Nir Eyal (@nireyal) is a behavioral designer who helps companies design products that move people, and helps people design their own behavior using the principles of consumer psychology. He is the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. This is Nir’s second appearance on the show (check out his first time here).
What We Discuss with Nir Eyal:
- Why time management is quite literally pain management, and the time you plan to waste is not wasted time.
- How the issues caused by technology today aren’t dissimilar to the issues caused by technology that vexed Aristotle and Socrates thousands of years ago.
- Why you’ll probably find the popular advice to try digital detox as a way to rid yourself of technology’s influence over your life about as effective as a fad diet.
- The damage caused by accepting the media’s spin on technology as a pervasive addiction over which we have no control, and what we can do to get the best of these tools without letting them get the best of us.
- How to nurture your child’s healthy relationship with technology by empowering them with an understanding of its opportunity costs.
- And much more…
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Getting what you want in life is about more than knowing what to do. It’s also about actually doing those things we know we should do, as well as making sure we don’t do the things we know we shouldn’t. In short, to live the lives we want, we need to learn how to be — as today’s guest would say — indistractable.
On this episode we talk to returning guest Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. In this conversation, we’ll tackle modern time management, the effects of smartphone dependence on our love lives, technology as a symptom rather than a cause of childhood attention deficits, and what it takes to become indistractable in the 21st century. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Please note that some of the links on this page (books, movies, music, etc.) lead to affiliate programs for which The Jordan Harbinger Show receives compensation. It’s just one of the ways we keep the lights on around here. Thank you for your support!
Sign up for Six-Minute Networking — our free networking and relationship development mini course — at jordanharbinger.com/course!
More About This Show
Order Indistractable from Nir’s link here to claim your exclusive bonuses like the Indistractable Supplemental Workbook full of exercises to improve concentration and control your attention, the Basics of Becoming Indistractable Course, and the List of Nir’s Favorite Indistractable Tools!
THANKS, NIR EYAL!
If you enjoyed this session with Nir Eyal, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal with Julie Li
- Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal with Ryan Hoover
- Nir Eyal | How to Manage Distraction in a Digital Age, TJHS 48
- Nir Eyal’s Website
- Nir Eyal at Facebook
- Nir Eyal at Twitter
- Nir Eyal at Instagram
- Nir Eyal at LinkedIn
- The Oura Smart Ring
- Time You Enjoy Wasting is Not Wasted Time, Quote Investigator
- How Freud’s Pleasure Principle Works, Verywell Mind
- Alternate Readings of Aristotle on Akrasia, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Conquer Distractions With This Simple Chart, Nir & Far
- Antigone by Sophocles
- YouVersion Bible App Celebrates 10th Anniversary, YouVersion
- Paul Virilio Interview, Vice
- Learned Helplessness, You Are Not So Smart
- Should Your Two-Year-Old Be Using an iPad? Time
- Parents Smashing Devices, YouTube
- Apple Screen Time
- The Intrinsic Motivation of Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, American Psychological Association
- Self Determination Theory
- The Kindergarten Testing Mess, The Washington Post
- California Achievement Tests (CAT), Encyclopedia.com
- American Graffiti
- Happy Days
- Peter Gray, The Evolution Institute
- Voice Dream
- eero Home Wi-Fi System
- Shane Snow | How to Work Together Without Falling Apart, TJHS 51
- Shane Snow | Cognitive Self-Defense Against Intellectual Dishonesty, TJHS 202
- Inbox Pause
Transcript for Nir Eyal | Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life (Episode 250)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:03] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. As always, I'm here with producer, Jason DeFillippo. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most brilliant and interesting people and turned their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you.
[00:00:20] Nir Eyal is a behavioral designer. In fact, he started a little off on what some might call the dark side. He was helping companies design products that keep users heavily engaged, sometimes a little too engaged. Now, he helps people like us design our own behavior using the principles of consumer psychology. In other words, if you want to change, make, or break a behavior pattern or a habit, Nir is your guy. Today on the show, why your phone might be ruining your sex life. I'm actually quite happy to play my phone for my sex life issues if any.
[00:00:52] We'll also discuss why outsourcing things like parenting to the iPad damages our kids psychologically. That should come as a surprise to nobody, but we'll get into why this happens and, of course, how we can avoid it other than just not using the iPad. And it turns out that some people can multitask. You're probably not one of them, but you might be. It has to be done in a certain way and Nir calls this multichannel multitasking. We'll outline that for you here on the show today. Talking with Nir is always enlightening and always fun. He's a good friend of mine and he has been for years. I think you'll really dig this conversation.
[00:01:24] If you want your own friends, much like my friend Nir, well I use systems and tiny habits to keep in touch with a huge number of people and reach out to people I admire. I'm teaching you how to do that for free over at my course, Six-Minute Networking. Again, that's free and it's at jordanharbinger.com/course. And by the way, most of the guests on the show, they subscribed to the chorus and the newsletter. So, come join us, you'll be in great company. Now here's Nir Eyal.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:01:52] Nir, we have a lot to talk about, but what's fun is preshow, we were just talking about getting worked up, getting stressed out and you'd asked me if I were any sort of wearables. Because when you feel stressed out or you get worked up about something, your wearable will tell you that you're running. What's going on here? Because I have the same problem with my Apple watch. It all be sitting down on a couch and I'll get an alert like, “Oh, breath. Your heart rate is pretty high.” And I'm like, “Ooh, I'm scrolling through Instagram. Maybe I should close this hap if it thinks I'm out for a jog.” Basically, if my heart rate is elevated while sitting on the couch looking at social media, there's something bad going on here.
Nir Eyal: [00:02:26] Yeah, that's exactly right. I mean, this is an unbelievable revelation. When I looked at my phone and I looked at this app, I have a net where the Oura ring, which I really like, but it's supposed to do sleep tracking. It's not supposed to measure your heartbeat all day long. I mean it does, but that's not really what I use it for. It's supposed to say, “Hey, you went on a run. Terrific. Here's how much exertion your heartbeat showed during the run.” But then I noticed once in a while, I'd have this weird spike in the middle of the day and I didn't go for a run. And so, when I looked back on my schedule, it would be during a podcast interview, or some contentious conversation I had, or debate with someone when I got worked up. So, it makes me more aware of the physiological effects of stress and it actually does relate to distraction to some degree, the subject of my next book, because I talk a lot about what I call internal triggers, these uncomfortable emotional states that prompt us to action. And so that's a really good warning sign. When you see your heart rate increasing, when you see stress happening in your life. The important question we need to ask is what do we do with that stress? And people have been finding all kinds of ways to deal with it, whether it's relief from booze, whether it's relief from exercise, whether it's really from social media. We look for relief, we look for emotional pacification in all different kinds of ways.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:31] Relief, by drinking booze, you mean, not relief from drinking booze, right?
Nir Eyal: [00:03:36] Yeah. The booze is the relief for a lot of people.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:38] Right. The booze is the relief.
Nir Eyal: [00:03:40] And especially because I juxtaposed it with exercise. How can that be? How can you put booze and exercise in the same category? Interestingly enough, it gets to the core of, I think, some of the ridiculous commentary we've had lately around how technology is hijacking your brain and how it's addictive and how it's so bad for you. People are calling this the techlash. And clearly there are some people who go overboard to the point of addiction, but it's not about the behavior itself. And I think that's something I feel pretty strongly about that I want to get the word out around there. If I told you, “Hey, I'm going to start this new routine of running. Is that a good idea, Jordan? Is that a good idea?” You say, “Yeah, sure, running, that's great.” But then if I said, “Actually you know what, I want to tell you something. The reason that I love running so much is because it's the only place that I can escape my crazy home life and my kids are driving me nuts and my job is awful and running is the only place I can escape.” You might say, “Oh actually I'm not so sure about that. You might want to deal with these problems in your life first.” But then if I said, “Actually, I used to drink a lot and the replacement for finding relief through booze is now getting a run and where I can zone out and get a runner's high, that's the only place I can find relief.” Well, now you might say, “Oh actually that's a lot better. That's a lot less harmful than what you used to do and your destructive relationship with alcohol.” So, it's never as simple as like casting. Well, I think a lot of people do these days of like this moral hierarchy of videogames bad, social media bad, but other distractions, you know, me watching football, okay that's fine. I can spend four hours on the couch watching football that's somehow morally superior. I think we need to keep that stuff in check and make sure that we understand that anything that we do with intent that is in accordance with our values, it's perfectly fine. I love this quote. The time you plan to waste is not wasted time.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:17] Well, that was one of the main takeaways that I got from you last time we talked. Distraction being an easy way out and planning for distraction. That's a concept that I want to touch on. Your first concept that we've talked about in the past is time management being pain management and everybody loves to talk about this sort of productivity porn. Oh, I've got to do it. So, then Zapiers into my Google calendar, which sends me a reminder, sends me a push notification to my Apple watch, and it's like cool, except you're still going down the internet rabbit hole for four hours in the middle of an afternoon and then go, “There's not enough hours in the day.” It's not really going to stop the problem or solve the problem of not doing what we say going to do.
Nir Eyal: [00:05:57] That's absolute right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:58] Distraction is easy way out when our willpower is at its lows, which happens every single day to a lot of people. We've got to find a way, an outlet for behavior that we're going to engage in to deal with discomfort, escape from an unpleasant reality. Unless we're on easy street and we've got 20 million in the bank and never have to work again. Some of us are going to get distracted, feel guilty about it. Try to find a system around it and then not follow the damn system.
Nir Eyal: [00:06:22] Yeah. I can't tell you how many people I've met learning about productivity as a distraction. They're going down the rabbit hole of productivity tips and tricks and life hacks. They don't realize it, but they are doing it for the same exact reason that someone might watch a YouTube video or play a videogame or go on social media, it's the same thing. One thing that's been missing from the conversation, what I want to add with my contribution in writing Indistractable is this idea that we have to come to grips that all behavior, all behavior is driven by a desire to escape discomfort. And when I did this research, it took me five years to write this book because there was just so much research out there, a lot of misinformation out there, a lot of folk psychology I had to weigh through to figure out what's true and what's not.
[00:07:05] One of the most popular notions is that motivation is about the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. We call this Freud's Pleasure Principle, and that's not true. It's just not true. That neurologically speaking, it is pain all the way down. It's kind of like unplugging from the matrix. You see the world a little differently because you realize that, wow, if everything is a desire to escape discomfort, then that means the time management as you said is pain management. That you can try every tip and trick in the book of all the books, but if you don't fundamentally understand your emotional state, if you don't realize that procrastination, that distraction is driven by the desire to escape some kind of discomfort and you don't have the tools to deal with that deeper discomfort, you will always get distracted from something.
[00:03:40] And so that has to be the first place to start. There are two ways to go there. So, one method is to actually deal with the discomfort. I don't think we talk about this enough. A lot of productivity books, especially lately we've really swung into this field of meditation and I'm not anti-meditation. Let me be very, very clear. Meditation is wonderful if you do it and it works for you, keep doing it. However, I think recently we've gone a little overboard that some proponents say that meditation is the problem for everything. If you feel bad at any time at any place, we'll just meditate your problems away. And sometimes what they'll tell you is as opposed to don't just sit there, do something. What the proponents of meditation will oftentimes say is don't do something, just sit there and that does have a place. That's great to do for these problems you can't fix, but let's not forget if it's a problem, if it's a source of discomfort that is persistent in your life that you are escaping from and you can fix it for God's sakes, fix it first. So that's why I'm talking about like in the workplace and your family situations, there are problems that we can fix. But of course, where we can't fix those problems, that source of discomfort, that's where we need these techniques to cope with the pain.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:54] So what do we do in terms of trying to solve this problem? You got the in distractible model. Can we dive into each element of this? I think that's the obvious place to start because people right now identify with the problem. The problem is not good having people go, “Gee, that never happens to me. It's the opposite.”
Nir Eyal: [00:09:10] If you're one of these people who don't get distracted and never find yourself off task and you do everything you want to do every single day and you finish all your to-do list, this might not be the episode for you. But if you're like, I was that I found myself constantly distracted from one thing or the other, that's who I wrote this book for. I'll be very honest I wrote this book because I read all the books I could find on this topic of distraction and they all told me the same thing. It's technology's fault. Get rid of the technology, do a digital detox at 30-day cleanse and it didn't work and it doesn't work for the same reason that fad diets don't work. Because you know, I used to be clinically obese and now I'm not anymore. I'm at about 11% body fat and I finally have figured out how to take care of my body in a way that's consistent with my values. But I would do these fad diets, 30 days, no fast food. And then of course you know what happened on day 31, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:54] Big Mac o’clock. Yeah.
Nir Eyal: [00:09:55] Exactly. And so, it's the same thing with our technology. If we don't figure out why we keep getting distracted, we will always find something. If Zuckerberg says, you know what, I got enough money, I'm turning Facebook off. Okay, no more Facebook. Do we think that people are going to start reading Chaucer and Shakespeare in their free time? Of course not, we're going to go back to all the things we used to do to get distracted. Gossip and the news and soap operas, there's always been distractions. Socrates and Aristotle were talking about this 2,500 years ago how distracting the world was back then. Distraction is nothing new. It will always be here.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:28] Do you happen to know? Like were they like, “Oh man, there’s one symposium after another and I keep getting carrier pigeons interrupting my work.” Like what were they complaining about back then?
Nir Eyal: [00:10:37] Yeah, this new technology that was going into feeble men's minds, according to Socrates of the written word. This was a horrible technology that they complained about saying real knowledge should not be written down. You have to have it in your head, and in some degrees they're right. The ancient Greeks could do things that probably we can't do today. They can memorize all kinds of stuff that we just don't have a need to do. But of course, it's ridiculous to say that the written word is somehow an evil technology. And by the way, this trend, this pattern verbatim repeats itself with every new technological revolution, whether it's the printing press, radio, the comic book, the pinball machine, videogames, television. I mean it's literally the same script of people panicking. Some people find that they can make a lot of money off of causing this kind of panic and fear and so that perpetuates in the media. The media loves perpetuating fear and loathing of around new technologies, especially when the business model threatens their existing business model. And so, it's the same exact script.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:33] That's really funny. I think they're right though. Anything that's not in your head, you can't really apply, but they kind of missed the point on passing things down. I guess they assume everybody had to go to one of their schools in order to really be able to learn and apply knowledge, which is funny. So, they're not wrong in that respect. I can just imagine these two dudes sitting around drinking watered down wine in their togas and being like, there are almost 18 books coming out every year now. How are we possibly, how are you going to read all of that? No one's going to be able to keep up with this.
Nir Eyal: [00:12:05] And the kids these days with their written word.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:08] With their papyrus, walking around with their head in their papyrus.
Nir Eyal: [00:12:12] Exactly. You're right. In many ways they're not wrong, but there definitely is a price to this stuff. Sophocles says that nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse. That was 2,500 years ago and he's right. Of course, every new technology is going to come at a cost. The idea here, I'm not pro-tech or anti-tech. What I think we should do is I am anti-binary thinking. Everything in society these days is good guys versus bad guys and that's not real life. You know, if you want good guys versus bad guys, go read a fairy tale. That's not reality. Reality is nuance. And so, does social media cause some problems? Of course, it does. Does it have a lot of benefits? Of course, it has benefits.
[00:12:51] My first book, Hooked, is about how to build habit-forming technologies habit-forming products. It's not about how to build addictive products. Addiction is something very different, but I chose a very specific case study for that book. The last case study in the book, there's only one case study that's devoted a whole chapter devoted to this one case study, and the case study is devoted to an app that is one of the most popular apps in the world. It's not a game, it's not a social network, it's the Bible app. The Bible app is one of the most widely used apps in the world and it actually uses many of these same techniques that I talk about in my book Hooked these behavioral design techniques to create habits for people who use the Bible app. It's actually a funny story of Bobby Gruenewald, the CEO, told me that one of his users of the Bible app send him an email that this gentleman described how he was on his way into a strip club and the Bible app had a notification just in that minute, he received a little ding on his phone from the Bible app and he looked down at his phone and he said, “Oh my God, the Lord is trying to tell me something,” and he walked out of the strip club and didn't go in.
[00:13:52] The reason I talk about this one particular app, the reason I didn't use a social network or a gaming company as this example of using hook model is because how you think about the Bible app, what you think of these techniques. If you think that the Bible is a force for good in the world, that souls listen, brings them together, then you think the Bible app using these techniques is wonderful. But if you think that the Bible is something divisive, that it causes division based on sectarian and ideological grounds, then you think that it's not a good thing. And of course, the same exact lesson applies to various technologies like social media, like the gaming companies. Is there a lot of good? Of course. Is there a lot of bad? Of course, because it's huge. It's something vast that has entered our lives and we now need to figure out how to get the best of these tools without letting them get the best of us.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:39] With the Bible app, it's funny because it's like, “Whoa, the Lord trying to tell me something.” What if they just programmed seen zones into that thing and it's like your location says you are dangerous, like you're in a pretty bad area, buddy. We're not saying you're at Deja Vu. I'm just saying it looks like you're at Deja Vu, right? You might be at this Spearmint Rhino. We're not sure either way. Here's Corinthians. You might want to just review that real quick before you make your next decision. I wonder if you get points when you check into various churches.
Nir Eyal: [00:15:07] Yeah. It's really an example of how you can use this stuff in many different ways. Paul Virilio said that when you invent the ship, you invent the shipwreck. I'm not a tech apologist. I think that there are all kinds of bad things that can come with these technologies. I think we should hold tech companies accountable for their monopoly status, data incursion, but when it comes to this one particular idea, the technology is hijacking your brain, that it's addictive, that it's controlling you. This needs to be stopped because it is so inaccurate. It is not based in any science and more so the really hard part here is that it actually by telling people that technology is hijacking their brains, that it is addictive. And by the way, I'm not saying it's not addicted to some people. Some people do become addicted. Look, some people get addicted to alcohol. It doesn't make us all alcoholics. Not everyone who has sex as a sex addict. Some people do actually become pathologically addicted to these things, but this is one to 5% of the population. The harm done here is that when we tell everyone that they're addicted, that these tools are controlling you and your children, people make it true. It's called learned helplessness. So, when we espouse this message that it's hijacking your brain, we are actually playing into the hands of the very companies who make this technology because people say, oh, there's nothing I can do. My kid acts crazy. That's because of Fortnite. Not because of my parenting or anything that is going on in the kid's life. No, no, no. That's Fortnite doing it or to ourselves. When we say, Oh, you know, I just can't stop those geniuses. Or you know, built these algorithms that make me do stuff. That's BS. We need to realize that there's a lot we can do right now to put this stuff in its place.
Jason De Fillippo: [00:16:39] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Nir Eyal. We'll be right back.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:44] This episode is sponsored in part by Zoom.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:17: 38] This episode is also sponsored by Better Help. I love Better Help online counseling. We have a lot of you have been using this and saying how awesome this was either in addition to your current therapy as dipping your toes in the water for therapy as your soul source of therapy. Better Help offers licensed professional counselors who are specialized in issues like depression, stress, anxiety, relationships, sleeping, trauma, anger, family conflicts, LGBT matters, grief, self-esteem, and more. Some of us, we have all that stuff. You know, no judgment. Connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environment. Everything's confidential. Everything is convenient. That's what I'm saying. I mean, you can do this in the car, in the parking lot, at lunch from work. You don't have to drive across town, fight traffic, get to your therapist's office, wait in the waiting room, tell your boss you're going to be late for something. You can schedule a secured video or phone sessions. You can chat and text with your therapist. And if you don't like your counselor, you can get a new one at any time. There's no charge for that and this is just massively convenient. I think more people need to do this. Jason.
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Jason De Fillippo: [00:18:54] Thanks for listening in supporting the show. To learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard from our amazing sponsors, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. And don't forget we have a worksheet for today's episode so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways from Nir Eyal. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. If you'd like some tips on how to subscribe to the show, just go to jordanharbinger.com/subscribe. Subscribing to the show is absolutely free. It just means that you get all the latest episodes downloaded automatically to your podcast player so you don't miss a single thing. And now back to our show with Nir Eyal.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:33] What is it with the kids in the iPads, right? Because I know that just sounded like an 80-year-old man, but I'll tell you right now, now that I've had a kid, people are like, “Ooh, you know, don't get too much screen time.” But I see other people being like, “Oh, well I, you got to bring the iPad. That's the nuclear option.” But I also see other people who just give their kid and iPad and they go, “You know, he likes to watch stuff while we're out.” However, I can't help but notice, and this is not scientific, right? There are plenty of kids that develop at different ages. I can't help but notice that the 3-year-old that's on the iPad for four hours a day doesn't talk in complete sentences and has a lot of temper tantrums. And again, small sample size. But the kids who are made to sit with their parents and eat dinner and [inaudible] talk and play with the adults are much more mature. My sample size of this is like half a dozen, but I still can't help but notice that. And I noticed now as a new parent, that scares me because I can definitely see myself being like, I just need five minutes without him crying, give them the iPad. And then two hours later, I'm like, this is great. I just took a nap. But there's a reason that it's easy and it's kind of, what do you call it? Like robbing Peter to pay Paul, right? It works now and then suddenly in three years I'm like, why can't my kid have normal social interactions? Yeah. Or why does my kid scream and cry the second this thing is pride from his grasp just to eat a meal and can’t go to school? You can't go to school. What am I looking for here? It seems like this is a problem.
Nir Eyal: [00:20:53] So what we need to do is to think about this with a harm perspective as opposed to a fear perspective. We need to ask ourselves, what's the cost? What's the price of kids using these technologies as well as for ourselves as well? The evidence doesn't show that this stuff melts our brains and then it's hijacking our brains. The evidence just isn't there and the same goes for our kids. We know that studies find that normal amounts of screen time are not deleterious to our kids' well-being. No study has found that two hours or less of extracurricular screen time that's age appropriate content, right? We have to remember age appropriate. There's a lot of kids I wouldn't want my kid to see at various ages because she's not ready for it. I wouldn't let her walk into the New York Public Library and just take any book off the shelf. There are some things that she's just not ready for it at that age. So, it has to be age appropriate content. But we know that around two hours or less doesn't seem to have any negative effects. Now below a certain age, the American Pediatrics Association tells us that kids shouldn't have exposure to these devices and screens. I think it's around two years old. We don't want to use our iPads as an iNanny. Some of my daughter's first words were iPad time, iPad time. And she would enter into these fits of give me that iPad back and then she would go crazy and we had to figure out a solution. So, the good news is there are solutions. We have to find a metaphor to understand this stuff.
[00:22:08] And so a good metaphor is a swimming pool. Are swimming pools dangerous? They're incredibly dangerous. Kids drown all the time in swimming pools. But do we keep our kids from ever enjoying the fun of diving into a pool forever? No. We teach them how to swim. And so, what we did at five years old was we sat down with her and we told her that the cost of using these products is the opportunity cost and nothing more. It's not melting your brain. It's not dangerous. We don't want her to get some weird negative association. She needs these devices in the future. They're going to be increasingly important. If you're not online, you're really falling behind. So, we want her to have a good relationship with technology. But we told her, look, the cost is you can't spend time with mommy and daddy while you're on your iPad and watching a video. You can't play with your friends. You can't read a book. That the real price is this opportunity costs. And then what you want to do is empower them to take steps for themselves to put this stuff in its place. A lot of parents bring down the hammer and say, “No, you're going to use the devices when I say you can only on these many hours.” And you go on YouTube, you type in parents smashing iPad or parents smashing Xbox. You'll see thousands of videos of parents teaching them their kids a lesson by smashing their devices. And of course, that's ridiculous. That doesn't teach their kids anything but how to have a temper tantrum on themselves.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:20] Yeah, exactly. Yeah. You see those dads that are like, it's like a freak out reaction video and it goes like, my dad's about to run over my brother's PlayStation games with the lawn mower. And you look at this guy who's going over to the games with the lawnmower and you just see this kid have a meltdown and his brother's like secretly filming it. The underlying psychological phenomenon here is a little bit sad. Yes, some of those are fake, but these are truly addicted people. I mean this is a public freak of the parents and it's a parenting failure of course, but to see some kid just break down in a lump of flesh crying because of this is really sad. Like that's real addiction. There's a real brain chemical issue happening when you feel like your life is over because of this. And I get the kids overreact, but this is bad. They're obviously lacking some psychological nutrients as you pointed out, that they require, if this is causing them that much emotional damage.
Nir Eyal: [00:24:11] So kids are a protected class. The advice I give to parents is not going to be the same advice I would give to their kids. Kids need special protection. One of them is that we as parents need to stop using these devices as iNannies all the time. So, when we travel, for example, hey, that's fine. If we're on an airplane and there are no opportunity costs to use that device. Where is she going to go? She's on an airplane, she can watch whatever she wants, but we had a conversation with her and this was at five years old. We had a conversation with her and said, how much screen time do you want? Here's the cost. The price is that you can't spend time doing other things. What's good for you? And she kind of looked at me and she was like, “Really? I get to decide.” And I thought she was going to say like all day. And here's what she said. She said two episodes, two of meaning, you know, Netflix episodes. So that's about 45 minutes. And again, there's no studies that show that age appropriate content, two hours or less has any deleterious effects. So, I said, sure, okay, 45 minutes. That's what you yourself want. How are you going to make sure that that's the amount of time you spend on the device? I want to give her the power. And I'll tell you why in just a minute, why that's so important. So, by giving her the power, I showed her tools that proved to me she was ready to dive into the pool. Right? The way you know a kid is ready to dive in the pool is can they play in the water safely. I wanted to see at five years old that she knew how to make sure that she could turn off the device after that time was up, because I didn't want to take that device away. And this is a mistake a lot of parents make; they take the device away. Why? The devices come built in with tools to do the job for you. So, what did she do at the time, this was when she was five years old? Now there's a very easy way to do it, which I'll tell you about. But she would go to the microwave --we used to have this microwave that was on a countertop level-- she would put in 45 minutes into the little timer that the microwave had built in, and then when the timer beeped, time was up. And we told her, “Look, if we find that you can't regulate yourself, that you can't use the timer and stick to it, then we're going to have to have another conversation about this.” But until this day, now she's 11 years old, she still does that. She doesn't even need the microwave. Now the technology comes built in with these tools. Apple screen time will shut off certain apps after a certain amount of use. So now it's not big-bad daddy having to be the bad guy. The app does it for her because that's what she set the timer to do.
[00:26:24] What we find is that throughout the annals of history, parents have complained about their kids being crazy. This is nothing. In our generation was videogames with melting our brain and television and heavy metal and the comic books. I mean, the list goes on and on and on. And this is a phenomenon whereby we parents want to blame desperately. We are so desperate to have something outside of us that helps us say “Ah, you see my kids are acting crazy because of such and such.” The problem is when we jumped to such quick conclusions, and this is kind of a theme throughout my book is how we jumped to all these quick conclusions with all sorts of distractions. The problem is we never get to the root cause. And so, here's the real root cause. The real root cause of why kids overuse these tech distractions is because they're not getting enough of the psychological nutrients. This is called the needs displacement hypothesis. So, there are two researchers who have been researching the topic of motivation since the 1970s by the name of Deci and Ryan, and their self-determination theory is the most widely studied and widely accepted theory of human flourishing, well-being and motivation. And they say that every human on the face of the earth needs three things. I call these psychological nutrients. I like the metaphor with food. You got the three macronutrients of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Well, for a psychological well-being, you need three things, competency, autonomy and relatedness. Those three things you have to have or you will look for them somewhere. Just like if we don't have enough protein, carbohydrates, and fat, you're going to look for them somewhere. And so, when we think about our kids' lives these days…Let's take these one at a time.
[00:27:57] Competency. One thing that has correlated with the rise of anxiety and depression and even suicide among teens. One of those things is that now we have digital technology that we didn't have before. We also have another correlating factor is the rise of standardized testing. Kids today are tested all the time. These standardized tests you're teaching towards the test tells a significant portion of our children, you are not competent.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:24] How so though? How do those tests say you're not competent?
Nir Eyal: [00:28:26] Well, when you're tested four times a year as students in Philadelphia, there's a kindergarten that in Philadelphia that tests kindergartners four times a year on a standardized test. If you are not one of the students that does well on these tests, what message do you get? You're not good.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:40] Oh, yeah. If you don't do well on it. Because I remember taking, I'm from Michigan and we took the California achievement test and I'm not sure why. Maybe California got those things first because this is the ‘80s and I remember taking it and being like, I don't get what this is at all. And they're like, yeah, just do your best. There's no grade and I did okay on it and I felt great about it. But you're right, if you got like 38 percentile or whatever, however they measure those things, you'd feel terrible about yourself.
Nir Eyal: [00:29:03] Exactly. When you look at the countries that have the best educational systems in the world, particularly the Nordic countries, they don't do this. They believe that childhood is for free play, not testing because they don't want kids to get this message. That learning is about being incompetent. They don't want that message to be conveyed to their kids. So, what do kids do when they don't feel competent in the real world? And we all need this by the way, adults as well. We need this feeling of competency. What did kids do when they don't feel competent in the real world? Well, they go online and you can be the master of roadblocks or Minecraft. Now, you're the God of that universe. You feel incredibly competent because you've mastered this environment.
[00:29:40] And then autonomy we know that children in this country have 10 times as many rules and restrictions placed on them as the average adult, twice as many restrictions on a child today as an incarcerated felon. So, there are only two places in society where you can be told what to do, what to think, where to go, what to eat, who to be friends with, how to dress, and that's school and prison. And so was it any surprise when our kids have no agency, when they have no autonomy in their lives, when they're constantly being told what to do all day, that they rebel. And by the way, this is why teens have rebelled for a very long time. The differences that today kids by rebelling, they turned to their technology. Hey, in our days, you know what we did right? We vandalized stuff. We like rebel. A couple of weeks ago, my daughter watched this American classic movie, American Graffiti. I don't know if you've seen this. I think it came out in the 1970s. American Graffiti, this is the movie that they based happy days on. Okay? It's all about the good old days when kids were good and squeaky clean. No, the movie is horrible. The movie is about how kids drunk, drive and drag race and get into accidents and all kinds of trouble because that's what kids did to rebel back then. Now today, the one of the stats we don't talk about is that kids today are safer than ever. This is the safest time in history to be a child in America.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:57] That's great. That's good news.
Nir Eyal: [00:30:58] Everything has gone down, truancy, murder rates, incarceration rates, drug use, everything has gone down. With the one exception of suicide, everything else has gone down to record lows. Part of that is because guess what? If you wanted to invent a device to keep kids off the streets, off the roads and safe behind doors, hey, maybe these digital technologies aren't so bad. It actually does have some positive effects that we need to understand as well. So, back to that idea of autonomy when you don't have a sense of control over your life because you're constantly told what to do in school all day, where do you go? You go play Minecraft. You play Fortnite because they're, you feel in control. You have a sense of agency and purpose.
[00:31:36] And then finally, relatedness. We know since the 1950s this is the work of Peter Gray. We know since the 1950s play, the amount of time kids have for play has declined dramatically. It used to be that neighborhoods in America would sing with the sounds of kids playing. That doesn't happen anymore. Either kids are kept indoors because parents are freaked out by the media about stranger danger and kids being abducted or they're so hyper scheduled with Kumon and Mandarin and swimming lessons that they have no time to just play. And so that sense of relatedness goes unmet. Play is where kids figure out their place in the world. It's one thing if a parent tells you something, it's another. If you, one of your peers says, you know, chill out. If you want me to be nice to you, you have to be nice to me back. And so, where do kids go if they don't get that in the offline world, they go on social media. That's where they can get a sense of relatedness through social networks. So, we have to dive deeper into the root cause of why our kids do these behaviors without just looking for the scapegoats, the proximal causes vs the root causes.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:37] All right, so we've got a bunch of kids stuff I think surprises, no one, and a lot of people, maybe if they don't have kids, I'm like, “I find maybe I'll tune out, maybe I'll remember this later.” However, it's not just kids that are getting distracted and that are getting screwed up by technology, especially unmitigated or unlimited technology. If you're like me, you've got your phone near your bed and I'll tell you right now, there hasn't been a night where I haven't been like, why am I still on my phone? Or why is my wife on her phone? Now, we have a baby, so she's up at night scrolling through Instagram because she's feeding the baby. So, it's forgivable. But before I'd be like, Hey, can you turn your phone brightness down and I'm in bed, right? This is ridiculous. We should not have this. And you've brought research to the table here that says a third of Americans would rather give up sex for a year versus parting with their phones for that long, which is crazy. So, I might be drawn to a bridge here that doesn't exist, but our phones are messing with our relationships, our intimate relationships with our partner.
Nir Eyal: [00:33:29] Well, I think phones are messing with a lot of things.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:31] I'm happy to blame my sex life on my phone is what I’s trying to say here. Back me up on this.
Nir Eyal: [00:33:37] It's certainly a tool that will justify behaviors that you might later regret. I'll say that. However, the good news is that we can do something about it and this certainly hits home for me. I remember a few years ago, part of the reason I wrote this book is because I was struggling with distraction myself in many ways and I remember my sex life was really suffering for it. I've been married almost 20 years now. I'm happy I have any sex life, but at the time it was even worse. I remember we would go to bed and my wife would fondle the iPhone and I would caress my computer as opposed to being intimate with each other. That sucked, right? That was horrible. And so, we took a step back and I looked at some of the research that I'd done up until that point in researching this book and we took some steps to figure out what to do about it.
[00:34:19] And so that's where you can really follow this four-step model. So, the four steps we didn't get to earlier, actually when it comes to how we actually become indistractable. The four steps really quick, number one is to master our internal triggers, understand what we're escaping from. We need to understand that any distraction, not just tech distraction, whether it's television, whether it's too much booze, whatever it might be, any distraction is an escape from an uncomfortable sensation, some kind of uncomfortable feelings. So, we have to dive into what exactly we're escaping. So that's what we have to do to master those internal triggers. Then the second step is to make time for traction. Plan our days or somebody else will say that these days we have no right to call something a distraction unless you know what it is distracting you from. And this very simple principle of just making time in your day for what's important for you is absolutely critical. And we can go into more depth on how to do that. The third step is to hack back these external triggers. I'll be the first to tell you I'm an industry insider. I know that these devices are made to get as much of your attention as they possibly can. That's their business model. Of course. Is that a surprise to anyone, right? Like, and it's not just Facebook that monetizes that way. So does the New York times, so to CNN. So, everything, every media outlet monetizes by turning your eyeballs into cash. But the good news is, again, we can hack back. We don't have to be mindless observers here. We can do something about this and it's actually not all that hard. And then the fourth step is to make what's called a pre-commitment to prevent distraction with packs. We can take steps now to make sure we don't get distracted in the future. If there's one thing I really want folks to remember is that the antidote to impulsiveness is forethought.
[00:35:55] So I don't care what algorithms Google develops, what AI, whatever happens that makes these things so engaging and enticing at the end of the day from every technology I've seen today, maybe they'll invent something that plugs into your brain and some future point, but that's science fiction as of today. For right now, there is nothing that we can't plan ahead for nothing. That is one skill that we as homo sapiens have that no other animal on the face of the earth has, is the ability to see the future with high fidelity. And so, we can plan ahead. If you're waiting to go on a diet but the chocolate cake is on its way to your mouth on the four, it's too late. You've already lost. If you're sleeping next to your cell phone, it's too late. They're going to get you. These things are designed to distract you.
[00:36:34] So how do we work our way through this model? So, we have to first master those internal triggers, understand what it is that we're trying to escape from. For me it was that I was stressed about work. Then I had trouble stopping, checking email, checking my devices because I was worried about, you know, what if somebody needs me, what if something happens and I need to respond urgently? But then the more I learn tactics to cope with that discomfort I learned that was irrational. That nothing is that urgent that it can't wait until tomorrow morning that I deserve. I owe it to myself to have quality sleep. That leads me to the next step of making time for traction. I want to be very clear. I'm not imposing my values on anyone. I want people to live out their values. Now, one of my values is to be the kind of person that takes care of their physical health. Values are attributes of the person you want to become. And so, one attribute of the person I want to become is I want to be the kind of person that takes care of their physical health and we all know the research is pretty conclusive. At this point, sleep is important, but I wasn't getting good sleep. I also wasn't getting good sex because I wasn't going to bed. I kept fondling my devices and so this idea of making time for traction meant that I had to put time on my calendar to not only sleep but time to prepare to go to bed. So is literally on my calendar, go shower. It says that because I had to go back into, okay, if I want to be in bed by 10:00 PM that means I need to start no showering and get ready for bed around 9:30 so that stuff is actually in my calendar. If it's less than 15 minutes, I don't put it in, but I put in for about 30-minute chunks is a good increment. And this is for all different areas of our life, not just when it comes to getting to bed on time, but anything that is important to us that is consistent with our values, whether it's exercise, whether it's reading a book, working on a big project, spending time with our friends, family, kids. That stuff actually really does need to have time in your calendar or just won't get done. And then the third step, so hacking back these external triggers. This is a simple one. Sorry Jordan, here you've got to take my advice. Just don't have your phone in your bedroom. And not only that, I advise no screens in the bedroom, not only for you and Jen, but also for anyone out there with kids. There is no good reason that a kid needs to have a television in their room. Anything that disrupts sleep for a child is just not necessary. Sleep is so important. We don't want screens, we don't want iPads, we don't want phones in their rooms at night.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:38:53] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Nir Eyal. We'll be right back after this.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:17] Let me throw this at you though, so no phone in the bedroom. What if somebody does need to get a hold of you urgently, then what? This is what my wife says, right? I'm happy turning my phone on airplane mode and she's like, no, what if someone needs to get a hold of us and it's an emergency? And I'm like, I have no good answer for that because we don't have landlines because it's 2019 what do you do?
Nir Eyal: [00:43:36] Do you have somewhere near you that if the phone ring you could still hear it? Like in the room outside of your bedroom?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:43] Yeah. I guess the answer then, what is, leave it in the bathroom adjacent turned on with the ringer on or something like that. I guess I don't know.
Nir Eyal: [00:43:50] The real cost here for the one in a million chance that something really does happen in the middle of the night. That you know, oh my god, your house on fire. In which case you'd know it cause you're in your house. But let's say there's some kind of really traumatic event that happens and someone needs to get a hold of you immediately. Remember you're paying a price, you're paying the price from checking Instagram every freaking night for that one in a million chance that someone might call you if something terrible happens. It's a little ridiculous, so I don't think the cost benefit is worth it, but let's say you really need that peace of mind. Here's what you do. You charge a cell phone in a different room, turn the volume all the way up on the ringer and then set it to do not disturb while driving. The do not disturb while driving mode works like this. When someone texts or calls you, it will send them an auto reply. You can customize it to anything you want. It comes default and says, I'm driving. If this is urgent, text me with the word urgent. I've customized it so that says I'm indistractable. If this is urgent, text me with the word urgent. If somebody takes the time to type the word urgent, that call or text message will come through and the phone will start ringing. But if it's not urgent as 99.9% of the time, it's not urgent, it'll just wait for you until tomorrow morning. So that's one hack to give a try.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:02] That's really cool. I'm doing that because I've also been getting a ton of those spam calls.
Nir Eyal: [00:45:06] Oh, I got another solution for you for that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:07] Okay.
Nir Eyal: [00:45:08] This was killing me. Oh my god, I get four times a day, these goddamn robocalls. So, this is another way to hack back your technology, right? We can hack these tools in a way that these folks are trying to get our attention to hack our attention. Can we think about, there's a great app called RoboKiller. I have no affiliation with them whatsoever. I just really liked the product. It’s called RoboKiller. When a robocaller calls you, they have this database that's all connected with all the users who use it. They have these phone numbers in a registry, and when a robocaller calls your phone, it plays a fake message and you can record your own message. So, mine says hello. Hello. The robocallers will either hang up, in which case you'll never get the call, or once in a while you'll get somebody who'll start responding to it and then finally figure out, wait a minute, this is just a recorded message, and then they'll put you on the list of, don't call this person. He's a jerky as this recorded message that's going to waste our time, and it works like a charm. I get like zero robocalls anymore. It's wonderful. So, this is a great way of hacking back our technology.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:02] That is awesome. I've never heard of that in my life, but I love the idea that there's some way to waste their time as well. Doesn't it though? Tell them that it's a valid phone number.
Nir Eyal: [00:46:14] If they call back, they're going to get the same recording and it's kind of hilarious.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:18] So they can just call all day.
Nir Eyal: [00:46:19] Yeah, exactly. It doesn't ring your phone. It goes straight to RoboKiller. By the way, we can also do some of these same hacks. You know, we forget as much as we complain about these tools being so addictive and hijacking our brain, et cetera, and all that rubbish. Well, there's tons of free tools. RoboKiller happens to be something that has a nominal fee. I think it's a few bucks, but there's a free tool. For example, one thing that I found wasted so much of my time was when I would read an article online, right? I go read something online just for a quick sec, and then I'd find myself falling down this internet rabbit hole of, you know, one article after another article after another article. So, I made myself this rule that I never read anything online. If I see an article online, I use an app called Pocket to save it to my app on my phone, and then when I am in the gym, this is called temptation bundling. So, this is a triple win here. When I'm in the gym is when I have this other app called Voice Dream that will play the text of those articles for me. So, what did I do? I reduced the distraction of not doing something I didn't want to do when I'm reading articles online and now, I also have this incentive to go to the gym to go on a walk because I get to listen to these articles played to me. So that's another example of hacking back.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:30] I just got Voice Dream because I get galleys all the time from companies and they're like, hey, will you interview this author and I'm like, yeah, I want to read the audiobook. I want to read the whole book. And they're like, well here's a PDF. Like look, it's going to take me 15 hours to read a PDF and four hours to listen to the book, send me the audio and they're like, here's the problem. We don't own the rights or here's the problem. He's in studio with it now and we can't get it to you until the day before the interview and I, I'd been doing a lot of okay block off the whole day before I interviewed this guy because I've got to read his whole 11-hour book and do all of my research and prep and everything. Now, I found out about Voice Dream and we'll link to it in the show notes. They'll send me a PDF; I dump it into Voice Dream. Here's the thing, I think it's for people who are visually impaired. So, it's really good at being like, oh, that's a margin thing, oh that's a footnote. Ignore that. And they have better than Siri voices that are premium that are like 15 bucks. And I think you get one for free with the app and it will read you anything. So yeah, dumping an article in from Pocket or just dumping a website in there is great. And it syncs with iCloud. So, if you read on your iPad and then you take your phone out for a walk, it's not like, oh, let's start over and you can pick how many words per minute it reads that.
Nir Eyal: [00:48:42] Yes, I was just going to say that I listen way faster than I read. The average person reads it about 300 words a minute. But I've got a voiced room cranked up to about 500 words a minute and still sounds fine. I can understand every word.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:53] I can't do that. I'm taking notes and stuff. So, I do like 280 but I'm also very slow. I'm not reading articles either. Most of the time I'm reading books, but I cannot do that. Believe it or not. I listened faster than I read two and I listened at 280 which is like two-X-plus. But when I read, I'm that person who will read a page, get to the bottom of the page and go, crap, what was at the top of the page when I was in law school? It took me 10 minutes to read a page. I'm not even kidding, granted their legal cases, but man, I was so distractible. This has been a game changer for me in many, many ways. I didn't even think about dumping articles in there though. That's brilliant.
Nir Eyal: [00:49:26] Yeah. Oh, I do that all the time. And then I save so much time not reading articles on my screen because of course, you know the New York times, the Atlantic, all these publications, great content, but they are designed to get you hooked just as much as the social media companies are. They designed them to keep you reading and reading and reading. And so, you don't have to sit there without knowing what to do, all you have to do is save it and hack back so that you're not wasting your time. You're reading these articles on your schedule, not on the content-maker schedule.
[00:49:52] Oh, by the way, one more thing I wanted to add with the story of my wife. The fourth step, preventing distraction with packs. This was probably the most impactful technique we use—
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:01] Pact. P-A-C-T.
Nir Eyal: [00:50:03] Right. Pact. Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:04] I got you, okay.
Nir Eyal: [00:50:05] So there are three types of pact, an effort pact, a price pact or an identity pact. And so, the way the three packs work, basically they're all pre commitments. There's something we do now to make sure we don't get distracted in the future. What we did, we use an effort pact and effort pact says that you put some bit of friction, some kind of effort in between you and the behavior you don't want to do. The behavior we didn't want to do was to use our devices at bedtime when to go to sleep. And maybe have a little snuggle time as well. So, what do we do? I went to the hardware store and I bought this $5 outlet timer and this outlet timer will turn off anything that's plugged into it at any time you set. And what did I plug into it? My internet router. So, every night at 10:00 PM my internet shuts off. Now, of course, I could turn it back on if I really wanted to, right? I can get underneath my desk and fiddle with the router and get it started again. But it's that little bit of friction. I'm a little bit of effort that reminds me, no, this is really what I want to do with my time. I don't want to get distracted. I want to start getting ready for bed and have some time with my wife. And so now actually there are devices that have this built in, like I have the Eero router that has this exact thing built in and you can actually turn on and off certain devices based on different times of day. So that's how we use all four techniques to solve this problem. With distraction, mastering the internal triggers, making time for traction, hacking back the external triggers and then finally preventing distraction with pact.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:25] Does the router thing let you turn off device internet? So Hey, you can't connect with iPads, but like maybe your alarm system and all that can still be online or your, your cameras.
Nir Eyal: [00:51:32] Absolutely. yeah, so that's why we stopped using the outlet timer because they couldn't do that. It just turned off the router for the whole house. There're many products now, Circle, Eero. Many routers now that you can say, okay, I just want you to turn off my laptop, my phone, internet access, but not the home security system or the other smarter places.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:50] Yeah, yeah. Because I'm like, ah, our lights are on Hue and I don't need to like deal with, oh, you were offline all night and your camera turned off like that's just such a huge pain.
Nir Eyal: [00:51:59] You know what's so cool about it though too, it conditions you so that you don't, at first you have that feeling of like, ugh, it's 10 o'clock I can't use the internet anymore. But eventually it starts conditioning you into saying, oh, it's 9:45, it's 9:30, you start realizing, okay, the internet is going to turn off any minute now. Let me just wrap this up real quick so that I'm not surprised and you actually start getting into this much healthier routine around using your technology at night.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:19] Last but not least, I know that one of my biggest pain points is always emailing other people who run businesses or have media stuff like me or like why do you answer all of your email? And the answer is because I prioritize fan interaction pretty highly. It's one of my top priorities actually because I feel like interacting with people who engage with what you create is how you create super fans and people that will listen for a long time and give you good feedback so that you can get better. It's important and a lot of creators ignore it. They actually elevate themselves above engaging with their fans. Or they think it’s kind of garbage. Or they do like, oh, I do one hour of Q & A month on Periscope. I don’t know I don't really see myself doing that. However, I do end up with 700 emails in my inbox that piled up over a week or two that need to be replied to and there are a lot of tricks. I know you and Shane Snow, who's also been on the show, came up with ways to reduce email time by quite a bit. Can you dive into those a little bit? You're the one who's got a formula for me, I just kind of go, oh, don't look at it until next week. That's not really a good strategy.
Nir Eyal: [00:53:17] Yeah, I think we can do better than that for you. So, I think where we start is to break this down to first principles. So, let's do a little math equation here. The total of time spent on email is a function of two things. The number of emails you get times the number of minutes you spend per email. I call this T N T total amount of time spent on email as a function of the number of emails you get multiplied by the time spent per email. So, in order to reduce the amount of time you spend on email, you have to do a few things. You have to reduce the number of emails you get as well as the time spent per each and every message. Now using these techniques, Shane was my guinea pig, and he said that using these techniques, he decreased the amount of time he spent on email by about 90% so there's a lot you can do. This is in the section on hacking back these external triggers. I'll give you just some of my favorite techniques. The first technique I love, it really changed my relationship with email. Like I'm so much more productive is when you actually look at the research on where people waste time on email. It's not the checking, it's not the replying, it's the rechecking. That's a waste of time. And why does this happen? Because email use, it has this variable rewards mechanic. The slot machine, like a psychological phenomenon where every time you check an email, what did I get in the email, is it good news, is it bad news, is it urgent, is it not urgent. All of that provides variable reinforcement that habituates us to check and check and check and check.
[00:54:46] The new rule is going to be that every email you get you only touch twice. The first time is when you open it and the second time is when you reply to it. So, every time you get an email you have to do one of three things to it. You can either delete or archive it if it's nonsense or you label it with one of two labels. Now many people use labels incorrectly. They label things based by subject matter and I think it's a big waste of time because search functionality is so good these days. You never really need that folder type label system. I think that's a waste of time. Instead, I want you to label each and every email. By the one thing that matters in that email from a time management perspective, ask yourself when does it need a reply? And so, then you're categorizing into two categories of does this need a reply today, meaning it's urgent or can it wait this week? So either today or this week. Then back to step two that we talked about around making time for traction. You need time in your day for email checking. So, every night I have an hour and a half to only answer the urgent messages. Only the things that need to reply today. So, my email inbox, it goes down dramatically in terms of my workload every day because I don't need to answer every email. Why am I wasting time on emails that don't need to reply right away? Only reply to those emails that you've labeled as emails that require a reply today. Then once a week, I call it message Mondays. I've got a big old four-hour block to just plow through all those emails that can wait till the end of the week and this is effective for a couple of reasons.
[00:56:14] One, we know the data shows that we're much more effective at batch processing tasks, especially email. You don't want to check email all day long. You want to process them at your desk. You're much faster when you have all 10 fingers as opposed to just two thumbs on your phone and you flushed through all those emails for the end of the week. And second, this is a big one. You would be amazed how many emails when you just let them wait for a little bit, take care of themselves. People figure out their issues for themselves. The group figures out the solution they're looking for or it's just crushed under the weight of some other priority and it's no longer important. So many of those emails that you would have otherwise replied to earlier in the week, you don't need to reply to them if you just slow it down instead of this ping pong game, shooting emails back and forth and back and forth, we can slow that down the game a little bit so that we receive fewer emails every day. Remember if you want to get less email, you have to send less email in every unit of time at for every day. That's a technique that really will reduce the amount of time you spend an email every day is labeling those emails, making time in your calendar to only answer the urgent ones every day and then batch process the ones for the end of the week.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:20] I definitely have been guilty of prioritizing email or putting email in the calendar and then going, uhg, I'll just take a call, put it over that email slot and then doing that over and over and over until I have an insurmountable mountain of email. The other thing that I've done that actually did work aside from scheduling maybe half an hour a day because you can plow through 700 emails pretty damn quick. If you have half an hour a day, you'll get through it in four or five days, which sounds like a ridiculously long time, but actually is not. I have a plugin for Gmail. It's called something like inbox pause or paused, I can't remember delivery, and it's actually quite useful because what happens is when you send emails, you can send emails as much as you want. The problem is then people start replying right away and you go, oh, every email I send, someone goes great looping in my assistant, hey assistant here, Jordan, good to me. And then you're like, oh my gosh, I just sent an email in two, came back. This is like a boomerang that has babies. So, I pause the incoming email and then when I send the email it's fine. And then after that session I can unpause it and then just close the email window and yeah, I'll have 90 when I come back, but I won't be answering them during that same session making it feel like I'm drowning.
Nir Eyal: [00:58:30] Exactly. Not only can you pause the receipt, but you can also use send later. Is there anything worse than that email that you get on Friday afternoon? At six o'clock you get a darn email that you're going to have to reply over the weekend. So, this is where we have some etiquette around our email and we can send later. We don't have to, if we can get that email out of our inbox, but it doesn't mean that we have to have it sent and received at the same time. You can use this send later functionality so that the person receives it a little bit later so you're not constantly playing this email ping pong game. And then there's one thing I want to just say real quick around, you know, when you schedule time and yet you find yourself scheduling over that time. That happens to a lot of folks. It's a very common circumstance. Now the answer to that however, is not to give up on the system. The answer is to understand where the system breaks down. Because if you're anything like me, I would constantly get distracted by the same things again and again. And so, what's that quote? That insanity is doing the same thing expecting different results.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:22] Yeah, the fake Einstein quote.
Nir Eyal: [00:59:23] Yeah, the fake hindsight, but who knows who said it. This is what I'm trying to answer. At least now you can have a system to understand that there are only three reasons why you got distracted. Either was an internal trigger, an external trigger or a planning problem so that next time you can do something about it. And so, this is what it means to become in distractible. It doesn't mean you never get distracted. That's impossible. It means you strive to do what you say you're going to do. You get better at managing your time and managing your life
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:51] Nir, thank you very much. Super useful of course. But you know, it's funny, people always think, well I do this. I don't have a problem with this. But this is the boiling frog with email, especially with devices in the room as well. Because you think, I know not to have my phone in my room, so it's okay if I have my phone in my room. Like I know this is bad for you, so I'm, since I have an awareness of that, I'm mitigating all the damage done by that. Nope. Or like I know that the iPad is not good for the kids so I try not to give it to them, but then it's like in the moment at that restaurant, during that temper tantrum you're like, okay, screw it. And then it becomes easier and easier to break that rule as you do it once or twice.
Nir Eyal: [01:00:24] That's right and we look, we don't have to do all of this stuff right away. The idea that here is that the strategy is more important than the tactics. Tactics are what you do, strategies why you do it. And if you actually do have a firm understanding of the strategy of the four parts of why we get distracted, you can take steps to mitigate that distraction but you don't have to do it all at once. Remember, becoming indistractable is striving to be the kind of person who says what they're going to do. Doesn't mean you never ever get distracted so we can start taking some of these steps in various areas of our life. We don't have to do it all at once.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:59] Great. Big thank you to Nir Eyal. His book is called Indistractable. His other book is called Hooked. Of course, we'll leave that in the show notes for you. We're teaching you how to connect with great people, much like Nir, and manage relationships using systems and tiny habits to keep in touch with those people. That course is called Six-Minute Networking, and that's over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Procrastination leads to stagnation when it comes to your personal and business relationships, so don't do it later. Do it now. You've got to dig that well before you're thirsty. Once you need relationships, you're too late. Besides, it's called Six-Minute Networking for a reason. It takes four minutes or five, but five-minute networking was taken. So, we got Six-Minute Networking. That's how this works. I wish I knew this stuff 20 years ago. Again, it's all free. jordanharbinger.com/course.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:43] And by the way, most of the guests here on the show, they subscribed to the course in the newsletter, so come join us, you'll be in smart company. Speaking of building relationships, you can always reach out and or follow me on social. I'm at JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram, and I'd love to hear from you.
[01:02:07] This show is produced in association with PodcastOne. This episode was co-produced by Jason DeFillippo, Jase Sanderson, and Jen Harbinger, show notes and worksheets are by Robert Fogarty, music by Evan Viola, and I'm your host, Jordan Harbinger. Our advice and opinions, and those of our guests are their own. And yes, I'm a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer. So do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. And remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for the show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting, which should be in every episode. So please share the show with those you love, and even those you don't. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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