Podcast with Nir Eyal: Mastering Indistraction
The Social Dilemma, a docudrama on Netflix, stirred many a mind on the perils of social media and cellphone addiction on various aspects of our lives including family dysfunctionality and impeding our ability to form independent opinions about social and political issues. As the chorus against technology builds up, several people are abandoning tech or attempting digital detox to get over this seeming menace. Nir Eyal disagrees and takes a different approach to this. Eyal, a bestselling author of the book “Hooked and Indistractable”, talks to Shane Parrish of the Farnam Street in this podcast and highlights techniques that can help us not fall prey to technology but actually benefit from it. Eyal’s approach is somewhat counter-intuitive: “If you plan to spend your time playing a video game or scrolling social media or watching a YouTube video, great, there’s nothing wrong with it. As long as it’s done on your schedule, not the tech companies’. So the time you plan to waste is not wasted time.”
The central tenet of Eyal’s approach is regaining control of your time rather than letting technology drive it. To the extent that he debunks the use of ‘To do lists’ which many of us diligently start with only to see it pile up as we get drawn into a lot of reactive tasks that technology makes us do. Instead, he advocates ‘Time boxing’ – calendarize every task in your to do list and make sure you execute the calendar i.e, you do exactly what’s in your calendar for that time period even if you don’t end up completing the task. He brings out the concept of ‘personal integrity’ – you end up doing what you said you will do during that period, as a bigger source of motivation than the feeling of completing a task. He says being ‘Indistractable’ (a term he says he made up) makes us feel powerful.
Shane Parrish, himself a propagator of several productivity enhancing techniques, brings out the best of Eyal in this podcast, where he shares practical strategies to regain control of our time, our most valuable asset.
“When it comes to time, this one thing that no matter how rich you are, you still have the same 24 hours in a day, Jeff Bezos doesn’t have more time in his day, Bill Gates doesn’t have more than 24 hours, we all have the same amount no matter how rich you are, somehow, that we give away to everybody. And that’s so counterproductive.
…All you can control is having your butt in the chair to do the work when you said you would. All you can control if you need enough sleep is to get to bed on time so that you can get proper rest for your body. What your body does with that is not always in your control, but control the things you do have agency over.”
Eyal also suggests some Technology Hacks that we can use to not let social media draw you into endless scrolling – chrome extensions that block out ads and prompts. Indeed, he says tech companies themselves have inbuilt tools that you can use – Apple’s ‘Screen time’ is the most popular one that we use to keep a check on how much time we spend. Similarly, you can set your time limit for usage for Facebook and Instagram as well. Google’s Well-Being has several hacks for controlling usage. Eyal says he has an ‘Outlet timer’ that switches off WiFi access to specific devices in his house at a certain time of the day.