Book Recap: Indistractable by Nir Eyal

Book Recap: Indistractable by Nir Eyal

Don't blame the phone. Blame yourself.

Keegan Leary
Keegan Leary

Nir Eyal sets the tone of his book, "In the future, there will be two kinds of people in the world: those who let their attention and lives be controlled and coerced by others and those who proudly call themselves 'indistractable.'"

My immediate take-aways from the book are:

  1. There is a war goin on for your attention, and it's up to you to fight it.  Armies of people are employed at six figure salaries to come up with better ways to steal your monkey brain.
  2. Distraction costs us not only in personal development, but in relationships as well.  While this book is incredibly similar to Atomic Habits, Nir's main difference is that he focuses on how his distractions affect his personal relationships with friends and family.
  3. Asking myself, "What is the proper amount of productivity material to read?"  This book inspired me to take action on a few things, for which it is 100% worth the time.  When I read Atomic Habits, I didn't change much.  There is definitely a saturation point with this stuff.

This book unfolds in two parts: how your attention is being stolen, and what you can do about it.  I didn't find any particular section novel or new, but it's an easy read and did inspire some action on my part, which makes it worth it.  I read the book as part of a book club that my friend runs called Odyssey.  Having a recap with a group afterward was especially motivating, and Indistractable does provide workbook material to help you get more out of the book.

Some of the strategies I adopted, or refined, after reading Indistractable:

  1. Refined my notifications across all device (not just my phone).  Basically I disabled all except badge icons for text/email and the ringer for phone/Facetime.
  2. Train my email.  I subscribe by inbox zero and am constantly refining how I receive and process email (i.e. creating filters, archiving).  I switched from web-based Gmail to Apple's mail program not really on any recommendation from the book but from my own curiosity after reaading this book.
  3. Nir is big on Timeboxing, which I have never been able to follow through with.  Timeboxing is when you manage your calendar in a way that all hours are filled with your activity, rather than jsut the hours when you have something going on.  I've always been jealous of people who can do this, but I've never been able to get there.   I'm pretty happy with my post-it note to-do style of getting things done (Nir is not a fan of to do lists) and I'm going to stick to that.  Is till do see the benefit of a well-thought-out calendar though.  I think the key for me is that my calendar is my home-base and what is displayed throughout the day.  Email, chat software, social media, etc. is all removed from the front page of my phone and web browser.
  4. Put the phone on the other side of the room.  Nir highlights research that just by having a phone nearby has been shown to cause distraction.
  5. Mute group chats.

Some other thoughts on Nir's productivity philosophy:

  1. Waiting to respond to email until it's actually due as a means to train others in your email response style.  One member from my book group highlighted this as being something he really did not like.  I think I agree.  I see no problem with being responsive WHEN we are to be responsive (i.e. during your working hours).  Perhaps this stems from Nir's working arrangement in that he probably doesn't have specific hours as an author.  I do agree that vacation and off-hours should be a time that we don't have to monitor our work accounts.  A phone call is warranted in an emergency.  Understandably, this can be hard to achieve in today's environment.
  2. Psychological Safety at work.  In my expereince with the Navy, we love to SAY that we are a learning organization that is open to making mistakes, but in practice, we really aren't.  When mistakes happen, we play the blame game and label people with reputations.  I think this is probably prevalent just about everywhere.  Ensuring psychological safety can happen at a local team level, but is probably heavily influenced by organizational culture.  I'm not really sure what the answer is, but enjoy having a framework (terrible corporate word alert) to think about it through.
  3. Willpower is a myth.  I'm still out on this one and would love to dive into the research a bit more.
  4. When someone is looking at their phone when you are trying practice human connection ask, "I see you're on your phone, is everything OK?"  I'm excited to try this one out and see the reaction 😆.
  5. "Surfing the urge" for 10 minutes then allow yourself to do that distracting thing if you still want to after 10 minutes.  Yea don't think this will work for me either.

Well that's it!  Easy read and spurred me to some action so overall I'm pleased with the read.  Something else I should mention is that Nir also has a book called Hooked, where he essentially lays out how to steal attention.  In an "I see what you did there" moment, our book group found Nir to be incredibly smart, but also ver, very sus.

Here's a selection of passages in the book that I highlighted.

It's you, not the device.

Unless we deal with the root causes of our distraction, we’ll continue to find ways to distract ourselves. Distraction, it turns out, isn’t about the distraction itself; rather, it’s about how we respond to it.

"Funify" your work.  I didn't highlight the bit about how to make mowing the lawn fun, but that was a great insight too in how to enjoy tasks that people typically do not enjoy.

Bogost tells us that “fun is the aftermath of deliberately manipulating a familiar situation in a new way.” The answer, therefore, is to focus on the task itself. Instead of running away from our pain or using rewards like prizes and treats to help motivate us, the idea is to pay such close attention that you find new challenges you didn’t see before. Those new challenges provide the novelty to engage our attention and maintain focus when tempted by distraction.

Willpower exists? True or False?


In a study conducted by the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dweck concluded that signs of ego depletion were observed only in those test subjects who believed willpower was a limited resource.

Just let that sink in—mind-set mattered as much as physical dependence! What we say to ourselves is vitally important. Labeling yourself as having poor self-control actually leads to less self-control. Rather than telling ourselves we failed because we’re somehow deficient, we should offer self-compassion by speaking to ourselves with kindness when we experience setbacks.

Being raised Irish-Catholic, "toxic guilt" should be my middle name.

The important thing is to take responsibility for our actions without heaping on the toxic guilt that makes us feel even worse and can, ironically, lead us to seek even more distraction in order to escape the pain of shame.

Love this description on friendship.

What makes for a quality friendship? William Rawlins, a professor of interpersonal communications at Ohio University who studies the way people interact over the course of their lives, told the Atlantic that satisfying friendships need three things: “somebody to talk to, someone to depend on, and someone to enjoy.”

Limiting the power of the phone/computer...

The idea here is to find the best time and place to do the things you want to do. Just because your phone can seemingly do everything doesn’t mean it should.

“Primary Tools,” “Aspirations,” and “Slot Machines.” He says Primary Tools “help you accomplish defined tasks that you rely on frequently: getting a ride, finding a location, adding an appointment. There should be no more than five or six.” He calls Aspirations “the things you want to spend time doing: meditation, yoga, exercise, reading books, or listening to podcasts.” Stubblebine describes Slot Machines as “the apps that you open and get lost in: email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.” He recommends rearranging your phone’s home screen so it only displays your Primary Tools and your Aspirations. He instructs you to “think of your home page as a group of apps that you feel you are in charge of. If the app triggers any mindless checking from you, move it to a different screen.”

He uses a heavy, obsolete Dell laptop from which he has scoured any trace of hearts and solitaire, down to the level of the operating system. Because Franzen believes you can’t write serious fiction on a computer that’s connected to the internet, he not only removed the Dell’s wireless card but also permanently blocked its Ethernet port. “What you have to do,” he explains, “is you plug in an Ethernet cable with superglue and then you saw off the little head of it.” Franzen’s methods may seem extreme, but desperate times call for desperate measures. And Franzen is not alone in his methods. Famed director Quentin Tarantino never uses a computer to write his screenplays, preferring to work by hand in a notebook. Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jhumpa Lahiri writes her books with pen and paper and then types them on a computer without internet.

I'll highlight any reference to the Greek myths.

Although researchers are still studying why it is so effective, precommitment is, in fact, an age-old tactic. Perhaps the most iconic precommitment in history appears in the ancient telling of the Odyssey. In the story, Ulysses must sail his ship and crew past the land of the Sirens, who sing a bewitching song known to draw sailors to their shores. When sailors approach, they wreck their ships on the Sirens’ rocky coast and perish. Knowing the danger ahead, Ulysses hatches a clever plan to avoid this fate. He orders his men to fill their ears with beeswax so they cannot hear the Sirens’ call. Everyone follows Ulysses’s orders, with the exception of Ulysses, who wants to hear the beautiful song for himself.

Motivation as it relates to being a teacher vs. being a student.  Maybe I SHOULD start tutoring.

According to several recent studies, preaching to others can have a great impact on the motivation and adherence of the teacher. Researchers Lauren Eskreis-Winkler and Ayelet Fishbach have run experiments on diverse groups, from unemployed workers looking for a job to children struggling in school. Their results consistently show that teaching others provides more motivation for the teacher to change their own behavior than if the teacher learned from an expert.

Job strain and psychological safety.  Still thinking about this.


The first condition involved what the researchers called high “job strain.” This factor was found in environments where employees were expected to meet high expectations yet lacked the ability to control the outcomes. Stansfeld added that this strain can be felt in white-collar as well as blue-collar jobs, and likened the feeling to working on a factory production line without a way to adjust the production pace, even when things go wrong.

The second factor that correlates with workplace depression is an environment with an “effort-reward imbalance,” in which workers don’t see much return for their hard work, be it through increased pay or recognition. At the heart of both job strain and effort-reward imbalance, according to Stansfeld, is a lack of control.
The researchers found five key dynamics that set successful teams apart. The first four were dependability, structure and clarity, meaning of work, and impact of work. However, the fifth dynamic was without doubt the most important and actually underpinned the other four. It was something called psychological safety.

Email = Fake Work.

Checking email or chiming in on a group-chat thread provides the feeling of being productive, regardless of whether our actions are actually making things better.

Accessibility.  What's your price?


Increased accessibility comes at a high price. Answering emails during your child’s soccer game trains colleagues to expect quick responses during times that were previously off-limits; as a result, requests from the office mutate personal or family time into work time.

Keegan Leary

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