Making Time for Real Work

Indistractable, by Nir Eyal

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As a PM, between meetings, Slack, and emails, I often felt like I had no time left to do “real work”. And yet, in business school, my friends had nicknamed me “T2K” because of how I got things done with robot-like efficiency. What had happened to the machine that I used to be?

I found the answer in “Indistractable” by Nir Eyal. Not only was I nodding along as I read the book (as odd as that is when you’re in a room by yourself), but it has been one of my favorite books that I’ve read this year.

You want to be indistractable because that means that you do what you say you will do. There are only so many hours in a day, so if you want to achieve your goals, you need to become indistractable.

You can become indistractable by following these four strategies.

1. Master internal triggers

Internal triggers are a source of distraction that come from you (e.g. checking the news because you feel bored). Eyal suggests:

  • Paying attention to when you have an urge to be distracted and notice what you’re feeling
  • Trying to “surf the urge” by waiting 10 minutes before you take action to see if it will pass
  • Making the task that you’re trying to get traction on more fun by setting a time limit
  • Boosting your confidence with positive self-talk

Timeboxing works really well for me, especially when I’m drafting stories like this. It forces me to clarify what I want to achieve in the amount of time and gives me a break to look forward to. I see the parallels between these suggestions and other thought systems like mindfulness and setting intentions, so if you are already practicing something that works for you, keep it up.

2. Hack back external triggers

External triggers are a source of distraction that don’t come from you (e.g. checking email because you get a notification). I love that Eyal provides a pretty comprehensive list of tactics to reduce distractions from work interruptions, email, group chat, meetings, your smartphone, your desktop, online articles, and feeds. While some of the tactics are exactly what you’d expect, others are less comfortable to put into practice. For example, he offers these slightly controversial tips:

  • To get less email, send less email
  • Slow down and delay delivery

I’m intrigued to try these tips but will need to experiment with how to implement them without making others feel I am unresponsive. How successfully you can implement these tactics depends on the culture of your organization, so you may want to feel out how far you can go with them. Ultimately, if your organization does not value your need for time without distraction in order to produce high-quality work, then you may want to consider whether it’s the right place for you.

3. Prevent distraction with pacts

Distraction moves you away from what you really want. Even after you’ve taken steps to reduce triggers, distraction can still find a way to take away your focus, so pacts can further help with preventing distraction. According to Eyal, there are four types of pacts to consider:

  • Pre-commitments, such as declaring that you are going to train and run a marathon this year
  • Effort pact, which could be using an app to lock you out of Instagram for a defined period of time or matching up with a gym buddy that you would not want to let down
  • Price pact, like using a swear jar to curb your use of four letter words
  • Identity pact, calling yourself indistractable so it’s part of who you are

For me, the effort pact works really well. I know that if I’ve signed up for a group fitness class, I will be exercising because I don’t like to let the teacher or class down. Because we all feel motivated by different things, different people will respond better to different pacts. Do what works for you.

4. Make time for traction

Traction moves you toward what you really want. You can proactively make time for the things that are important to you by putting them into your schedule. Eyal recommends:

  • Scheduling important relationships with friends, family, and stakeholders at work
  • Scheduling and timeboxing things you need to do
  • You should have no white space on your schedule
  • Spending 15 minutes at the end of each week reviewing how closely you actually used your time to how you planned to and make adjustments if needed

I’ve followed the advice to schedule everything some weeks and fallen through on other weeks, and I’ve never made it all the way through to doing the review. I’ll make a pre-commitment by announcing here that I’ll be trying this out this month. If you already have daily or weekly planning rituals, this could be a great step to add to your practice.

As a PM, I love a good 2x2 and Eyal does not fail me with his Indistractable framework. If you’re interested in reading more, check out the book. You can become indistractable by mastering internal triggers, hacking back external triggers, preventing distraction with pacts, and making time for traction. By following these strategies, you can minimize the unfulfilling cycle of meetings, Slack, and emails, and make time for the real work that matters.

Indistractable Framework

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Lauren Chan Lee

Lauren Chan Lee is a product leader who enjoys writing about the connections between product principles and everyday life. Learn more at: laurenchanlee.com