Easily Distracted? How to Become Indistractable
For the past few years, I (Katrina) have been wondering two things. First, is the use of my devices giving me bad posture? Second, are my devices hurting my ability to focus? The answer, of course, is yes to both. What to do about it?
My beloved, the in-house social psychologist here on Linderwood Drive, ordered a book for me titled "Indistractible: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life," by Nir Eyal. The first third of the book almost lost me, but the rest seemed to speak directly to my problem. Here's what I took away. Let’s start with how the mind works.
Distraction is moving away from something, not moving toward something. What is it that I am moving away from when I am distracted? What is the discomfort I am avoiding? Why, first thing in the morning, do I check my email instead of going to the perfectly prepared list of important things to do that I spend so much time composing? It’s because failing on something I spent two or three hours on is much more painful than failing on a two-minute email response.
In the same way that the playground is right next to the trash chute on our bodies, our brains have a similar counterintuitive design. Humans hate failing more than we like succeeding. When we are distracted, we are not running toward something that pleases us, but rather running away from something that feels unpleasant.
Once you’ve found the discomfort underlying the distraction, surf it. Explore it. Be curious about the negative feeling. Let it dissolve instead of fighting against it.
Self-talk matters. Avoid labeling yourself as someone who’s easily distracted or as having an addictive personality. You are what you say you are.
Being distracted is a behavior. It turns out, behavior is the result of a formula. That formula, defined by Dr. BJ Fogg at Stanford, is: behavior = motivation + ability + trigger. So, let's say the behavior is distraction, and the motivation is to get away from pain. The ability to do so is easy because Facebook is... well it's just right there all the time. Potentially, the most effective thing is to focus on the triggers that cause us to spend untold hours doing things that have almost no value.
According to Eyal, it’s best to manage external triggers by asking, ”Is this trigger distracting me or giving me traction?” Is this trigger working for or against my end goals? Once you figure out which team that trigger is playing on, you're in a position to do something about it.
Let’s get tactical now on common goal-thwarting triggers:
• People reply to your emails—almost always. So, to reduce email traffic, send fewer emails (I am chagrined and embarrassed that I couldn't figure this out on my own—I send a lot of emails).
• Signal to others that you’re focusing during the time you choose. Use a calendar appointment, a sign, a do-not-disturb headdress, whatever works.
• Make it harder to call meetings. Require an agenda, and if you need to (and who doesn’t?) no devices except for the one projecting the material. In the video conferencing world, ask everyone to agree that they are present on the one application you currently use, like Zoom or Teams. It’s unfair to check emails when you’re using someone else’s time in a meeting. These rules make meetings less attractive.
• Schedule group chats with a beginning and end time instead of letting them linger on indefinitely, a never-ending source of distraction. Even the leadership at Slack constrains the use of Slack on this front. Having 15 different group chats or channels open all the time is the route to complete lack of focus.
• Time-block your day to reflect your values. For example—if family is important, time for it should be on your calendar. If your strategic plan is important, time for it should be on your calendar.
• Delete distracting applications. In the moment, it will feel like cutting off your hand. It will get better.
• Ditch notifications. Yes, this is hard. But you (nor I, in fact) aren’t integral to the world spinning.
• If your organizational culture is always on, your people suffer. As do you. Turn off when you are not at work.
That device-driven posture? Still there.
Yoga is the answer at our house.
Katrina VanHuss and Otis Fulton have written a book, Dollar Dash, on the psychology of peer-to-peer fundraising. Click here to download the first chapter, courtesy of NonProfit PRO!
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.