We recently shared a Q&A with Nir Eyal about a webinar Flexera sponsored that covered some of the ideas in his New York Times best-seller, Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products. Now, he’s written a new book, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life . It’s likely to be just as interesting to product managers – and to all of us who are constantly being pulled in multiple directions, and struggle to focus on what matters most. Recently, we captured Nir’s attention for three quick questions about it (he’s also giving Flexera blog readers who pre-order Indistractable the full PDF of the book and a complimentary 80-page workbook!).
I have to apologize: I’ve been distracted and I haven’t gotten as far into the PDF of your book by now as I’d intended. Did you write Indistractable just for me?
Yes, the book’s just for you – and just for me. I wrote it first and foremost because I also had this problem. My friends think I have a lot of self-control and willpower because I wrote a book about not getting distracted. But it’s just the opposite. I have very poor self-control. That’s why I needed a system to help keep me on track.
As for not finishing my book yet, it could be that has less to do with you and more with my writing. But I also hate reading books in PDF. I’d recommend considering a different medium. I either need print, or I love audiobooks. I recorded mine myself so you’ll hear my voice.
You can use a strategy called “temptation bundling.” That’s where you use the reward of one thing to incentivize yourself to do something else. Since I love to hear audiobooks, I incentivize myself to exercise by listening while I’m in the gym.
But I think this is emblematic of a larger problem in the American workforce: We have very little time to invest in ourselves, whether it’s investing in our relationships, our health, or our minds and mental faculties. Once you follow the directions in the book, I think you’ll have much more time to read for your own edification and enjoyment.
Your first book, Hooked, is really popular among product managers we talk to. You write in your new book: “what makes some products engaging and easy to use can also make them distracting.” Is this a new problem, or magnified by the fact that so many new products and services call out to us from smartphones that are always by our side?
Distraction is not a new problem. Socrates and Aristotle talked about this 2,500 years ago. They called it akrasia, which is the tendency to do things against our better interest. People were already complaining about how distracting the world is.
But the world is potentially more distracting today because of how pervasive and persuasive the technology is. Because these technology companies understand what makes you click and tick better than you understand yourself. That’s not going to change. So if you’re looking for distraction – if you don’t have the skill set to become indistractable – they’re going to get you.
Furthermore, they’re not the only distractions out there. Your boss can be a distraction. Your kids can be. The news can be. There are all sorts of distractions out there, but certainly they’re easier to access than ever before. That’s why it behooves us to become indistractable.
There will be two kinds of people in the world: people who let their attention and lives be manipulated by others, and people who are indistractable and do what they say they’re going to do.
You talked about some of the extreme steps you tried to avoid distraction, like switching from a smartphone to a flip phone. I think many of us have experienced the stress and unrealistic nature of New Year’s resolutions that rarely last until February. What are some smaller steps we can take to make being indistractable into a habit?
So, the whole book is about that. If you listen to the audiobook from start to finish – it’ll take you 3 and a half hours at time and a half – there are tons of tips and suggestions and techniques to take not-so-extreme steps. Because the extreme steps tend to backfire. They’re similar to a fad diet or 30-day detox, and we know what happens on Day 31: you come back and eat with a vengeance. So I want to avoid those extreme steps because they don’t work.
The indistractable model is so effective because once you understand the strategy of how to become more indistractable, you can start to come up with your own tactics. Tactics is what you do, strategy is why you do it, and that’s much more important than another list of ‘Top Ten Tips & Tricks to Focus.’ That stuff is not as valuable as understanding the deeper psychology behind distraction.
So my 30-day challenge for you is this: finish the book, write me back, tell me your favorite parts, what you find helpful or not, what you agree or disagree with. Please keep in touch and let me know if there’s anything else I can send your way.