Nir Eyal is the author of the forthcoming book, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. This piece is part of weeklong series on how to battle distraction, co-edited by Eyal.
I know how distractions work from the inside. For over a decade, I’ve helped tech companies build products to keep you clicking. In fact, I wrote the book on it. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, which came out in 2014, was written to help companies build healthy habits in their customers, like regularly going to the gym and eating right. But in the process of researching the book, I found that some products drew some people in too much. Including me.
I remember sitting with my daughter one afternoon doing activities from a book written to help daddies and daughters bond. One exercise consisted of asking each other, “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” Between the moment I asked the question and when my daughter could answer, I felt a buzz in my pocket. A work email diverted my attention.
“Daddy?” she queried.
“Just a second,” I grunted. “I need to respond to one thing.” My eyes were glued to my phone, my fingers tapping away, writing a response.
I wish I could tell you what she said in that moment, but I can’t. While she was telling me her dream superpower, I was busy staring at my phone. By the time I looked up, she had left the room.
I’d blown a perfect daddy-daughter moment because I was distracted. That’s when I knew I needed to learn how to manage distraction. I wanted to get the best out of my tech gadgets, without letting the tech gadgets get the best of me.
If you asked me what superpower I’d want, I know the answer: I want the power to be indistractable.
We bemoan the fact that technology is becoming more pervasive and persuasive, and complain that our devices are “hijacking” our brains. On top of all that, we just can’t seem to disconnect from work.