3 Surefire Ways to Beat Distraction
Tips for staying focused on your creative work, from ‘Indistractable’ author Nir Eyal
In these very working-from-home times, distraction seems to have reached epidemic levels. “I want to focus on that big project at work, but my attention keeps getting siphoned away into smaller but more urgent tasks,” said a colleague of mine who is actually me. Whoops.
Luckily, Nir Eyal, the bestselling author of the book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, shared his best advice on staying “indistractable” in a recent interview as part of the Medium in Conversation interview series.
Eyal has tons of great advice on the subject (which he often blogs about here at Medium). Here are three of the tips he shared in our conversation that I think are the most crucial for creative people:
Check in with your values every week
We all have many — too many! — entities vying for our time. Work wants our attention, our family and friends want our attention, social media of all flavors really wants our attention, and the list goes on. But as Eyal points out, it’s up to us to decide which of these aligns with the way we want to live. As he put it in an article for Forge:
When we define values as attributes of the people we want to be, we can more clearly see our next steps, the actions we can take to move forward. My wife both “care about” my daughter — but that’s not actionable. What’s actionable is the desire to be attentive parents. Attentiveness is a value. And if we both want to be attentive parents, we can talk about what that means, and we can strive every day to live up to it. For us, it means being fully present when we’re together, without getting distracted by our phones.
You’re Probably Thinking About Values All Wrong
When you replace this common definition of values with a better one, your life suddenly becomes clearer
He told me that he takes a few minutes every Sunday night to check in with his values and look at the week ahead to see how he can take action on those values.
We can all do something like this. For example, if you value creativity, make sure you’re putting some action items on your calendar to help you live that value. This might look like setting aside one evening for writing a blog post, checking in with a book manuscript on a Wednesday morning, or committing to taking yourself on a Julia Cameron-style artist date that will spark some inspiration and fill your creative well.
A schedule is more important than a to-do list
If you don’t know what you want to be working on, it’s hard to gain traction on it (and as Eyal points out, the opposite of distraction isn’t focus but traction). Rather than making a linear to-do list, time-box your calendar. For example, this morning I blocked off an hour on my calendar and marked it “Write Creators Hub post about Nir Eyal.” And voila! Guess what that hour got devoted to? Here’s a useful tool to help you do just this.
Feeling bad isn’t bad
Eyal writes, in his book about distraction, about how he got distracted while writing said book (!). As he’s written on Forge: “ If we depend on feeling motivated to do what we don’t feel like doing, we’ll never accomplish hard-to-achieve goals … what looks like a lack of motivation is often simply someone escaping discomfort in an unhealthy or unproductive way.”
Humans are silly creatures, and we will often go out of our ways to avoid discomfort. And guess what: Sometimes creating things is simply uncomfortable. Whether you’re writing a book or drafting a business plan, you have to fight through various states — boredom, frustration, self-doubt, fear, vulnerability, and exhaustion — to reach the finish line.
You just have to know that’s part of the process and be ready for it. Which, by the way, is why it’s so helpful to keep yourself on a schedule, as mentioned above. It’s not “Write when you feel like it and it’s fun.” It’s “Write now because now is writing time.”