Expert Offers Helpful Tips For How To Manage Digital Distractions

By Beth Leipholtz 10/15/19

“There are only three reasons for a distraction. An internal trigger, an external trigger or a planning problem,” says Nir Eyal.

Image: 
person dealing with digital distraction

In the past, Nir Eyal has worked with apps and tech companies to help hook consumers. But now, the behavioral scientist and author of Indistractable: How To Control Your Attention And Choose Your Life, is sharing how to dodge distraction in the digital age. 

He Knows How To Hook Consumers On Products

In tech and advertising circles, Eyal is known for his first book, Hooked: How To Build Habit Forming Products. In the book, he details the “hook model,” which leads a consumer to use a product by creating a connection between a product and emotional triggers.

However, he tells The Guardian, this wasn’t necessarily a negative thing as it encouraged companies to improve the lives of consumers. 

Now, he tells the Guardian, people need to stop associating the word “addicted” with technology, as most people simply overuse it. 

“Addiction, in people’s minds, means mind control,” he explained. “When you tell yourself, this is addicting me, this is hijacking my brain… you slough off responsibility. It’s called learned helplessness.”

Comic Books Vs Tech

Eyal compares the current buzz around the pitfalls of technology with that of comic books years ago.

“In the 1950s, fearmongers were saying the exact same thing about comic books, literally verbatim: it’s reducing kids’ attention spans; it’s causing them to commit suicide; it’s leading to mental health issues,” he said.

What it really comes down to, Eyal says, is distraction as a result of technology. His new book offers various pointers for managing such external distractions, and encourages readers to examine their internal triggers for turning to distractions.

One method Eyal recommends is called "timeboxing," in which every moment of a day is planned out. If an urge to turn to a distraction arises, Eyal encourages readers to examine what is causing it.

“There are only three reasons for a distraction,” he notes. “An internal trigger, an external trigger or a planning problem.”

When an urge to follow a distraction arises, Eyal recommends determining what emotion promoted that distraction and to write it down. Then, he says, spend 10 minutes doing what he calls “surfing the urge.” In other words, don’t give in to the distraction and instead determine why you are experiencing the feelings you are. However, he says, if that time passes and a person still wants to give in to the distraction, then they should.

Another aspect of technology Eyal zeroes in on is email, which he refers to as the “mother of all habit-forming products.”

And, Eyal notes, it’s often a waste of time. He refers to a study which found that 25% of a person’s time on email is spent reading messages that should not have been sent and 25% is responding to items not requiring a response.

To combat this, Eyal recommends setting aside specific times each day to check email and sorting them by urgency.

Additional time management strategies he recommends are utilizing apps and add-ons that allow you to block certain websites, or scheduling time to work with peers and keep each other accountable.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.

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