How To Overcome Distraction And Get Work Done

Black man using cell phone

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Your phone is constantly buzzing, your computer screen keeps showing new email notifications and that coworker stopped by yet again to ask for a project update.

Distractions live everywhere.  

If you’re anything like me, you probably sat over brunch with friends this weekend and noticed that everyone’s head is buried deep in their phones. I’ll be the first to admit I can be guilty of this as well. There have been times where I look back on a conversation and simply can’t remember what was said. I used to think it was because I had a poor memory but the reality is, I was just distracted from what was happening right in front of me. Do you struggle to get present?

All this distraction leads to increased anxiety and up to 96% reduction in work productivity. It’s no wonder we struggle to source creativity. It doesn’t stop there. The anticipation of distractions themselves actually lead to even greater anxiety.  Simply knowing that your coworker could come to your desk while you’re deep in thought creates a lingering chronic sense of anxiety and distraction.

Distractions are literally killing people, but with close review and connection it is possible to eliminate them. A study at the University of California, San Francisco observed nurses passing out medication and found they were interrupted on average 10 times per round. In efforts to reduce medication mistakes they implemented a simple and cheap solution- nurses on medication rounds put on plastic vests that indicated they were distributing medication and could not be disturbed. This simple implementation reduced medication mistakes by 88%.  

As an author writing about making life changes, (hello, anxiety and avoidant distraction) I love seeking out other authors and thought leaders to pick their brains. This led me to invite Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How To Form Habit Building Habits to come onto my show, You Turn Podcast, to share his research and learnings from his newly published book Indistractable: How To Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.  

His insights were so powerful and thought provoking, that I couldn’t let them live just there. Here was the four step process he shared with me on the podcast, about how to become indistractable.

1. Master your internal triggers

“Most distractions start from within, and we use distraction to escape discomfort” -Nir Eyal

It’s time to stop blaming technology.

Yes, there are external triggers which prompt you toward distraction, but Eyal indicated that the most common cause for distraction are actually internal triggers, the uncomfortable sensations we seek to escape from. These triggers lead to distracting actions that put you in an alternate psychological state.  

You will always be able to find a distraction to cope with the internal emotion you want to avoid. In order to remove the psychological need for this distraction, you must first recognize what emotions (internal triggers) prompt you to seek distraction in the first place.

Master your internal triggers to so that they guide you towards attraction: the tasks you want to do, versus those you are avoiding. This all starts with recognition. You can’t change what you don’t notice.

Begin to pay attention to your distractions and what emotions you feel when you enter into them. When you are lonely, do you turn to Facebook or Instagram for connection? When you are bored, do you find yourself scrolling through Reddit or watching the news? When you are self conscious in public, do you pull out your phone and check email so you look, “busy” or do you order a drink to keep yourself preoccupied?  

We live in a world where people are subconsciously desperate to escape from themselves.

Distractions can even be perceived as positive actions, when really these “positive actions” are just distractions wearing a mask. Be honest with yourself: do you use meditation as a way to hide from taking action? Do you hit the gym as an excuse to keep yourself from doing the work you know you need to get done?

When you recognize what your internal triggers are, you can now allow yourself to feel that feeling you’ve been likely avoiding, or running away from. The next time you are uncomfortable and reach for your phone, take a moment to pause and feel the uncomfortability. Instead of viewing this as a negative, find pride in allowing yourself to work through the discomfort and recognize it as a moment of growth rather than weakness.

Success as a human species means always wanting more and the only way you will ever get there is to push your limits, and this includes your emotional limits.

2. Make time for traction.

“The opposite of distraction is not action, it is traction, or the pull into action.” -Nir Eyal

Distraction is anything that pulls you away from what you are planning to do. In order to find traction, you need to create intention in each action you take.

A great way Eyal described this was to turn your values into time. To do this you must first know your core values. When you understand what you value deeply, you will know what actions in your day drive you closer to this truth.  

Look at your week and define how much time you want within each value domain. I suggest that each Sunday night, you create a calendar for the week ahead and fill it with actions  aligned with your values. If you are a visual person, consider color coding each action with the value you hold close to you. For example, all family events are purple, all work hours are blue, and all creative thinking time blocked as yellow. After all, sight is the most strongly developed sense in most humans. Be careful with which colors you choose,and know that just like in marketing, each one has a meaning

Begin to remove the stigmas you hold on the actions you take, as long as you do them with intention in your schedule. So many people think social media apps are bad for you, and yes, if you are checking them every 15 minutes, it’s a major time suck and huge distraction. Nonetheless, if you use it intentionally, it can be a great vehicle for creativity, connection and learning. If you want to scroll social media, Eyal recommends to carve out intentional time for this. The name of the game is intentionality! So if you love to watch The Bachelor, schedule those Monday nights into your calendar so you can truly enjoy them.  These actions will no longer be distractions, but something you’re fully present in with traction.

3. Hack back your external triggers.

“Determine whether an external trigger is serving you, or if you are serving the trigger”- Nir Eyal

Devices are designed to hack your attention. Alarms tells you to do something you planned. Apps catch your attention with notifications. It’s a matter of weeding out which external triggers are helping you...and which are hurting you.

Eyal tells people to “hack back your phone.” When you consider that two out of three people don’t change the notification settings on their phones, it’s pretty clear you are serving your phone.

Make your phone (and life) indistractable. Take back the control and spend a moment going into the notifications section of your phone, so you can turn off the constant interruptions in your day. On an iPhone, you can even set limitations on the amount of time each app is accessible within the day. Notifications dots are red since red is a trigger that draws attention. So, turn your phone to grayscale to make the visual draw less appealing.  

You can do this at work, too. Because if there is one thing we know, it’s that the open office floor plan is a distraction haven. Know it is okay to ask for quiet time to be alone and work. If your role requires you to come up with new and novel solutions or problem solve a long burning issue, block time on your calendar for this.  

When you aren’t distracted, you aren’t making errors.  

If you are a leader in your corporation, recognize that your company culture sets the tone for what level of distraction is permitted. Begin to set the precedent that time without distraction is necessary, and even admirable. Here are a few extra ways to build a culture that discourages distraction:

  • Get distraction screens for your employees, with the similar intention that the nurses at UCSF vests provided. The sign indicates to others you are deep in work or thought and cannot be disturbed. Eyal even includes a printable sign in his book for you to place at your desk.
  • Create time blocks on your team's calendar that are “meeting free.” Encourage this time to be for creativity, thinking and execution.
  • Eliminate after work communication. Yes emergencies arise, but as a leader you set the precedence for expectations. If you are online emailing your team asking questions, you are setting the standard that they should do the same.

4. Prevent distraction with pacts

“Plan ahead so that when you know you will get distracted, there is something in place.” -Nir Eyal

Make pre-commitments to yourself and plan ahead so that when you know you will get distracted, there is something that keeps you in the way of getting the distraction you want.

Eyal shared three powerful ideas to use as pacts that lead you away from distractions and into traction: effort, price and identity.

Build a barrier between you and your distraction that requires a certain level of effort to break through. Eyal has gone as far as installing an outlet timer that turns his internet off at 10 p.m. every night. He can turn it back on, but that means he must go into the office room, and work through the outlet to reset it. Getting out of bed in the morning can be a really big problem for some people, try using a Ruggie alarm clock to keep you from staying distracted lying in bed.  

The alarm clock sound won’t turn off unless you stand on the rug for up to three minutes. Talk about a way to get yourself out of bed in the morning!

If all else fails, know that financial costs incentivize you to stick to your word.  Studies show that smokers are less likely to smoke a cigarette if it means they have to pay money into a pot. Better yet, if you commit yourself to send money to a cause you don’t support it makes you even less likely to give in. A woman told her story on RadioLab about how she made a commitment that if she ever smoked again, she would have to give $5,000 to the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Needless to say, she proudly never smoked again.

Finally, make the decision that being indistractable is part of who you are. Just like being an artist, a teacher or a friend, you are also now an indistractable person. Tell yourself this, and others, and you will feel accountable to stay true to yourself.

It is time to stop blaming society, media and your external environment on being continually distracted. Commit to follow these four steps to becoming indestractable and you will become indestructible!

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Your phone is constantly buzzing, your computer screen keeps showing new email notifications and that coworker stopped by yet again to ask for a project update.

Distractions live everywhere.  

If you’re anything like me, you probably sat over brunch with friends this weekend and noticed that everyone’s head is buried deep in their phones. I’ll be the first to admit I can be guilty of this as well. There have been times where I look back on a conversation and simply can’t remember what was said. I used to think it was because I had a poor memory but the reality is, I was just distracted from what was happening right in front of me. Do you struggle to get present?

All this distraction leads to increased anxiety and up to 96% reduction in work productivity. It’s no wonder we struggle to source creativity. It doesn’t stop there. The anticipation of distractions themselves actually lead to even greater anxiety.  Simply knowing that your coworker could come to your desk while you’re deep in thought creates a lingering chronic sense of anxiety and distraction.

Distractions are literally killing people, but with close review and connection it is possible to eliminate them. A study at the University of California, San Francisco observed nurses passing out medication and found they were interrupted on average 10 times per round. In efforts to reduce medication mistakes they implemented a simple and cheap solution- nurses on medication rounds put on plastic vests that indicated they were distributing medication and could not be disturbed. This simple implementation reduced medication mistakes by 88%.  

As an author writing about making life changes, (hello, anxiety and avoidant distraction) I love seeking out other authors and thought leaders to pick their brains. This led me to invite Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How To Form Habit Building Habits to come onto my show, You Turn Podcast, to share his research and learnings from his newly published book Indistractable: How To Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.  

His insights were so powerful and thought provoking, that I couldn’t let them live just there. Here was the four step process he shared with me on the podcast, about how to become indistractable.

1. Master your internal triggers

“Most distractions start from within, and we use distraction to escape discomfort” -Nir Eyal

It’s time to stop blaming technology.

Yes, there are external triggers which prompt you toward distraction, but Eyal indicated that the most common cause for distraction are actually internal triggers, the uncomfortable sensations we seek to escape from. These triggers lead to distracting actions that put you in an alternate psychological state.  

You will always be able to find a distraction to cope with the internal emotion you want to avoid. In order to remove the psychological need for this distraction, you must first recognize what emotions (internal triggers) prompt you to seek distraction in the first place.

Master your internal triggers to so that they guide you towards attraction: the tasks you want to do, versus those you are avoiding. This all starts with recognition. You can’t change what you don’t notice.

Begin to pay attention to your distractions and what emotions you feel when you enter into them. When you are lonely, do you turn to Facebook or Instagram for connection? When you are bored, do you find yourself scrolling through Reddit or watching the news? When you are self conscious in public, do you pull out your phone and check email so you look, “busy” or do you order a drink to keep yourself preoccupied?  

We live in a world where people are subconsciously desperate to escape from themselves.

Distractions can even be perceived as positive actions, when really these “positive actions” are just distractions wearing a mask. Be honest with yourself: do you use meditation as a way to hide from taking action? Do you hit the gym as an excuse to keep yourself from doing the work you know you need to get done?

When you recognize what your internal triggers are, you can now allow yourself to feel that feeling you’ve been likely avoiding, or running away from. The next time you are uncomfortable and reach for your phone, take a moment to pause and feel the uncomfortability. Instead of viewing this as a negative, find pride in allowing yourself to work through the discomfort and recognize it as a moment of growth rather than weakness.

Success as a human species means always wanting more and the only way you will ever get there is to push your limits, and this includes your emotional limits.

2. Make time for traction.

“The opposite of distraction is not action, it is traction, or the pull into action.” -Nir Eyal

Distraction is anything that pulls you away from what you are planning to do. In order to find traction, you need to create intention in each action you take.

A great way Eyal described this was to turn your values into time. To do this you must first know your core values. When you understand what you value deeply, you will know what actions in your day drive you closer to this truth.  

Look at your week and define how much time you want within each value domain. I suggest that each Sunday night, you create a calendar for the week ahead and fill it with actions  aligned with your values. If you are a visual person, consider color coding each action with the value you hold close to you. For example, all family events are purple, all work hours are blue, and all creative thinking time blocked as yellow. After all, sight is the most strongly developed sense in most humans. Be careful with which colors you choose,and know that just like in marketing, each one has a meaning

Begin to remove the stigmas you hold on the actions you take, as long as you do them with intention in your schedule. So many people think social media apps are bad for you, and yes, if you are checking them every 15 minutes, it’s a major time suck and huge distraction. Nonetheless, if you use it intentionally, it can be a great vehicle for creativity, connection and learning. If you want to scroll social media, Eyal recommends to carve out intentional time for this. The name of the game is intentionality! So if you love to watch The Bachelor, schedule those Monday nights into your calendar so you can truly enjoy them.  These actions will no longer be distractions, but something you’re fully present in with traction.

3. Hack back your external triggers.

“Determine whether an external trigger is serving you, or if you are serving the trigger”- Nir Eyal

Devices are designed to hack your attention. Alarms tells you to do something you planned. Apps catch your attention with notifications. It’s a matter of weeding out which external triggers are helping you...and which are hurting you.

Eyal tells people to “hack back your phone.” When you consider that two out of three people don’t change the notification settings on their phones, it’s pretty clear you are serving your phone.

Make your phone (and life) indistractable. Take back the control and spend a moment going into the notifications section of your phone, so you can turn off the constant interruptions in your day. On an iPhone, you can even set limitations on the amount of time each app is accessible within the day. Notifications dots are red since red is a trigger that draws attention. So, turn your phone to grayscale to make the visual draw less appealing.  

You can do this at work, too. Because if there is one thing we know, it’s that the open office floor plan is a distraction haven. Know it is okay to ask for quiet time to be alone and work. If your role requires you to come up with new and novel solutions or problem solve a long burning issue, block time on your calendar for this.  

When you aren’t distracted, you aren’t making errors.  

If you are a leader in your corporation, recognize that your company culture sets the tone for what level of distraction is permitted. Begin to set the precedent that time without distraction is necessary, and even admirable. Here are a few extra ways to build a culture that discourages distraction:

  • Get distraction screens for your employees, with the similar intention that the nurses at UCSF vests provided. The sign indicates to others you are deep in work or thought and cannot be disturbed. Eyal even includes a printable sign in his book for you to place at your desk.
  • Create time blocks on your team's calendar that are “meeting free.” Encourage this time to be for creativity, thinking and execution.
  • Eliminate after work communication. Yes emergencies arise, but as a leader you set the precedence for expectations. If you are online emailing your team asking questions, you are setting the standard that they should do the same.

4. Prevent distraction with pacts

“Plan ahead so that when you know you will get distracted, there is something in place.” -Nir Eyal

Make pre-commitments to yourself and plan ahead so that when you know you will get distracted, there is something that keeps you in the way of getting the distraction you want.

Eyal shared three powerful ideas to use as pacts that lead you away from distractions and into traction: effort, price and identity.

Build a barrier between you and your distraction that requires a certain level of effort to break through. Eyal has gone as far as installing an outlet timer that turns his internet off at 10 p.m. every night. He can turn it back on, but that means he must go into the office room, and work through the outlet to reset it. Getting out of bed in the morning can be a really big problem for some people, try using a Ruggie alarm clock to keep you from staying distracted lying in bed.  

The alarm clock sound won’t turn off unless you stand on the rug for up to three minutes. Talk about a way to get yourself out of bed in the morning!

If all else fails, know that financial costs incentivize you to stick to your word.  Studies show that smokers are less likely to smoke a cigarette if it means they have to pay money into a pot. Better yet, if you commit yourself to send money to a cause you don’t support it makes you even less likely to give in. A woman told her story on RadioLab about how she made a commitment that if she ever smoked again, she would have to give $5,000 to the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Needless to say, she proudly never smoked again.

Finally, make the decision that being indistractable is part of who you are. Just like being an artist, a teacher or a friend, you are also now an indistractable person. Tell yourself this, and others, and you will feel accountable to stay true to yourself.

It is time to stop blaming society, media and your external environment on being continually distracted. Commit to follow these four steps to becoming indestractable and you will become indestructible!

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I'm a career coach, keynote speaker, podcast host (You Turn Podcast) and author, here to help you step into a career you're excited about and aligned with. This may loo

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