Nir Eyal: How to Become Indistractable – The Art of Manliness

Check out The Art of Manliness Episode Page & Show Notes, hosted by Brett McKay (@brettmckay)

Nir Eyal (@nireyal) is the author of the new book, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. He’s also the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. The below Podcast Notes are slightly abbreviated; think of them as a cheat sheet. For more on Nir’s new book and how to avoid distractions, check out the Podcast Notes from his appearance on The Kevin Rose Show.

Key Takeaways

  • Technology isn’t the cause of distraction (it’s the symptom)
  • Every action we perform results from a desire to escape discomfort
  • Keep a calendar
    • If you don’t plan your day, someone else will
  • Prevent distractions with pacts
    • Effort pacts (making unwanted behaviors more difficult to perform)
    • Price pacts (inflicting a cost if you do something you say you’re not going to do)
    • Identity pacts (calling ourselves a specific identity makes it easier to change a behavior)
  • Change your notification settings to limit unwanted interruptions
  • Only touch each email you receive twice (once to sort it and once to answer it)

Technology Isn’t the Problem, It’s Us

  • Habit-forming products (i.e., Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook) appreciate in value the more you interact with them
    • The more you like/comment, the better their algorithms become at presenting you with content you’re more likely to engage with
  • “The more I dove into the psychology of procrastination, the more I realized that we have it all wrong. The technology isn’t the cause of distraction; it’s the symptom. The root cause is much more interesting and much more important to identify if we are really going to tackle distraction.” – Nir Eyal

EVERYTHING We Do Results From a Desire to Escape Discomfort

  • All human behavior is motivated by one thing: the avoidance of pain/escaping discomfort
    • When you’re lonely, you check Facebook
    • When you’re hungry, you eat
    • When you’re bored, you browse Twitter/Instagram
  • THUS –  Uncomfortable emotional states (internal triggers) are the primary drivers of distraction 
  • “If all of our behaviors are spurred by a desire to escape discomfort in one form or another, what that means is that time management is pain management. I don’t care what life hacks you just read about, or what guru tells you to take a cold shower at 4 AM. None of that stuff works unless, first and foremost, we learn how to deal with discomfort.” – Nir Eyal

Keep a Calendar and Plan for What you Value

  • “It turns out that two-thirds of Americans don’t keep any sort of calendar. Think about how crazy this is. We spend so much time and effort protecting our stuff. We lock up our money in banks, we have home security systems, and we have car alarms. We protect our stuff because we don’t want anybody to steal it. But when it comes to our time, we say, ‘Come on in and take it; do whatever you want with it.’ If you don’t plan your day, why are you surprised when someone else plans it for you?” Nir Eyal
  • And remember:
    • “We cannot call something a distraction unless we know what it distracted us from” – Nir Eyal
    • Time you plan to waste isn’t wasted time

Change Your Notification Settings

  • “Two-thirds of people with a smartphone never change their notification settings. That’s ridiculous. Can we really complain about technology addicting us if we haven’t taken 10 minutes to change the notification settings?” – Nir Eyal

Use Pre-commitments (Pacts) to Prevent Distractions

  • A pact is anything that prevents you from doing what you don’t want to do
    • A simple example: Retirement accounts apply a financial penalty if you withdraw funds before a certain age
  • There are 3 types of pacts:
    • Effort (making the behavior you don’t want to do more difficult)
      • Ex. – When Nir’s writing, he uses the Forest app on his phone to discourages him from using it
    • Price (inflicting a cost if you do something you say you’re not going to do)
      • Ex. – Joining a betting pool with friends to quit a bad habit
    • Identity (calling ourselves a specific identity makes it easier to change a behavior)
      • “When there’s an identity involved, we become more likely to live up to that moniker. A devout Muslim doesn’t ask themselves every day, ‘Should I have that gin and tonic?’ Devout Muslims don’t drink alcohol, period. It’s who they are.” – Nir Eyal

How to Reduce the Amount of Time You Spend Managing Email

  • Rule #1: “If you want to get fewer emails, you have to send fewer emails” Nir Eyal
  • Rule #2: Only touch each email twice – once when you open it to sort and once to answer
    • SOOOOO much time is wasted by opening/reading an email, reading it again 3 hours later, reading it again the next day, etc.
    • This is key: sort your emails by when they need a response, NOT by topic
      • Nir uses color-coded labels in Gmail – a red label indicates he’ll answer the email that day, yellow indicates he’ll answer the email within the next week (he schedules 4 hours every Monday to clear out his inbox/answer the previous week’s non-urgent emails)
  • With the emails that don’t need an immediate response:
    • “There’s this magic thing that happens when you let non-urgent emails wait: they decompose. This is called email decomposition. When you let non-urgent emails wait a little while, you won’t need to answer most of them because people figure out stuff on their own, or something just gets crushed under the weight of some other priority and is no longer relevant.” – Nir Eyal
  • Woah…
    • “Between email and meetings, the time left over for the average knowledge worker to do everything they have to do in their day is only an hour and a half”Nir Eyal

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