There’s no denying that distractions are a part of life. From social media to streaming services and everything in between, knowing how to be more productive and stay focused can pose quite a challenge.
There are ways, though, to overcome these distractions and increase your productivity.
“Distraction, it turns out, isn’t about the distraction itself,” says Nir Eyal, a habit-forming expert and trainer of Mindvalley’s Becoming Focused and Indistractable Quest. “Rather, it’s about how we respond to it.”
With his expertise and insights, consider this a go-to guide to help you take control of your time and stay on track. Here’s what you can explore:
- 3 Reasons You’re Not Productive
- 3 Steps to Boost Your Productivity Today
- How to Be More Productive at Home
- How to Be More Productive at Work
- How to Be a Healthier and More Productive Human Being
Being productive is all about getting the most out of your energy and time. As Benjamin Franklin’s quote goes, “You may delay, but time will not.”
3 Reasons You’re Not Productive
If you feel like you’re not as productive as you could be, welcome to the club—it’s a common struggle everyone goes through in their daily routine. However, according to Nir Eyal, there are three main reasons why we struggle with short attention spans.
Let’s take a closer look at what they are.
1. We are “present biased”
The social media rabbit hole, the latest Netflix series, your Everest-like pile of laundry… These are pretty little somethings that take your attention away from what you’re supposed to be doing. Let’s call it the “pretty butterfly” syndrome—like a child walking home who sees a pretty butterfly, starts following it, and ends up forgetting what they’re doing.
This is, as Nir explains in his Mindvalley Quest, what psychologists call “hyperbolic discounting,” the tendency to choose smaller, short-term rewards over benefits that take longer to gain. He adds that immediate rewards have a stronger influence on us, making future events seem less important in comparison.
2. We are marginal thinkers
Since we, as humans, are prone to being “present biased,” we also tend to be marginal thinkers, focusing on small improvements instead of pursuing bigger goals. It’s settling for mediocrity instead of striving for excellence.
Nir gives an example of squirrels foraging for nuts, which follows the marginal value theorem. He explains the squirrels will stay in an area as long as they’re finding a lot of nuts quickly. However, when the nuts start to run out or are harder to find, they’ll move on to a new area to search for food.
Humans do the same, but with information.
“We switch between email, television, [and] our phones, constantly looking for the next information reward,” says Nir. “When one source becomes less interesting, we jump to the next, and then the next.”
3. We are creatures of habit
We all engage in daily habits, often without thinking about them.
They could be high-performance habits; for example, meditating in the morning or maintaining a gratitude journal practice. On the other hand, they could be not-so-great habits, like nervous nail-biting or checking the socials as soon as we wake up. And interestingly, research from Duke University found that about 40% of our daily behaviors are habitual.
It’s just the way our brains are wired, as Nir explains. It’s called “neuroplasticity,” which is the brain’s ability to change and adapt in response to new experiences. And when we repeat a behavior over and over again, our brains create neural pathways that make it more automatic.
It’s essentially the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, which states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Meaning, 80% of your happiness may come from 20% of your daily habits, and in the case of procrastinating, 80% of your stress and frustration may come from 20% of your daily distractions.
3 Steps to Boost Your Productivity Today
Whether we’d like to admit it or not, many of us prioritize distractions over the people we love. “We are,” Nir says, “what we pay attention to.”
Fortunately, you can learn one of the essential habits of productive people: doing what you say you’ll do or being, what Nir calls, “indistractable.” Taking insights from his Mindvalley Quest, explore how to become more productive, how to focus better, and how to build more fulfilling relationships.
1. Master your internal triggers
Your internal triggers can come in the form of negative emotions—boredom, anxiety, and stress being a few of them. They can lead you to seek distractions, like checking social media, playing video games, or watching television.
Most people don’t want to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that distraction is always an unhealthy escape from reality.— Nir Eyal, trainer of Mindvalley’s Becoming Focused and Indistractable Quest
So how can you master these triggers and get in the flow? It helps to understand and manage your internal thoughts and emotions so you won’t get easily distracted and procrastinate.
How to be more productive
Nir suggests a technique called “surfing the urge.” It involves recognizing the urge to distract yourself and waiting a few minutes before acting on it. By doing so, you can regain control over your triggers and make a more conscious decision about how to respond to them.
“Unless we deal with the root causes of our distraction, we’ll continue to find ways to distract ourselves,” he says.
2. Make time for traction
The opposite of distraction is not focus. Rather, as Nir explains, it’s traction.
Both words come from the same Latin root, meaning “to pull.” Therefore, traction pulls you towards what you want to do, and distraction pulls you away from it.
It can be hard to tell at times which direction you’re being pulled towards. For example, checking your email may feel productive as you’re doing it. However, if there’s a big project requiring your attention, cleaning out your inbox might not be the best use of your time as you’d think.
So make time for traction by deliberately scheduling your tasks. Writing and replying to emails? Put that on your calendar. Got a pitch deck to create? Pencil it in. Want quality time with your kids? You know what to do.
Only by setting aside a specific time in our schedules for traction (the actions that draw us toward what we want in life) can we turn our backs on distraction.— Nir Eyal, trainer of Mindvalley’s Becoming Focused and Indistractable Quest
How to be more productive
Timeboxing, which is a similar concept to time blocking, is something that Nir highly recommends doing. It’s based on implementation intentions, where you decide what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it.
This technique is about dividing your day into chunks of time, called “timeboxes,” and assigning each timebox to a particular task or activity. “The goal,” Nir explains, “is to eliminate all the white spaces in your calendar so that you’re left with a template for how you intend to spend your time each and every day.”
For example, you might timebox from 8–9 a.m. to clear out your inbox, then dedicate 9–11 a.m. to work on your pitch deck, followed by a lunch break from 12–1 p.m., and so on. You can adjust the length of each timebox based on the nature of the task or your personal preferences.
It doesn’t matter what you do with your time, be it work, quality time with loved ones, scrolling through social media, watching television, and so on and so forth. The success of your timeboxes, according to Nir, is “measured by whether you did what you planned to do.”
3. Hack back external triggers
You can’t control what others do, but you can control your own reactions. This advice is particularly useful when it comes to external triggers, which Nir explains as “stimuli in [your] environment that prompt [you] to act,” usually away from your tasks.
Here are examples of what it can look like:
- The pings of incoming emails,
- Dings of messages from your phones,
- Clutter on your desktop and your workstation,
- Loud noises in the background,
- Colleagues stopping by your desk for a chat,
- Your toddler asking for a snack, or
- Hunger, thirst, or physical discomfort.
The problem of distractions has as much to do with us as it has to do with the distractions in our environment.— Nir Eyal, trainer of Mindvalley’s Becoming Focused and Indistractable Quest
Our daily lives are constantly in high-sensory environments, so knowing how to not get distracted is key. And what Nir suggests is to “hack back” at these triggers.
How to be more productive
“The real problem is when we receive these external triggers on somebody else’s schedule, as opposed to our schedule,” Nir says. “This can wreak havoc on our productivity, our happiness, and even our safety.”
So when it comes to knowing how to be more productive in life, this is where hack backs can really be a game changer. To reduce the impact of external triggers, you’ll need to take active measures.
Here are a few simple things Nir suggests you can do:
- Remove or adjust the trigger. For example, if social media notifications distract you, turn them off or put your phone in another room.
- Change your environment. If there’s just too much noise or visual clutter in your work area, use noise-canceling headphones or clean up your workspace.
- Seek support. If certain people or situations are a source of distraction, try to communicate your needs and boundaries with them. Alternatively, seek support from your friends, family, or colleagues.
As you learn how to be more focused and productive, you may just find it easier to be present for the tasks at hand.
How to Be More Productive at Home
The home is a sanctuary, but, not surprisingly, it’s full of distractions. From the television to the endless list of chores, it can sometimes leave you feeling chaotic rather than calm.
With more and more people having the option to work remotely, it’s becoming increasingly important to know how to be productive at home. Here are a few tips on how to set yourself up to make the most of your time:
- Set up a dedicated workspace. Having a designated area separate from where you rest (the living area or bedroom) can help you mentally switch into work mode.
- Create a routine. Establish a routine that includes waking up at a consistent time, as well as setting aside specific hours for work (or for your children, time to focus on homework) and breaks. This is where timeboxing can really help.
- Minimize distractions. Identify potential things that will contribute to you procrastinating. This can include your devices, household chores, or even the refrigerator (boredom hunger is a real thing!).
It’s also important to remember to communicate your work schedule and boundaries to those you live with.
How to Be More Productive at Work
It goes without saying that productivity is essential in the workplace, where efficiency and results can impact your success and career advancement. However, with numerous demands and distractions at work, it can be a challenge to not procrastinate.
Here are a few strategies that you can use to stay laser focused:
- Prioritize your tasks. Identify the most important tasks that you need to do and focus on them first.
- Set goals. Setting specific, measurable goals can help you stay on track and motivated. Break down your load into manageable chunks.
- Collaborate effectively. If you work with others, it’s important to communicate clearly, set expectations, and be open to feedback and suggestions.
Keep in mind, being productive at work is about working smarter, not harder.
How to Be a Healthier and More Productive Human Being
“What kinds of biases, habits, and patterns of thinking distract us from the lives we want to live?” It’s a question Nir encourages you to ask yourself.
Because how you feel and take care of yourself impacts how much energy and focus you have, which can influence your ability to complete tasks effectively. In short, being healthy is connected to your productivity.
Adding healthy habits to your daily routine can improve your health and productivity. Here are a few ways to do so:
- Get enough sleep each night. We’ve each got a unique sleep pattern, but the general advice is to have a sound sleep schedule. Go to sleep around the same time every night and get about 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
- Make diet and exercise a priority. Make sure to eat healthy and balanced meals. Additionally, movement is important so engage in regular physical activity, such as yoga or a daily walk.
- Cultivate a growth mindset. New challenges are opportunities to grow. And as you do, use mindfulness meditations to clear your mind, be present in the moment, and reduce your stress.
As you identify the triggers that keep you from being your best self, you can start taking steps toward a more indistractable life.
Seek to Be Indistractable
You don’t have to be a slave to your distractions. Instead, you can master how to be more productive with your time.
The essential skill of our century is how to become indistractable.— Nir Eyal, trainer of Mindvalley’s Becoming Focused and Indistractable Quest
After all, becoming indistractable isn’t just about avoiding distractions. It’s about prioritizing your time and attention and investing in yourself to achieve what you want.
With Nir Eyal’s Becoming Focused and Indistractable Quest on Mindvalley, you can learn to do just that. By simply creating a free Mindvalley account, you can sample the first few lessons to get a taste of what it’ll be like to harness the power of your attention and create the life you want.
As Nir says, “The most powerful skill we can learn is the ability to direct our own thoughts and behavior.” So consider this an invitation to direct them to his Mindvalley Quest.