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Last Updated on February 16, 2021

How to Become Indistractable: 4 Powerful Tactics to Help You Focus

How to Become Indistractable: 4 Powerful Tactics to Help You Focus

From modern technology to interactions with our friends, family, and coworkers, distractions are practically unavoidable. This makes it very hard to focus, especially for a sustained period of time on a specific task. Becoming indistractable, then, is an important skill to learn if we want to be truly productive.

Distractions aren’t going to decrease any time soon with advances in technology. Therefore, there is no better time than now to learn the best strategies to help you defeat distractions head on. Remember, many distractions may be out of your control, but you can learn to take charge of whether or not they take control of you.

In this article, you’ll learn not only why distractions are so destructive, but also why they exist in the first place, and a powerful technique that can help you get rid of them for good.

What Is a Distraction?

A distraction is anything that draws attention away from what you’re doing at a given moment. Examples include looking at your phone each time a notification pops up, chatting with people who stop by your office space while you’re working, or checking social media or emails while trying to finish a big project.

Distractions can cause problems for more than just a few seconds. When you switch your attention, you create attention residue, which can linger for an extended amount of time, getting in the way of your focus.

If you really want to become indistractable, you’ll need to overcome each distraction that steps in your path. You can give this skill a boost by checking out Lifehack’s Fast-Track Class: Overcoming Distractions.

Traction: The Opposite of Distraction

We’ve come to the conclusion that distractions are bad, and we don’t want them interfering with what we need to get done. What we want to achieve is the opposite: traction. Now, you won’t find this listed as any true antonym for distraction if you look to a thesaurus or dictionary. However, I propose it so as by definition traction is any action that moves us towards what we really want.

Traction is an action that you fully engage in with intent—following through with what you say you will do.

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Distraction Vs Traction

    The Reasons for Distraction

    When we talk about distractions, we’re talking about human behavior and reactions to the distractions themselves. And, all human behavior is marked by external or internal triggers.

    External triggers are cues that we take from our environment that tell us what to do, such as pings from our phone or computer that prompt us to look at whatever the alert is announcing: an Instagram update, an email, a text from an old friend. These external triggers compete for our attention with whatever task we’re ultimately trying to focus on. Sometimes, the mere presence of an object itself, such as having your phone nearby, can prompt you to give it attention.

    There are also internal triggers, which are simply cues that come from within, such as hunger, anxiety about an upcoming event, or feeling cold.

    All human behavior is prompted by external or internal triggers; therefore, traction and distraction both originate from the same source.

    How to Become Indistractable

    Distractions can easily take over your life, but below I outline 4 simple tactics to take back your control and become indistractable. This concept I am sharing with you now draws from my book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.

    1. Master Internal Triggers

    To overcome distractions and slip into deep work, you first need to understand your root cause of distraction. Humans have a natural tendency to want to escape discomfort. Even at times where we are going after pleasure and positive events, our drive often revolves around freeing ourselves from the discomfort of wanting.

    In truth, we will turn to social media, emails, video games, and Netflix not necessarily for the pleasure that they provide, but because of how they free us from psychological discomfort within. While it provides temporary relief, it is an unhealthy way to deal with your life. Even though you can’t control all outside situations and occurrences, you can control how you react to those circumstances.

    Various studies show that when humans don’t give into an urge, craving or impulse, it can trigger rumination and make the desire grow even stronger. So, when you eventually give in, your reward is increased, which can turn quickly into an undesired habit.

    Dr. Jonathan Bricker, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, developed a set of steps to take when we are faced with a tempting distraction.[1]

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    Identify the Feeling or Thought Behind Your Urge

    When you find yourself wanting to give into your distraction, stop and become familiar with the internal trigger. Are you feeling anxious, overtired, or maybe you’re underprepared for the task at hand?

    Write Your Feelings Down

    Bricker advises using a log and writing down the time of day and what you were doing, along with the feeling that accompanies it. Doing so will help you link your own behaviors with your internal triggers, which will help you better notice the thoughts and feelings that precede certain behaviors and better manage them.

    Get Curious and Explore Your Feelings and Sensations

    Bricker advises having a sense of curiosity towards the feelings. Notice if you have butterflies in your stomach, or a tightening in your muscles. He recommends the “leaves on a stream” method. To do this you simply imagine yourself beside a stream, on which leaves gently float by. Place each thought and negative feeling on individual leaves and watch them float away.

    2. Make Time for Traction

    Planning is critical to beating distractions, because if you don’t plan your day, surely someone else will! When you’re not clear on how you want to deal with your time and attention, anything and everything becomes a potential distraction.

    First, you need to turn your values into time. Of course, many of us want to spend more time with things that matter most to us: our family, friends and hobbies. But, we often fail to do so because we don’t make time for them in our day.

    So, you must acquire the attributes and values of the person you want to become.

    Examples might include becoming a contributing member of a team, spending quality time with your children, jumping into continuing education, becoming physically fit, or giving back to your community. Many of us wish to subscribe to these values, but without making the time to take actions to live them out, they’re simply empty aspirations.

    Timebox Your Schedule

    Timeboxing is, in my opinion, the most effective way to ensure time for your values. Timeboxing is the process of deciding what you’re going to do and exactly when you’re going to do it, helping you become indistractable.

    You simply create a daily calendar template for how to spend your time, so that you have no white space in your day. It isn’t important what you have planned to do, as long as you stick to it. If you feel a need to scroll through social media, just make sure you have planned appropriately for it.

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    Be sure to include 15 minutes per week to reflect and refine your calendar, improving it week by week. You can ask yourself: When did I do what I said I would do, and when did I get distracted?

    At times where you became distracted, note what triggered it and come up with a strategy to use the next time the distraction or urge arises. Also ask: Are there changes I can make to my calendar that will give me the time I need to better express my values?

    Synch Your Schedule With Others

    Once your ideal week has been planned, be sure to notify others of importance in your life. Make a clear intention to stick with your plans and involve those who matter most. This could be related to sharing household responsibilities, alerting your boss to your timeline intentions at work, or even scheduling a date with your partner.

    3. Combat External Technical Triggers

    Tech companies are adept at using external triggers to hack into our attention. There are countless ways they do so, but our smartphone use is fueled by many of these triggers.

    Research shows that ignoring a call or message can be just as distracting[2] as responding to one! If used properly, though, you can take control and rely on these external triggers to remind you to follow through with what you planned.

    To do so, simply ask whether the external trigger is serving you, or if you are serving it. If the trigger leads you to traction, keep it; if it leads you to distraction, get rid of it. A few things to consider:

    1. Remove any and all apps you no longer need.
    2. Remove any apps that you enjoy, but you can use on your computer instead.
    3. Reduce the clutter on your home screen by rearranging the apps on your phone.
    4. Remove notification settings for each app that you don’t need updates on (social media, etc.).

    4. Make a Pact to Prevent Distractions

    Forethought is the antidote to impulsivity and key to becoming indistractable. Therefore, it’s useful to pre-commit to something in order to overcome distraction.

    We cement these decisions far in advance of any temptations and distractions that may come our way. This should only be undertaken after you have followed the other three steps and learned to manage internal triggers, make time for traction, and reduce external triggers.

    Here are the three types of pacts:

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    Effort Pact

    This is a kind of pre-commitment that requires you to increase the amount of effort towards something you would rather not do. Increasing your effort forces you make the decision as to whether the distraction is really worth it or not. Some great apps that can help you with this include SelfControl, Forest, and Freedom.

    Price Pact

    This pact puts money on the line, where you get to keep your money if you follow through with your intended behavior, and if you get distracted, you lose your funds.

    I committed to a price pact when finishing the first draft of my book, promising an accountability partner $10,000 if I failed to finish my draft by the set deadline. This was an incentive for me to finish writing my book and keep my money.

    Identity Pact

    This is the method of using your self-image to impact your behavior and become indistractable. By deciding on and undertaking a new identity, you will empower yourself to make decisions based on who you believe you are. Think about vegetarians—they do not have to expend much willpower to avoid eating meat because they have committed to that as part of their identity.

    To become a person who is indistractable, stop telling yourself you are a person with a “short attention span” or an “addictive personality.” Rather, tell yourself, “I am indistractable.” If you say to yourself that you are easily distracted, it instantly becomes a truth. Yet, if you commit to believing that you are indistractable, you will immediately begin to implement these strategies, which will empower you to conquer any distraction that comes your way.

    The Bottom Line

    To become indistractable, you don’t need to have superpowers. It’s truly as easy as following the few steps mentioned above. When you master internal triggers, make time for traction, dissolve any extraneous external triggers, and prevent distractions by creating pacts, you will reshape your entire life.

    More to Help You Stay Focused

    Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Nir Eyal

    Nir is a bestselling author of "Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products" and "Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life"

    How to Become Indistractable: 4 Powerful Tactics to Help You Focus

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    Last Updated on April 19, 2021

    What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity)

    What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity)

    On August 6, 1991, the world changed forever when the internet became publicly available. Less than 30 years later, our lives have been irrevocably transformed. We can now learn, explore, and communicate 24/7, which is both amazing and, as we all know, hazardous to our productivity[1]. This is why the question, “What is block scheduling?” has become important.

    To be clear, the internet isn’t life’s only distraction, and while productivity has become a huge buzzword in recent years, it’s simply a measure of progress: Are you doing what matters most? Actively moving toward your goals?

    Author Neil Pasricha writes in Harvard Business Review[2]:

    “As our world gets busier and our phones get beepier, the scarcest resource for all of us is becoming attention and creative output. And if you’re not taking time to put something new and beautiful out in the world, then your value is diminishing fast.”

    Most entrepreneurs relate deeply to this sentiment. Pasricha solved his own productivity challenges by instituting “untouchable days” that shield him from texts, phone calls, meetings, alerts, or appointments of any kind. He says these focused sessions have enabled him to produce his most creative and rewarding work.

    I love Pasricha’s approach, but it’s not always realistic for me. As the founder and CEO of JotForm, I need to weigh in on a variety of daily decisions, from hiring to product roadmaps to financial planning. I suspect other founders feel the same way. Yet, I do believe in the power of focused work, which is also why I recommend block scheduling.

    What Is Block Scheduling?

    Entrepreneurs often flaunt their multitasking as a badge of honor. After all, starting a business is a tug-of-war between competing priorities.

    However, while multitasking might feel efficient, research shows that shifting between tasks can slash productivity by up to 40%. Task-switching leaves what Dr. Sophie Leroy calls “attention residue,”[3] which means we’re still thinking about a previous activity while we start the next one[4].

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    Here’s where block scheduling can shine. What is block scheduling, exactly?

    We usually become familiar with the concept of block scheduling in high school. You likely received a schedule with a certain number of classes per day, all blocked according to class time, each school year. This is basic block scheduling.

    Also called time blocking, block scheduling is the practice of allocating large chunks of time to related tasks. For example, you might designate Mondays for meetings and Tuesdays for strategy. Teachers often use block scheduling when creating lesson plans. There are many different approaches, which we’ll get to shortly.

    First, here’s why it matters. Business is essentially problem-solving. Creating strategies, writing code, developing products, and all the myriad activities that entrepreneurs tackle demand focus and minimal distractions. They’re also inherently human tasks that won’t easily be replaced by AI, which means your business depends on your ability to go deep.

    Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World, said in a 2017 interview:

    “Focus is now the lifeblood of this economy.”

    Entrepreneurs use their minds to launch ideas and create value, so the ability to concentrate is “almost like a superpower”[5].

    Block scheduling can also help you to produce higher quality work in less time. Parkinson’s Law holds that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,”[6], which is why setting time limits can deflate a ballooning task.

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    How to Use Time Blocking to Boost Productivity

    We all have different rhythms and responsibilities. Personalization is the key to successful time blocking, and it will require some trial and error. Here’s how to get started.

    What is time blocking?

      1. Assess Your Calendar

      Evaluating your current schedule can be surprisingly difficult because few of us can accurately estimate how much time a task requires. If it feels easier, track how you actually spend your time for a full week. Note each activity—even 10 minutes of email and 15 minutes of social media scrolling between meetings.

      Once you know how you’ve been spending your time, it’ll be easier to know what to keep and what to throw out when you begin to make your new schedule.

      2. Look for Patterns

      After you’ve documented a full week, group tasks into categories. For example, you can include the following categories:

      • Administrative
      • Meetings
      • Creative work
      • Email
      • Personal time.

      You can also label tasks based on how you feel while doing them, or how they influence your energy levels on a scale from 1-10. Do whatever makes sense for you.

      3. Arrange Your Time Blocks

      Experiment with different block scheduling patterns. For example, one morning may look like this:

      • 8-9am: Respond to emails
      • 9-10am: Write up marketing proposal
      • 10-11am: Brainstorm and plan for Client A’s project
      • 11am-12pm: Meet with Client A to discuss ideas

      However, you may find that you’re more creative immediately after waking up. In that case, you’d want to move “brainstorming and planning” to an earlier slot. If responding to emails is best for when you’re feeling a little lethargic after lunch, put it there.

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      Read your emotions and abilities throughout the day to tap into what is going to work best for you.

      Ultimately, the goal is to avoid switching mental gears throughout the day, week, and maybe even the month. I realize this isn’t easy, especially for entrepreneurs, but it can be incredibly valuable.

      Spending a full day on projects you dislike, such as administrative work or meetings, might feel daunting, but blocking them into a single day can make the rest of your week infinitely more productive and more enjoyable. You’re free to tackle all the entrepreneurial challenges that get your blood flowing.

      4. Create Day Themes

      If you’re someone who has to focus on many things during a single day or week, you may find it more beneficial to create themes for each day instead of blocking up your day into individual tasks. For example, you can set Mondays as Brainstorming/Planning days, Tuesdays as Administrative days, etc.

      If you take this route, I suggest always scheduling in at least one Family day. It will ensure you make time for the important people in your life and give your brain time to rest.

      Benefits of Block Scheduling

      Once you’ve answered “What is block scheduling?” and know how to use it correctly, you’ll find that you receive many benefits. Here are just a few.

      Battle Procrastination

      If you have your schedule set and know you only have an hour to get a particular task done, it will be significantly easier to avoid procrastinating.

      For more on how to stop procrastinating, check out this article.

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      Create Realistic Time Estimates

      Once you’ve been working with time blocking for a while, you’ll learn which activities take the most/least time. You may have to adjust your schedule during the first month or so to get it right, but be patient. You’ll continue to learn to realistically estimate how much time a particular task will take.

      Develop More Focus and Attention

      When your schedule doesn’t leave much room for scrolling through social media or chatting with coworkers, you’ll find your brain is more devoted to paying attention to the task at hand. You’ll respond to the limits you set for yourself and will focus to get things done.

      Final Thoughts

      Most founders crave freedom. Yet, school schedules, jobs, and social norms condition us to work with a traditional schedule and reactive mindset. Before we know it, we’ve re-created a working schedule that traces back to the 19th century, even in our own companies. Block scheduling is not only a tool to maximize productivity; it’s a way to reclaim your time[7].

      In my 14 years at JotForm, I’ve realized that business growth means doing more of what makes the biggest impact. I don’t always succeed, but I try to focus my time and energy where it matters, and I know that busyness is not synonymous with productivity.

      If you feel the same way, give time blocking a try. Share your experiments in scheduling with colleagues and family members so they understand the changes and can support you.

      Finally, don’t worry about getting it right immediately. You may need to get under the hood of your calendar and tinker around a bit. Find what works for you, then protect your new schedule at all costs.

      More Tips on Time Management

      Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

      Reference

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