PDF Summary:Indistractable, by Nir Eyal
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1-Page PDF Summary of Indistractable
In today’s tech-dependent, app-centered, notification-ruled world, it’s easier than ever to get distracted from what’s really important—your values, your relationships, and your work. In Indistractable, Nir Eyal develops a four-part model for gaining the modern-day superpower of “indistractability.”
You’ll learn how your distractions start internally, why your schedule should be based on your values instead of tasks, how to diminish the power of external triggers in your life, and how to commit to yourself—so you can start driving your life instead of letting its distractions drive you.
At work: Your schedule gives your manager a clear idea of how you’re spending your time, which helps them contextualize problems such as late projects, a slump in productivity, and so on. With this information and an understanding of your values, they can suggest areas where you might reprioritize your tasks or cut out activities that aren’t serving your and their goals.
- For example, you want a promotion so you start taking on too many projects, making you increasingly frazzled and disorganized. When your manager understands your motivations and schedule, they can explain that spending more time on boosting your sales and less time on other projects would be more helpful to their goals and won’t hurt your chances of promotion.
Outside of work: Your work-related schedule should note any non-negotiable commitments that happen outside the workplace. This helps your manager know when it is and isn’t appropriate to ask you to do extra work or stay late.
- For example, if your weekly schedule shows Thursday nights blocked off for family, your manager understands that it’s not reasonable or appropriate to ask you to stay late. However, if there are no non-negotiables on your Wednesday night schedule, your manager could reasonably ask to cut into that time if a project is truly urgent.
Build and Maintain an Indistractable Schedule
First, reflect on how your three responsibilities show up in your life and ask yourself three questions:
- “What is or isn’t working in my current schedule?” Think about areas where you’re spending too much time or too little time.
- “What activities would better align me with my values?” Think about parts of your day where you sacrifice your values in one area for another, and imagine how activities would look different if you stuck to one responsibility at a time.
- “How much time do I want to allocate to each of my responsibilities?” Think about the ways your schedule would allow you more time for some values and restrict others.
Your answers to these questions reveal how your time will ideally be spent. Next, build your ideal schedule using two essential elements of indistractable scheduling.
Element 1: Timeboxing
Timeboxing is a way of organizing your calendar by dedicating blocks of time to specific activities. For example, you might timebox “read to kids” or “go through emails.” Timeboxing serves two purposes:
1) It helps you balance your responsibilities. Limiting the time you can spend on an activity stops you from working on it “until it’s done” as you might with tasks on a to-do list. This prevents you from letting one responsibility take up too much of your time at the expense of another.
2) It helps you stick to what you’re meant to be doing. You decide what you'll do and when you’ll do it. This can stop small, easy tasks from distracting you from what you’re doing, because you know it will get done at another time.
- For example, in the middle of a difficult task, you might think, “I should return Sheila’s call now, before I forget.” Having a timeboxed schedule allows you to say, “I set time this afternoon for catching up on calls. I’ll add Sheila to that list.”
Element 2: No Blank Space
You must schedule everything you do, because it’s the only way to accurately gauge your indistractability—that is, how often you do what you planned. It doesn’t matter so much what your schedule looks like—it matters that you stick to it.
- For example, if you plan to spend all morning on Reddit and actually do so, you were indistractable—doing what you planned to. On the other hand, if you planned to spend an hour watching television but answered a few work emails on your phone, you were distracted—not doing what you planned.
Part 3: Reduce External Triggers
Our lives are inundated with external triggers that tempt us with an easy escape from internal discomfort. Deciding how to handle these triggers can be complicated—while most are distractions, some can help you build traction.
- For example, you may have alarms that keep you on schedule or health apps that send reminders to drink water and stretch.
Manage Eight Common External Triggers
It’s up to you to decide which of your device’s triggers are useful and which are distracting. Give each trigger an honest assessment by asking yourself: Does this trigger serve me? Then, adjust your devices so only the triggers that serve you can get your attention. There are eight common triggers that you should think about:
1) Other people: Create an obvious visual cue that tells other people that you’re not available for interruption. This can take any form that makes sense to you, such as a sign on top of your computer monitor with the message, “I’m focusing right now, please come back later” or a designated hat or pair of headphones that signify deep focus time.
2) Email: Checking your email and responding to messages may feel productive, but it can take up hours of your day. To reduce your overall email time, you have to manage two factors:
- Time spent checking email: First, make your inbox less tempting by making it predictable—unsubscribe from unimportant newsletters and services. Second, reduce the number of emails you receive—you can do this by setting aside in-person office hours or setting your emails to delay your responses by a few hours, slowing down the response cycle.
- Time answering email: Each time you check your inbox, reply to urgent emails, tag semi-urgent emails “Today,” and tag non-urgent emails “This week.” Set a daily timebox for processing “Today” emails and a weekly timebox for processing “This week” emails.
3) Group chat: Set three boundaries around your group chat use so that it shows up in your workday as a tool for traction, rather than invading your workday as a distraction.
- Use it sparingly: Use group chat like any other real-time communication—schedule time to check messages and reply. Set an away message and turn it off at the end of your group chat timebox.
- Keep groups small: Restrict chat invitees to two or three people who are most relevant to the issue and can contribute meaningfully.
- Use it only for quick, unimportant matters: Discuss complicated and sensitive issues in person and leave your chat for simple confirmations or questions.
4) Meetings: Often, meetings are an excuse for someone to get others to think about a problem they have. They interrupt employees’ schedules, and when attendees are stuck in a boring and unproductive echo chamber of the same ideas around an issue, they’ll be triggered toward distracted behaviors. You can make meetings more meaningful in two ways:
- Require preparation: The meeting organizer must send out a short agenda that details the problem and their best suggestion for a solution. Prior to the meeting, attendees should use this information to brainstorm solutions. These two steps ensure that everyone will hit the ground running at the meeting.
- Ban devices: Ask attendees to take notes with pen and paper, and set up a charging station by the door where they can plug in their devices.
5) Smartphones: Your smartphone is probably one of the most distracting things in your life, but it can also be a useful tool for a variety of tasks. Maximize your phone’s use as a tool for traction by first rearranging your apps and then adjusting their settings.
- Rearrange your apps: First, delete any apps that don’t serve you. Second, think about apps that are useful to you, but distracting. You can often replace where you use these apps—for example, you might delete social media from your phone and use it exclusively on your computer. Last, rearrange your apps to remove clutter. Sort traction-supporting apps into a Goals folder and a Tools folder on your home screen, and move all other apps to the secondary screen.
- Adjust the settings: Think about which apps deserve to grab your attention in any situation. These apps—for example, your email and your messaging app—can keep their audio or visual notifications. Disable notifications for everything else.
6) Desktop: When you work against the background of a cluttered desktop, you encounter many visual reminders of questions to answer, tasks to complete, or ideas you wanted to research. These visual reminders of easy and interesting tasks can easily trigger you to escape from the discomfort of your work. Combat this by sorting everything into out-of-sight folders. This organizes your desktop so you can find what you’re looking for quickly and reduce your chances of being distracted by visual reminders.
7) Articles: When you come across an interesting article, you’ll often read it right away—at the expense of what you should be doing—or you’ll keep it open in a browser tab so you don’t lose it, which clutters your workspace with tempting visual reminders. Articles are knowledge-boosting tools when used the right way—rather than cutting them out, change how and when you spend time on them.
- Stop reading articles on your web browser. Eyal recommends the browser extension and app Pocket for this step. Pocket will pull an article’s content and save it to the app on your phone, so you can read during your article timebox instead.
8) Social media: One of the most addictive features of social media is the “news feed,” where you can scroll through endless pictures and posts. Without the news feed, social media becomes less addictive and more in your control. There are two methods you can use:
- Install browser extensions to control what you see: You can find extensions to block almost anything that you find is keeping you stuck on social media—including the news feed, recommended videos, and comments.
- Preload specific pages: Skip over the homepage—where the news feed lives—by navigating directly to the page you want to access. To do this, save specific frequently visited or important URLs to your bookmarks bar so you’ll go directly to the part of the site you want to be on. For example, instead of bookmarking Facebook.com, you might bookmark Facebook.com/messages or Facebook.com/[your business page]
Part 4: Create Precommitments
The last part of the indistractable model focuses on locking yourself into traction, rather than keeping distractions out. You accomplish this by using precommitments—choices you make while in an undistracted state that will help guide your behaviors when you’re tempted by distraction in the future. There are three types of precommitments that minimize the power of distraction: effort pacts, price pacts, and identity pacts.
An effort pact is a precommitment that makes it more difficult to do something undesirable. This extra bit of difficulty gives you a moment to pause and ask yourself if the distraction is really what you want to do. There are several ways you can create effort pacts for yourself.
- You can set apps, such as Self Control and Forest, to block certain websites when you need to focus.
- You can make yourself accountable to others—for example, asking a friend who works from home to come work in your home office so you both stay focused.
Price pacts attach money to your precommitment as an incentive to stick with what you said you would do. If you do what you’re supposed to, you get to keep the money. If you don’t, you have to give up the money. This works especially well because people are much more motivated by possible loss than they are by possible gains.
- For example, if you always skip over guitar practice, attach a $100 bill to your practice schedule and make a pact: If you miss a session, you must light the bill on fire. Every time you think about skipping practice, this tangible loss will help you rethink it.
Identity pacts are a precommitment to the identity you want to have. These pacts naturally align your behaviors with the desired identity.
- For example, make being indistractable an integral part of your identity by making a pact to describe yourself as someone who is indistractable. For example, you’re not someone who can’t tolerate distracting notifications—you’re someone who doesn’t tolerate them.
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PDF Summary Introduction: What Does It Mean to Be Indistractable?
When you can recognize and stop your distractions, you’ll more consistently choose behaviors that help you gain traction in life—helping you follow through on what you say you’ll do, balance different areas of your life, and become more focused.
The indistractable model has four parts:
- Control your internal triggers.
- Build your schedule around your values.
- Cut out your external triggers.
- Create precommitments.
In this summary, we’ll discuss the importance of each of these elements and examine actionable ways to practice them.
PDF Summary Part 1: Control Your Internal Triggers
Exercise 1: Reflect on the Trigger
Rather than reacting to triggers with distraction, take four steps to meaningfully reflect on them and make more deliberate, traction-supporting choices.
Step 1: Identify the Trigger
When you find yourself about to switch over to a distracting activity, ask yourself: “What particular discomfort or feeling triggered me to do this?” Usually, you’ll find that the source is a negative emotion like anxiety, frustration, boredom, craving, incompetence, or lack of control.
- For example, you might be constantly checking your emails when you’re supposed to be working on difficult thesis revisions. Upon reflection, you find that you’re reacting to feeling frustrated and overwhelmed by escaping into the productive feeling of getting caught up on email.
Step 2: Note the Trigger
Keep a “distraction tracker” where you write down the details of your internal triggers—the time of day, who you were with, where you were, your emotions, what you were doing when you felt distracted, and the distracting action you took.
PDF Summary Part 2: Build Your Schedule Around Your Values
It’s crucial to build your schedule around them because mismanaged values trigger distraction. The values in different parts of your life usually won’t quite intersect, so you must consciously balance them. If you accidentally concentrate too much on the values in one part of your life, your values elsewhere will suffer from neglect.
- For example, focusing too much on your work can cause you to miss out on time with your spouse or may cause you to miss family dinners.
When your values are unbalanced, you become stressed or feel that you’re “not enough.” These feelings of stress or dissatisfaction will drive you to distracting habits—leaving you with even less time for fully living your values.
Your values become easier to live—and balance—when you consciously track how your time is spent on each responsibility. On a schedule, you can not only visualize the balance between your values but can also better distinguish between traction and distraction. Any behavior that happens at a time it’s not scheduled is a distraction, even if it feels productive.
- For example, you make time for playing with your kids at the park on Saturday afternoon. During that time,...
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PDF Summary Part 3.1: Cut Out External Triggers: Communication Without Boundaries
Trigger #1: Other People
Other people are some of the most pervasive distractions in your workplace. This problem is especially present in modern office environments, as 70% of American offices have adopted “open floor plans.” This means that employees don’t have closed-off workspaces that they can retreat to for deep focus. Instead, they’re in the middle of a sea of triggers—they can see what their colleagues are doing, overhear conversations, see who’s coming in and out, smell the donuts in the break room, and so on. These constant distractions slow down your work, force you to catch up by working faster with more stress, and decrease your overall satisfaction.
Send the Right Message
You can’t control everything that’s happening around you in your work environment, but you can control your messaging. Create an obvious visual cue that tells other people that you’re not available for interruption. This can take any form that makes sense to you:
- A large piece of cardstock on the top of your computer monitor with a message such as, “I’m focusing right now, please come back later.”
- Taping a sign to the back of your chair that says, “Please...
PDF Summary Part 3.2: Cut Out External Triggers: Technology
- Goals: Apps in this category help you with things you’d like to spend your time doing, such as mindfulness, exercise, or audiobooks.
- Everything else: Your tools and goals apps should be the only ones on your home screen. Everything else can be organized into folders on the secondary screen. For example, you may have a “Communication” folder that contains your email, messenger, and WhatsApp.
Step 2: Go Notification-Free
The second part of diminishing your phone’s distractions is cutting out the temptation to look at it in the first place. Most people look at their phones when they receive a notification because it grabs their attention with a ding, vibration, or lit-up screen. By disabling notifications, you eliminate these external triggers.
Timebox 30 minutes in your schedule to readjust your app settings—be sure to pay attention to both the audio and visual settings, as both can interrupt your focus.
- Audio notifications are especially distracting because they can grab your attention even if your phone is face down or in another room. Think about which of these apps truly needs your attention at any moment, depending on your life and...
PDF Summary Part 4: Create Precommitments
Effort pacts are especially effective when you make them with others because we’re inclined to mimic others’ actions and want to be seen doing the “right thing.” Before smartphones and personal computers, these types of social effort pacts used to happen naturally in offices. If someone was slacking off, it was visible to the entire office—either they’d feel shame at being the odd one out or a colleague would shame them, and they’d get back on task. Today, it’s harder to see what people are doing all day, especially with the growing number of people working from home. Without natural social pressure to stay on task, you’ll have to look for ways to create social effort pacts, such as:
- Asking a colleague to be your accountability partner and regularly checking in on each other’s progress
- Asking a fellow WFHer to come work in your home office
- Joining a service like Focusmate, a video service that pairs people all over the world who need motivation to “show up” for work
Precommitment Type 2: Price Pacts
You already know that distraction costs you time—a price pact makes distraction’s cost more tangible with money. In these pacts, you attach...
PDF Summary Application 1: Cultivate an Indistractable Work Culture
The Cycle of Depression and Distraction
This method of soothing depression with distraction easily becomes a cycle that continually exacerbates itself. Employees feel that they’re under the control of their managers, and they work hard to please them in hopes that they’ll eventually get the recognition they deserve.
- This means that if their manager sends them an email first thing in the morning with an idea, they’ll take care of it right away. If a different manager sends an email late at night with a different idea, they’ll stay up late to take care of it. In these situations, employees feel that they need to be “on” and accessible at all times to meet their managers’ expectations. When employees are constantly available, the reciprocity cycle thrives—they respond immediately to their managers, who respond immediately to them, and so on. Often, any relevant employee gets pulled into the cycle, making the issue of reciprocity worse.
This situation reveals that the problem isn’t technology—it’s a dysfunctional work culture. Depressed, strained employees are forced into a constant, worsening state of distraction by trying to please managers and meet...
PDF Summary Application 2: Teach Indistractability to Your Children
- Competence: learning, improving, growing, and mastering different skills
- Relatedness: feeling that we’re important to others, and others are important to us
When you or your children are lacking in any of these three needs, you’ll feel restlessness, anxiety, hopelessness, or depression—all feelings that can trigger distraction and unhealthy habits such as too much gaming, too much time on social media, and so on.
By ensuring that your children have opportunities to gain autonomy, competence, and relatedness, you can help them better balance their online and real-world lives.
Create More Opportunities for Autonomy
Many parents feel that they need to plan out their children’s days and enforce strict rules around technology to prevent distraction—however, you should be loosening your control and granting your children more opportunities for autonomy.
Studies have found that children may actually lose the ability to control their attention when they’re constantly managed by adults. If you look at American schools you’ll notice that students are managed at every moment of the day—their homework needs to be done a certain way, everything has a due...
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PDF Summary Application 3: Promote Indistractability in Your Relationships
To make someone understand that their behavior isn’t appropriate, call them out on it. You don’t have to be rude in doing this, but you do have to be direct. An effective approach is to ask them directly about the behavior.
- For example, you’re having coffee with a few friends when one of them takes out her phone while you’re trying to talk to her. You can say, “Oh, sorry. I didn’t see you were on your phone. Is everything all right?”
When you pose this type of sincere, direct question about someone’s behavior, you give them two options:
- If there is something that needs to be dealt with, the question gives her the chance to explain and excuse herself to attend to it.
- If there isn’t any reason to be using her phone, the question reminds her how rude it is to be using her phone at that moment, prompting her to put it away.
Over time, these direct callouts will remind everyone in your social circle of the rudeness of distraction—prompting them to stop tolerating distraction and call others out.
Keep an Eye Out for Distraction Everywhere
**Phones may be the most common way that you see distraction manifest in your gatherings, but...
PDF Summary Shortform Exclusive: Q&A With Nir Eyal
Shortform: One idea from the book that’s surprising is how much of distraction is internal. It’s not really about technology—if you’re feeling discomfort, you’ll reach for whatever is nearby. If technology isn’t nearby, procrastination might manifest as flipping through books.
Nir Eyal: And it always has, right? The Facebook and Twitter and Instagram of a generation ago was television and radio and the novel. Exactly what we’re saying today about technology is the same thing people were saying about novels, and the bicycle, and all of these technologies. We always think they’re leading to terrible behavior and mind control and addiction—and of course, in the course of time, we laugh at those assertions.
Shortform: The chapter that discussed the way the printing press was seen as something evil and leading people astray was so interesting—it’s hard to believe people were worried about it, but 50 years from now we might be saying the same thing about Facebook.
Nir Eyal: Right, and it’s not that there aren’t negative consequences, of course. There’s that Paul Virilio quote: “When you invent the ship, you invent the shipwreck.” So clearly, there are...