How can we manage distractions in the workplace?

By Matt Dallisson, 20/02/2020

Are they two sides of the same coin? The affliction and the cure? Eyal doesn’t see it that way. “Hooked was about how to build good habits,” he says. “I didn’t write it for Google or Facebook or the gaming companies. They’ve known these techniques for a very long time. What I wanted to do was steal their secrets; I wanted to democratize their techniques so that all sorts of companies can use them for good. I mean, no one is getting addicted to SaaS or educational software.”

The same can’t be said for social media and video games, which are just two examples of our ever-present options for diversion. With Indistractable, Eyal helps readers learn how to identify and prevail over a wide universe of potential distractions. (Quartz members might recognize this kind of advice as a feature of the transformation economy.)

Nir Eyal: I was patient zero here. I was very much struggling with distraction. I noticed that in my professional life I was having trouble finishing things I started; I noticed that with my daughter, I was distracted by my device. I would say that I should go to the gym and I wouldn’t; I would say I would eat healthfully and I didn’t.

Part of the reason it took me five years to write the book was that I was distracted when I started it and hadn’t learned the tactics yet. Now I’m in the best shape of my life; I exercise consistently and eat healthfully. And I’m closer to my daughter than ever before. She told me recently that I’m much better [about device distraction] than I used to be.

I think people are really hungry for an alternative to the Chicken Little narrative that the sky is falling and tech is melting our brains. They want to be able to do something about it, and they just don’t know what to do yet. You could be waiting for Washington to do something about the problem, or you could hold your breath waiting for the tech companies to do something about the problem. Or, instead of waiting, you can do something about the problem today. You can learn one technique to manage your internal triggers better. You can plan one day a week in your calendar. You can turn off your notifications on your phone. You can start small.

I teach people how to hack back their phones, their computers, their emails, meetings. But it turns out the number one source of distraction for the modern American worker, as revealed by surveys, is not the pings and dings—it’s their co-workers. Particularly when it comes to open floor-plan offices, other people are a constant source of distraction. And they’re not going away. Open floor plans save companies way too much money in terms of real estate costs.

Every copy of the book comes with a piece of card stock that you pull out, fold into thirds, and put on your computer monitor. For the next hour or however much time you need, it’s going to tell your colleagues that you’re busy at the moment. You don’t want to leave this on all day, but for that time, you’re indistractable.

I don’t believe in these French-style laws that say you can only work 35 hours a week. If you want to work 100 hours a week, go for it. But the bait and switch, where companies say it’s 40 hours a week—and then it turns out that’s 40 hours a week in the office [and then many additional hours on top of that from home]—that’s unethical. That’s a problem.

There are basically three traits to an indistractable company. One, they give employees psychological safety to talk about what’s wrong in the company, without fear of retribution. Number two is they have a regular forum, a place to talk about their problems. And number three is that management shows the traits of how to be indistractable.

Exactly. I remember when I was a kid, my parents had ashtrays all over the house, but nobody in the house smoked. So why did we do that? Because back in the early ’80s, if somebody came to your house and they smoked, they expected to be able to light up a cigarette. What changed? Was there a law? No. What changed was the norms. My mom took away the ashtrays. We spread what’s called social antibodies to protect ourselves from these bad things.

I’m not a big fan of habits, believe it or not. When people say they want to form a habit, that’s typically shorthand for “I want something but I don’t want to have to work for it.” So many behaviors will never become habits. I want to make a habit of writing. I want to make a habit of exercising. But the definition of a habit is a behavior done with little or no conscious thought—and I can’t write without conscious thought. If you want to improve your writing, it’s going to require more than unconscious thought. It requires deliberate purpose. You have to embrace the fact that you’re going to get uncomfortable—it’s a sign that you’re improving. And then you keep doing it because it’s a routine, it’s not a habit.

The first step is to master the internal triggers, to know how to cope with the things that lead to our distraction. The next step is synchronizing our schedules with the other stakeholders in our life, so that if anything needs to be reprioritized, we reprioritize it. We hear this myth that you should say “no” more. But how do you say no to your boss? Instead, you make a calendar and show your boss, here’s what I’m going to do this week. You say no [to what I should drop from it]. The third step is about hacking back the external triggers. And the fourth step is to create pacts to stay on track.

And the most important of the three is the identity pact, where we have a moniker we give to ourselves, like when someone calls themselves a religious Christian or a devout Muslim or even a vegetarian. It changes your behavior. So I say there is a new moniker for this century, and this is who I am: I am indistractable.

This content was originally published here.