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Strategies for becoming less distracted and improving focus | Nir Eyal (author of Indistractable and Hooked)

Strategies for becoming less distracted and improving focus | Nir Eyal (author of Indistractable and Hooked)


Brought to you by Vanta—Automate compliance. Simplify security | Jira Product Discovery—Atlassian’s new prioritization and roadmapping tool built for product teams | Teal—Your personal career growth platform

Nir Eyal is the author of two best-selling books, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. He writes, consults, and teaches at the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. His books have sold over 1 million copies in more than 30 languages; he has taught at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and its Design School; and he has started and sold two startups since 2003. In our conversation, we discuss:
• Strategies for becoming less distractible and improving focus
• The difference between distraction and “traction”
• Reactive work vs. reflexive work and why you should book time in your calendar
• The 10-minute rule to overcome internal triggers and stay focused
• The problem with to-do lists, and what to do instead
• The value of creating a timebox schedule that aligns with personal values and priorities
• The use of pacts as a last line of defense against distraction
• How to develop a high-agency mindset
• Advice for leaders on helping employees improve focus in the workplace

Some takeaways:

  1. Because distraction largely stems from your internal psychology, it’s very much within your control—if you apply the right tools.

  2. A tactic: When you feel an urge to do something distracting—like scroll on your phone—try to delay doing it for just 10 more minutes. You’re not saying “no,” you’re just saying “not yet.” After 10 minutes have passed, you’ll often find the urge has disappeared.

  3. Turn your values into time by putting things in your calendar like prayer, meditation, and exercise.

  4. Calendars are better than to-do lists. To-do lists set you up for failure by letting you add more tasks than you have time for. Calendars force you to contend with the limited number of hours in a day.

  5. Use pacts, like price pacts (e.g. I’ll pay someone if I break this pact) and identity pacts (e.g. I’m someone who works out), as a last line of defense against distraction.

Listen now on Apple, Spotify, Overcast, and YouTube.

Where to find Nir Eyal:

• X: https://twitter.com/nireyal

• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nireyal/

• Website: https://www.nirandfar.com/

Where to find Lenny:

• Newsletter: https://www.lennysnewsletter.com

• X: https://twitter.com/lennysan

• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lennyrachitsky/

In this episode, we cover:

(00:00) Nir’s background

(04:20) How to become less distractible

(07:43) Understanding distraction and traction

(12:52) The four steps to becoming indistractable

(13:53) Mastering internal triggers

(18:49) Surfing the urge with a 10-minute timer

(23:20) Making time for traction with a timebox schedule

(25:02) How to turn your values into time

(28:36) Booking deep work time

(29:22) Making pacts to prevent distraction

(31:00) The problem with to-do lists

(34:31) The drawback of deadlines

(36:08) Distraction is an emotion regulation problem

(39:54) Hacking back external triggers

(45:03) Preventing distraction with pacts

(48:18) Specific tools to hold you accountable

(53:42) Managing emotions and discomfort

(56:37) Taking responsibility and being high-agency

(01:00:09) Becoming indistractable at work

(01:05:04) Schedule syncing to align with managers

(01:09:36) We are not as hooked on technology as people think

(01:16:00) Life purpose and personal responsibility

(01:17:38) Lightning round


Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life: https://www.amazon.com/Indistractable-Control-Your-Attention-Choose/dp/194883653X

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products: https://www.amazon.com/Hooked-How-Build-Habit-Forming-Products/dp/1591847788

• Dorothy Parker’s quote: https://twitter.com/nireyal/status/1472280598723108866

• “Writing is bleeding” quote: https://www.hemingwaysociety.org/quotation-controversy-writing-and-bleeding

• The Pomodoro Technique Explained: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryancollinseurope/2020/03/03/the-pomodoro-technique/

• Timeboxing: Why It Works and How to Get Started in 2024: https://www.nirandfar.com/timeboxing/

• Using your working time well - Issue 22: https://www.lennysnewsletter.com/p/time-management-issue-22

• All-In podcast: https://www.allinpodcast.co/

• Nir’s post about “the planning fallacy”: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/nireyal_why-do-tasks-always-seem-to-take-longer-than-activity-7137440438939959297-XIUB/

• How the Ancient Greeks Beat Distraction: https://www.nirandfar.com/tantalizing-distractions/

• Jeremy Bentham: https://iep.utm.edu/jeremy-bentham

• An overview of Sigmund Freud’s pleasure principle: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/nursing-and-health-professions/pleasure-principle

The Matrix “There is no spoon” scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAXtO5dMqEI

• Outlet timer: https://www.amazon.com/Century-Indoor-24-Hour-Mechanical-Outlet/dp/B01LPSGBZS

• Forest app: https://www.forestapp.cc/

• Focusmate: https://www.focusmate.com/

• Have We Been Thinking About Willpower the Wrong Way for 30 Years?: https://hbr.org/2016/11/have-we-been-thinking-about-willpower-the-wrong-way-for-30-years

• We Need Social Antibodies to Fight the Disease of Distraction: https://nireyal.medium.com/we-need-social-antibodies-to-fight-the-disease-of-distraction-51f9187be016

• The Mere Presence of Your Smartphone Reduces Brain Power, Study Shows: https://news.utexas.edu/2017/06/26/the-mere-presence-of-your-smartphone-reduces-brain-power

• Leading in Tough Times: HBS Faculty Member Amy C. Edmondson on Psychological Safety: https://www.hbs.edu/recruiting/insights-and-advice/blog/post/leading-in-tough-times

• If Tech Is So Distracting, How Do Slack Employees Stay So Focused?: https://www.nirandfar.com/slack-use/

• Managing up: https://www.lennysnewsletter.com/p/managing-up

• Duolingo: https://www.duolingo.com/

• FitBot: https://www.fitbotapp.com/

• Paulo Coelho’s quote: https://twitter.com/paulocoelho/status/416264984188825600

Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life: https://www.amazon.com/Alchemy-Curious-Science-Creating-Business/dp/006238841X

The Experience Machine: How Our Minds Predict and Shape Reality: https://www.amazon.com/Experience-Machine-Minds-Predict-Reality/dp/1524748455

Empire of the Sun on Prime Video: https://www.amazon.com/Empire-Sun-Christian-Bale/dp/B001N3JY82

• Sesame grinder: https://www.miyacompany.com/450-014-450-014

• Muji pens: https://www.muji.us/collections/pen-pencils

Production and marketing by https://penname.co/. For inquiries about sponsoring the podcast, email podcast@lennyrachitsky.com.

Lenny may be an investor in the companies discussed.

Lenny's Newsletter
Lenny's Podcast: Product | Growth | Career
Interviews with world-class product leaders and growth experts to uncover concrete, actionable, and tactical advice to help you build, launch, and grow your own product.