifications. The worst work environments are those which have high expectations and low control. Think about how you can give more responsibility over to your team so that they have more control over how they spend their day and the goals they need to reach.

On top of that, Nir says there are three important parts to an indistractable culture

1. A psychologically safe space

2. A forum to talk about ideas and concerns

3. Leadership that actually practices these things

Also, we need to think deeply about the workspaces we are in. The number one distraction in the modern office is not technology, but someone coming up and tapping you on the shoulder. Open office plans and other models need to be reconsidered to create a better culture of work.

There is time for reflective work, and time for reactive work. However, most of our time is spent reacting to what other people send us, rather than prioritizing reflecting on what needs to be done.

Learn more about Nir Eyal

Find the book
The website
The schedule maker tool
A distraction guide

Today, our guest is Nir Eyal. He’s a speaker, thought leader and author of the books “Hooked” and “Indistractable“. This episode is called Work Minus Distracted Minds. Hi, Nir. How are you doing today?

I’m doing great. How about yourself?

Very good. Very good. I’m really excited about this episode. This is a topic I’ve been looking at for a long time and a lot of our listeners have been asking about, productivity, focus, how do we keep our heads when we have so much going on around us? So, I’m really excited about this topic.

Absolutely. It is a big problem that I think finally has a solution. So, I’m eager to help you out and help out your listeners as well.

And this is cool. And I love your writing style. I love the way you approach this topic very much keeping things in mind in terms of it is a solvable problem. It’s something that we almost created the problem and we can work backwards to create a solution for it, too. And I like how you frame that.

Absolutely. And I think what’s interesting about this question about distraction is that what people think is the problem tends to not actually be the problem. People tend to blame the distractions, the gadgets, the things that they think take them off track. And it turns out to be that that’s just what we call the proximal cause. That’s not the root cause. It’s a symptom, not the disease.

Yeah. Well, let’s just jump in right there. I think that the first part of your book, where you talk about these internal triggers, is probably I don’t know if it’s the most philosophical or the deepest thing you said in the whole thing when you’re talking about what’s actually driving these distractions that’s there. So, guide us through this and especially this phrase you say, time management is pain management. I really want to get into that.

Yeah, absolutely. So, when we talk about distraction, the best place to start is to define what we mean and the best way to understand distraction is to understand what distraction is not, what is the opposite of distraction. So, if you ask most people, they’ll tell you the opposite of distraction is focus. But I don’t agree. I don’t think that’s true. I think actually the opposite of distraction is not focus. The opposite of distraction is traction. If you look at the etymology of the words, what you’ll find is that traction and distraction come from the same Latin root, trahere, which means to pull, and they both end in the same six letter word, a-c-t-i-o-n, that spells action. So, traction is any action that pulls you towards what you want to do, things that you do with intent. The opposite of traction is distraction, anything that pulls you away from what you plan to do. So, this is really important for two reasons. Number one, anything can be a distraction. How many times have you sat at your desk and said now I’m going to get to work, I’m going to stop procrastinating, I’m going to finally do what I said I’m going to do, here I go… Right after I check email. Right? After I do that one thing on my to do list, it’s easy to check off. Let me do that first real quick and then I’ll get back to work.

Get some momentum going, right?

Exactly. I argue that that is just as harmful as playing a video game or watching a YouTube video or putzing around on Facebook. It is just as much of a distraction. It’s even worse. Because when you play a video game or putz around on Facebook, you know that you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. A more pernicious form of distraction is when you think you’re productive, but you’re doing pseudo work. Because what happens to us, distraction tricks us into prioritizing the urgent at the expense of the important and that is cancer for your productivity, for your happiness, and your well being. So, what you’ve got to do is to recognize the difference between traction and distraction and realize that anything can be a distraction if it’s not what you plan to do with your day. So, conversely, just as anything can be a distraction, anything can be traction. That if you make time for something that you enjoy, the time you plan to waste is not wasted time. If you want to play a video game, watch sports on TV, and join Netflix, go on Facebook, none of this stuff is bad for you. Don’t believe this stuff in the media that it’s addicting you and it’s hijacking your brain and it’s evil. Come on. Give me a break. There’s no moral hierarchy between playing a video game and watching football on TV. There’s no difference. As long as you’re enjoying it, it’s consistent with your values, and you’re doing it on your schedule as opposed to somebody else’s, enjoy it. But plan for it. Don’t do it just when you feel like it. Do it on your schedule and according to your values, not when you get some ping or ding from some app maker that’s trying to manipulate you into using the product. Do it when you want to, not when they want you to. So, now we understand the difference between traction and distraction.

And before you go on, when you say traction and distraction, I get the image of even like a tire, a tire tread that’s there. With traction, you think it’s got some grip to it, you’re actually moving somewhere, you’re going forward, whereas without traction, the wheel’s just spinning around. Is that an apt metaphor?

Sure, or maybe it spins backwards. Because distraction really does spin us backwards. It’s doing something that is not what you plan to do with your time. So, we’ve got traction, we’ve got distraction, then what drives us towards these actions? What prompts us to either take traction or distraction? Triggers. Triggers are prompts to action. And there are two types of triggers. We have external triggers, the pings, the dings, the rings, all of these things in our outside environment that move us towards traction or distraction. And this is what people tend to blame. We tend to blame our cell phones, Facebook, email, Slack, whatever, we blame the things around us. But that actually what I discovered in my five years of research is actually not the root cause of distraction. That what tends to distract us much more than these external triggers, these things around us, is what is happening within us. It is not the external triggers, it tends to be the internal triggers. Not that we shouldn’t do something about the external triggers, and we can talk about that a little later. But it turns out that most distractions starts from within. These internal triggers are responses to uncomfortable emotional states. All of these internal triggers are about escaping discomfort. In fact, all human motivation is about the desire to relieve pain, that many of us believe that the root of human motivation is about the desire to pursue pleasure and avoid discomfort. But in fact, neurologically, it’s just pain all the way down. It’s not carrots and sticks. It’s all about discomfort.

Now, what do I mean by that? Don’t we want to do things because they feel good? Yes. But neurologically, even the pursuit of something pleasurable is itself psychologically destabilizing. So, wanting, craving, desire, lust, there’s a reason we say love hurts, because neurologically that is exactly what is happening. The way the brain gets you to do anything and everything is by creating some amount of discomfort, even the desire, the craving to feel good. So, what does this mean? If all human behavior is prompted by a desire to escape discomfort, that means that time management is pain management, that we have to come to grips with this fact that everything we do, every distraction is about our desire to escape an uncomfortable feeling. Think about it. If you’re lonely, check Facebook. If you’re uncertain, you Google. If you’re bored, ESPN, the news, stock prices, sports scores, Pinterest, Reddit, all of these things cater to uncomfortable sensations. And so, that is the root cause of most distraction. It’s not the devices. It’s what we are looking to escape from. Whether it’s because I’m eating too much, or I’m drinking too much, or I’m working too much, or I’m checking Facebook too much. It has to do always with these internal triggers. So, that is the first place to start. We have to master these internal triggers because none of the productivity hacks, none of the books about how to get more out of your day, none of the stuff that you’ve read about will work unless we first address the root cause of the problem.

When you were learning about this and researching it, did this realization come early on in that process or was it as you dug deeper, you realized, wow, this all comes back to discomfort?

I totally didn’t want to face this fact because this is an uncomfortable, icky sticky truth, right? We all want the life hack. We all want just tell me what to do. Give me the technique that’s going to make me super productive. And it turns out that if you don’t face the truth, that everything that we do that is against our interest, and by the way, this is not a new problem. Distraction has been around for a very long time. 2500 years before the iPhone was invented, Plato talked about distraction. He called it akrasia in the Greek which is our tendency to do things against our better interest. This is not a new problem. Technology did not create this problem. Technology is the tool we use oftentimes to distract ourselves just like people distract themselves with too much booze, too much work, too much whatever. This is the latest tool that we use to take our mind off our discomfort. And so, for me, the reason I’m so fascinated by this topic is because research is me search, I need this for myself. I used to be clinically obese. Now I’m not. Thankfully I’m in the best shape of my life. And a big part of that is because there’s a lot of similarities between why we overeat, why we do things against our best interest when it comes to our health and fitness, and also our media diet and our attention diet. Many of the same factors are playing. So, the things that help me get control of my weight also help me get control of other distractions in my life.

Let’s back up just a little bit and talk about the future of work because that’s one of our main topics. We’re trying to prepare companies for the future of work. So, as we look out into the world 5, 10, 20 years from now, why is this skill very important for leadership teams to discuss? Why is focus or traction, looking forward, why is it something we should really be focused on right now?

I think becoming indistractable is the skill of the century that when it comes to doing your best work, we can only do our best work if we are able to concentrate on one thing at a time. If you think about your relationships, we have an epidemic of loneliness in this country. And that is because it’s impossible to connect with people unless you are fully present. When we think about our kids, what kind of example are we setting if what our kids see of us is the top of our heads as we’re scrolling on our devices? And so, it’s imperative that for ourselves, for our relationships, for our families, that we become indistractable. And when it comes to the workplace, here’s where it really gets interesting. What we know is that distraction at work is a symptom of a greater dysfunction. And so, half of my book, “Indistractable“, is about things that you can do for yourself. These are things that you can adopt in your own life. The second half of the book deals with these various environments where we find ourselves. So, there’s a chapter on how to raise indistractable kids. There’s a section on how to be indistractable in your relationships. There’s also a whole section on how to build an indistractable workplace. Because what we find is that the workplace can have a profound impact on our level of distraction.

In fact, we know that there is a particular type of work that literally drives us crazy. And I don’t use that word lightly. They literally drive us crazy. We know that there’s a type of work that leads to, not just correlated with, but actually a causal relationship, a certain type of work and one that causes anxiety and depression disorder, which we know is a national crisis these days that so many people are struggling with depression and anxiety disorder. And if you think to yourself what kind of work makes people depressed? When I first heard this research, I would have thought it would be a work environment that’s particularly sad. Maybe it’s the kind of work environment that you have to be a veterinarian that puts down animals or maybe you’re a mortician that has to deal with dead bodies. That sounds like sad work, right? No. It has nothing to do with the work you do, and everything to do with the environment you do it in. It turns out the confluence of two factors are what makes people more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety disorder. And these two factors are work environments where you have the confluence of high expectations and low control. High expectations and low control. If you have high expectations and high control, that’s fine. That can be a work environment where people thrive. But where you have a work environment with high expectations and low control, this is what leads to anxiety and depression disorder in the workplace.

And here’s what happens. When people feel a lack of agency, when they feel a lack of control, and they start feeling these symptoms of anxiety and depression disorder, that feels bad, that creates more of these internal triggers that they are desperate to escape from. So, what do they do? They call more superfluous meetings. They send more emails that don’t need to be sent. And not only do they distract themselves, they distract everybody else in the work environment in a desperate attempt to regain the agency and control that they are missing. And so, I want this to settle in that if your work environment is played by distraction, it is a sign of a sick company culture. It’s not the technology. It’s that there’s a company culture where people do not feel that they have the agency and control that they need for psychological well being. And that perpetuates what we call the cycle of responsiveness that leads to higher employee turn, leads to higher rates of depression, anxiety disorder, and ultimately is horrible for the bottom line.

So, what are some other signs that your workplace may be suffering from this? You talked about excessive emails, excessive meetings. What are some other things we should be on the lookout for?

I studied this problem pretty extensively for the past five years. And what I was fascinated to find is that there are three conditions of a work environment that is indistractable. And it has nothing to do with the technology per se. And in fact, this kind of threw me for a loop because I thought that the problem was the technology at first. I honest to goodness thought that it’s the technology that’s making everyone so distracted. So, I actually went to the culprits. I did a lot of surveying and I found that the number one most annoying, distracting technology at work, number one was email. Number two, see if you can guess. What do you think is the number two most annoying, distracting technology that people complain about at work?

Oh, man, I would go with Slack maybe.

That’s right. Exactly. Bingo. Slack or some other group messaging service. So, I actually went to Slack headquarters. And I expected to see a bunch of distracted people because, look, who uses Slack more than the employees of Slack? And that’s not what I found at all. That in fact, at Slack, they don’t have this problem. That it’s 6:30, the office is empty. Everybody goes home. And if you use Slack on nights and weekends, you are reprimanded. That is not allowed at Slack. Furthermore, they have on the company walls, I was shocked to see this, they have in bright pink neon letters, it says work hard and go home. It says this on the company walls. And so, what I boiled down, I interviewed dozens of companies. There’s two companies I profile in the book, Boston Consulting Group and Slack. They both exemplify these three traits of a company that has an indistractable workplace culture. And the three traits are number one, they give people psychological safety, meaning you can talk about the problems in your company without fear of retribution, without fear of getting fired. That’s a very, very important trait. Number two, they give people a forum to air these concerns. So at BCG, they have these weekly meetings. At Slack, they actually use Slack to talk about these concerns. And number three, it’s a workplace where management exemplifies what it means to be indistractable.

So, these are the kind of work environments where people aren’t using their devices. Typically, it’s the big boss. And most companies that I work with, I do a lot of teaching and consulting and speaking, I’ll give these workshops where it’s always the highest paid person’s opinion, the hippo in the room, that’s the person who’s using their phone because they’re so important they constantly need to be connected. Well, you’re sending a message to everyone in the company that that meeting is less important than your stupid email. And this has a secondhand smoke effect. People start saying, oh, well, if you’re on your email, I must have something important in my email, too, and now everybody around the table is checking their devices. And we have what I call a zombie meeting, where you have warm bodies in the room, but the brains are gone. The brains are somewhere else. It’s devastating to a workplace culture and workplace efficiency that the companies do this thing. And so, the final trade is you have to have a company where management exemplifies what it means to be indistractable. So, companies like BCG and Slack are these kind of companies that have really mastered that type of workplace environment. And it turns out that any company can have that workplace culture, if it’s something that management takes seriously.

Let’s talk about the technology just briefly. We know that it’s not the core problem. But do technology companies, software companies have some kind of almost ethical obligation to make sure that their tools at least are a little bit safeguarded from being misused and from being over notifying people of things?

Yes or No. So, let’s think about this ethically. So, I think it’s unethical to take advantage of people who can’t make sound decisions. So, in society, we have certain protected classes. So, for example, children are a protected class. I wouldn’t let my 11-year-old daughter walk into a bar and order a gin and tonic. She’s not ready for that. I wouldn’t let her go to a casino and play blackjack. She’s not ready for it. There are certain things in society that kids are not allowed to do because we don’t consider them to have sound mind to make wise decisions. So, that’s a protected class. So, I think companies definitely have a responsibility around children. And there are many laws to protect children on the books already. Furthermore, I think there are laws around that I think we need around protecting people who are pathologically addicted. So, there’s a small percentage of people with all sorts of products. If you think about alcohol, right? Alcohol is highly addictive. But clearly, not everyone who has a beer once in a while is an alcoholic, that would be ridiculous. A very small proportion of people are alcoholics, and they deserve special help. The problem is, if you make alcohol, how do you know who’s addicted? You have no idea. Well, tech companies know. They know how much we all use their products.

And so, the silver lining of all the data that’s collected on us is that I think companies do have an ethical and very soon I think they should have a legal responsibility to reach out to the people who are pathologically addicted based on how much time they use these products. Now, that means that for the rest of us, if you’re not a child or you’re not pathologically addicted, guess what? It’s a personal responsibility issue. And the good news is we can do a lot about this. I’m giving you I wrote a 280-page book with four steps that anyone can take to make themselves indistractable. And the four steps are, number one, master your internal triggers, understand the real drivers of distraction because I’m telling you, if Facebook shuts down tomorrow, you think people are going to start reading Shakespeare and Chaucer in their spare time? Of course not. We’re going to do what we always did, gossip and watch sports games and all kinds of frivolous activities. Because we love distraction. We’re going to get distracted by one thing or another with or without Facebook. So, you have to figure out the root cause of why you’re getting distracted. Number two, we’ve got to make time for traction. We have to plan our day because if you don’t plan your day, somebody’s going to plan it for you.

Number three, we have to hack back the external triggers that of course these technologies are hacking our attention. Is that a surprise? Every form of media hacks your attention. You think because the New York Times is in a different business model? No. They’re in the same exact business model as Facebook. They sell your eyeballs to advertisers just like Facebook does. And if it’s not the New York Times or Facebook, it’s going to be ESPN or something else, the news, whatever, something is going to take up your day and your time unless you decide how to hack back, because we are more powerful than they are. There’s nothing that Zuckerberg can do if you turn off notifications settings. Nothing. He can’t get your phone and turn them back on. There’s nothing that they can do about it. So, I give you techniques to not only hack back the external triggers on your phone, I teach you how to hack back your computer, how to hack back meetings, my God, what a tremendous distraction meetings are these days, how to hack back email, how to hack back the open floorplan office, that’s the number one source of distraction, the modern American workplace. It’s not your phone. It’s not your computer. The number one source of distraction, 80% of people surveyed said the number one source of distraction was other people tapping them on the shoulder and distracting them in the office. I tell you how to eliminate that distraction. So, that’s the third step around hacking back. And the fourth step is to prevent distraction with paths. And this is where we can make what’s called a pre commitment to make sure that we stay on track. So, those are the four basic steps. And so, I think those are the four steps that anyone can take. If they are of sound, body, and mind, anybody can become indistractable.

Let’s talk about that second step little bit, especially with timeboxing, that’s a theme you bring up in your book. Tell us about what timeboxing is and how you use it. I’m especially interested in the evolution of how you use it. For me, personally, I’m always changing my time management techniques, and things are always evolving, trying to get better. So, tell us about timeboxing and how you use it today.

So, timeboxing is really using a technique that’s been studied in hundreds and hundreds of studies. Psychologists call this making an implementation intention, which is just a fancy way of saying you’re going to plan out what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it. And so, the idea here is that you’re going to plan out every minute of your day. People say, oh my God, that’s very rigid. I can’t plan out every minute of my day. I’m telling you, this will change your life because it’s going to free you from the tyranny of the to-do list. Many of us know about the tyranny the to-do list. The tyranny of the to-do list is that horrible feeling you have running around all day long never finishing what you said you were going to do. And this is why I typically hate and don’t recommend to-do lists. I know everybody’s been told in the productivity self-help community to-do lists is how you get things done. Yes, but most people don’t do it correctly. The way most people use to-do lists is that half of them, by the way, this is me five years ago before I started this line of research. I’d have a bunch of things on my to-do list. And I’d have a productive day and I’d get done a few of them. And then everything else on my list, probably about half of the things on my list would just get recycled from one day to the next day to the next day to the next day. How many of us have had that exact experience of we don’t finish what we said we would?

Here’s why this is so toxic. Because if you go day after day not finishing everything on your to-do list, you are reinforcing an identity that you do not live with personal integrity. You did not do what you said you were going to do. And so, you’re reinforcing to yourself another day went by, and I couldn’t count on myself to do what I said I’m going to do. Loser. That feeling is toxic. As opposed to when you use the timebox calendar, you can turn distractions into traction. Because here’s what happens. In my calendar, for example, I have time in my schedule for social media. I have time in my schedule to watch Netflix. So, when I am doing that, when I’m doing what I said I’m going to do, it feels awesome. Because that is exactly what I said I’m going to do with my day. It’s exactly what I said I’m going to do with my time. And so, I’m free from this tyranny of the to-do list, always feeling like you’re never enough, like you never finish. It’s a horrible feeling. By timeboxing, you will finally receive the gift of knowing what is traction and what is distraction for every minute of your day. It is an amazing feeling I want everyone to experience.

I love it and I love the concept of it. One idea that I got from your book was really implementing these office hours, as you think about a professor at a university or something like that. Personally just saying instead of being constantly available to other people, just saying these hours out of the day are when I will be available to other people and the rest of the time I need for my own work.

Absolutely. And everybody’s job is a little different. Jobs have two types of work. You’ve got reflective work and reactive work. And so, some jobs, a few jobs are 100% reactive. Like if you work in a call center, your job is 100% reactive, you pick up the phone, you deal with the customer, you put the phone down, you wait for the next call, 100% reactive. Most jobs out there, I’m guessing almost everyone listening to me right now, has a job that has some mix of reactive work, but also requires reflective work. You need time to think, to strategize, to plan. The thing is it’s so much easier to react. When we feel like we’re stressed, when we’re anxious, when we’re uncertain about what to do next, we’ll just check email, that’ll tell you what to do next. But what you’re doing is just busy work. It’s not the really important reflective work. You’re just reacting, reacting to emails, reacting to Slack notifications, reacting to meetings. You’re not putting in the time to reflect. So, when you plan your time, when you have that time set aside for reflective work, and maybe it’s only an hour a day and the rest of your day, if your job requires it, you’re reactive the rest of the day. Fine. But make sure you hold that time for that important task of reflection. If you need that time in your day, I’m telling you, very few people do it today. If you want to give yourself a superpower, an unbelievable competitive advantage over everybody else in your workplace, plan the time to think and protect that time. If you think about how we protect our stuff, right? You have security systems in your home, you have an alarm in your car, you put your money in a bank behind a vault somewhere. Well, that’s how we protect our stuff. But when it comes to our time, oh yeah, sure, come over and steal as much of it as you want. I got nothing planned. That’s crazy.

That’s crazy. I love that imagery, too, of guarding your time, recognizing. I hear people say this all the time. Time is the most valuable resource we have. It’s extremely limited. We only get so much of it. But we live as if it’s infinite, that we’ll never lose it. It’s important to change that perspective.

And everybody gets the same amount. I don’t care if you’re Beyonce, or I don’t know, whoever, the President or your favorite celebrity, they all get the same amount of time. Doesn’t matter how rich you are. Bill Gates gets the same 24 hours you do. And so, it’s really about how we spend that time. And it’s interesting. Out of everyone I interviewed, I interviewed hundreds of people to figure out who were the most productive people and why. Everybody I knew who I interviewed at the C level already did this. They were already using a timebox calendar. It’s everybody else, so people in the lower rungs of the organization who said, “I don’t know. I don’t want to plan my day. It seems like a lot of work.” Well, tough. Do you want to live the kind of life that you do what you say you’re going to do, that you live with personal integrity, that you are indistractable? Or do you want to let your life be decided for you by somebody else based on how they want you to spend your time and your attention?

Yeah. And I think like most things it’s a challenge. Try it out. Just try it for a while and see how it works for you.

Yeah. And you don’t have to do everything I say in the book right away. It’s an iterative process. The idea here is that you try one thing, you become indistractable, and then you try a little bit more, you try a little bit more. And this is simple stuff, changing your notification settings, anybody can do that. Come on. And Zuckerberg can’t turn them back on. Planning one day a week, how about that? Plan one day, 24 hours, what would your perfect day look like so that you can live out your values? Understanding, having a few tools in your toolkit to deal with these internal triggers. We all can do that. There’s some very simple techniques. And so, the idea here is that we can iterate with these techniques and get better and better and more indistractable over time.

Nir, why don’t you close us out with a call just for these leadership teams that are listening in that they’re saying I want my team as a whole, as a community, we want to be more indistractable. What’s a first step to look at what they’re doing? Is it meetings? Is it the communication styles? Where would you have them start?

It’s a tricky one because it depends where you are on the corporate ladder. If you are in management, well, there’s a lot you can do because culture flows downhill. And people look to you to set the pace. And so, if you are indistractable, that’s the best thing you could possibly do. If you are indistractable yourself, you are setting the example. Just like for our kids, we can’t tell our kids to stop playing Fortnite while we’re checking Facebook. It doesn’t work that way. We can’t be hypocrites. We have to set an example. So, if you’re using your phone or your laptop in the middle of a business meeting because you’re the boss, you’re so important. You can’t wait until later. That sends a message to everyone else that their time is less important than whatever you’re doing on your computer. So, we’ve got to set an example. If you’re not the boss, if you have a boss, well then the first thing you can do is also to become indistractable. But then one of the techniques I recommend in the book that’s a great way to spread some of these tactics throughout the organization is called schedule sinking. And this is one of the ancillary benefits of using a time box calendar. It’s kind of a dividend that keeping a timebox calendar gives you is that now you have an artifact, you have something that you can show your boss that says, “Hey, boss, here’s how I will spend my time this week based on the priorities you gave me. Here’s my calendar. Now, here’s all this other stuff that you’ve asked me to do that I just don’t have time for. But can you help me find time for them? What should I swap out?” Now, why is this important? We’ve all heard this trope that I’m so sick of, it drives me crazy, that people tell you, “Well, if you want to stay focused, you have to learn how to say no.” How do you say no to your boss? That person cuts your check. You’re going to stare your boss in the eye and say, “No”? You’ll get fired. You can’t do that. Don’t tell your boss no. Make your boss the one who decides when to say no by showing them your timebox calendar and ask them to help you reprioritize what’s important. Based on how much time I have for all this stuff, help me reprioritize these tasks. And this is how we manage up. This is how we manage our managers. And so, based on where you are in the hierarchy, this is how we can spread this gospel of becoming indistractable.

Excellent. Well, the book is “Indistractable“. “Hooked” was your earlier book. Where else can people go to stay in touch with you?

My website is And if you go to the nirandfar, there’s an 80-page Indistractable workbook that you can get. It’s completely complimentary. If you go to, if you end up buying the book, I want you to keep your order number because if you go to and enter in that order number, whether you get the book from Amazon or your local bookseller, if you enter in that order number, I will give you access to a complimentary video course that will help you on your path to becoming indistractable.

Excellent. Well, it’s a great book, I really recommend it for everyone just to start off. And I like what you said, too. The best way to disperse this throughout the team is just do it yourself. And if we have more indistractable people walking around, it’s just going to start a great movement towards being better and to a better future of work, too.


Well, Nir, thanks so much for being on the show and sharing all your insights and we look forward to connecting with you again soon.

My pleasure. Thanks so much.

Nir Eyal writes, consults, and teaches about the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. The M.I.T. Technology Review dubbed Nir, “The Prophet of Habit-Forming Technology.”

Nir founded two tech companies since 2003 and has taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford.

He is the author of two bestselling books, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your LifeIndistractable received critical acclaim, winning the 2019 Outstanding Works of Literature (OWL) Award as well as being named one of the Best Business and Leadership Books of the Year by Amazon and one of the Best Personal Development Books of the Year by Audible. The Globe and Mail called Indistractable, “timely reading, a smart, thorough look at getting traction in a world of distractions – the best business book of 2019.” In addition to blogging at, Nir’s writing has been featured in The Harvard Business ReviewTime Magazine, and Psychology Today.

Nir is also an active investor in habit-forming technologies. Some of his past investments include Eventbrite (NYSE:EB), (acquired by Spotify), Kahoot! (acquired by LinkedIn), Product HuntMarco PoloPresence Learning7 CupsPanaByte FoodsFocusMate, and FindShadow.

Nir attended The Stanford Graduate School of Business and Emory University.

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