Book Review by Andy Ghillyer
Digital technology has given us the opportunity to be constantly entertained with news, social media, games, tv shows or movies––all on our handheld devices. The moment that email, text, or tweet arrives in our inbox, that device pings, dings or vibrates to demand our immediate attention.
In his new book, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, author Nir Eyal warns that such technology has become so pervasive in our daily lives that these devices are starting to hijack our brains. How often have you thought you heard your phone ping and checked it just in case only to find that you didn’t have a new message? How often have you zoned out of a conversation with family or friends because a work email demanded your attention?
Eyal argues that we are drawn to this behavior by triggers in our lives––both internal and external––that make us susceptible to distractions. We are drawn to news and social media not only for the entertainment value, but also for the opportunity to be free of psychological discomfort such as stress, anxiety, boredom or loneliness. If we recognize these internal triggers and try to respond by planning a technology-free weekend, for example, the craving that creates can actually reinforce the desire for distraction.
The author suggests that examining what prompts these reactions will be more effective than simply trying to quit cold turkey. If you feel obligated to respond to a work email the moment it arrives, is that because your boss has created that expectation, or is it your own concern for job security? Try keeping a log of your feelings and emotions for a short period to see if there is a pattern in your responses.
External triggers––the pings, dings, and vibrations of your digital devices––are much easier to manage. Turning off notifications, uninstalling apps, and setting-up different notifications for work and family can go a long way towards reclaiming your time and attention.
The Opposite of Distraction
Eyal’s objective is more than just a reduction in distraction. He outlines a plan to return traction to our lives by using three simple pacts:
- An effort pact––making a precommitment not to be distracted by games, news or social media––forces you to decide if the distraction is really worth the extra effort. Ironically, there are digital apps that can help you to do this, including SelfControl, Forest, and Freedom.
- An identity pact forces you to directly address your self-image about how you respond to distractions. Apologizing for having a short attention span, or admitting that you respond to a ping on your phone like Pavlov’s dogs to a dinner bell, should no longer be part of your vocabulary. You’re now empowered to take control of those distractions.
- A price pact makes you put some skin in the game. Make an explicit, public commitment to your friends or family, such as not checking your phone at dinner. If they catch you, you pay the financial penalty.
Indistractable offers a simple path back to control of your time and attention. By focusing on rebuilding traction in your daily life, you can finally find the time to focus that attention and dramatically increase your productivity at work and at home.
Andy Ghillyer is a Contributing Writer at Soundview. He lives in Tampa, FL where he specializes in writing for the B2B and academic markets while raising a growing menagerie of cats and dogs. His other reviews are here.
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