Four steps for product managers to increase productivity and become fully present
Do you feel your time and attention being pulled in too many directions and what you want to get done is not getting done? I sure do. For me, focus has been getting more challenging as I am taking on new projects to help more product managers. I’ve needed to step back and do some meta work to better organize my time.
This includes putting into practice what I learned from this interview — a discussion with Nir Eyal about the research he did to help him tackle the same issues. He synthesized what he learned in his latest book, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.
Nir joined us the first year of this podcast, back on episode 030 to discuss how we can build habit-forming products. He is a writer, consultant, and teacher at the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. I love talking with him because he always has new insights for me. I needed this interview and I bet you do to.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[3:28] You created the word “indistractable.” What does it mean?
Being indistractable is being the kind of person who strives to do what they say they are going to do. I say strive because it’s not something we are ever finished achieving. We are on a constant journey to become indistractable.
[4:55] What is the mindset we should use to think about distraction?
After my first book, Hooked, became successful, I had more and more demands on my time, and I became very distracted. I wasn’t getting done what I planned to get done. I was perplexed by the question, why don’t we do what we say we are going to do? We don’t know how to stop getting distracted. Technology makes distraction easier than ever to find, so we need new skills to become indistractable.
The opposite of distraction is traction. Traction comes from the Latin for to pull and ends with action. Traction is any action that pulls you toward doing something with intent. Distraction is anything that pulls you away from what you plan to do with intent. Anything can become a distraction. Pseudo-work is putting off hard work by doing easy work that feels productive. Similarly, anything can be traction. If you use technology because you decided in advance to spend your time that way, that’s traction. Technology does not control our brains.
[13:31] You created four steps to becoming indistractable. Unpack the first step: How can we master distracting internal triggers?
Psychologically, everything we do is to escape discomfort. We check Facebook, Google, and the news because we’re feeling lonely, bored, or uncertain. Time management is pain management. Distraction starts within us when we seek to escape discomfort. The first step to mastering distraction is coping with discomfort.
[16:31] Let’s talk about step two: How can we make time for traction?
Start with your values and put time on your schedule for what matters to you. There are three life domains: in the center is you. Are you making time to take care of yourself? Next is relationships. Do you have time for the people who matter to you? Finally is work. Make time to do the focused work of thinking and strategizing as well as the reactive work of emails and meetings. Put time on your schedule as often as your schedule changes. For most people a week is the right interval. When you know what it is you want to do, you don’t succumb to pseudo-work.
You will still get distracted, but there are only three causes of distraction: an external trigger, like your colleague talking to you; an internal trigger, wanting to escape an uncomfortable feeling; and a planning problem, allotting the wrong amount of time or something unplanned coming up. When you know why you got distracted, you can prevent it in the future.
Finally, schedule sync with your boss. Show your boss your schedule and the things you couldn’t fit in and ask how you should reprioritize. Managing up to your boss by being transparent will change your life.
[24:05] What does the third step look like: How can we hack back external triggers?
First, turn off notifications on your phone and computer. More importantly, focus on the external triggers that are less obvious. Seemingly productive unnecessary email is a huge source of distraction. The book tells you exactly how to hack back email. Another source of distraction is the open-floorplan office. The book comes with a screen sign for your computer monitor that says, “I’m indistractable at the moment. Please come back later.” It’s a very simple, effective way to tell your colleagues that you need time for focused work.
[27:58] Tell us about the fourth step: How can we prevent distraction with pacts?
Pacts are pre-commitments with ourselves. Calling yourself indistractable helps you do what you want to do. Using technology while spending time with others is beginning to be seen as rude. By making pacts with ourselves to be indistractable, we can be the early adopters who focus on people rather than technology today.
Bonus Question: How can we be indistractable in relationships outside of work?
My relationships were suffering because I did not understand how to make time to live out my values and be fully present with the people I loved. I blamed technology, but that wasn’t the problem. The first step to being present was dealing with the discomfort I was trying to escape from. By being indistractable, I’m more productive than ever, fully present with my friends and family, and physically in the best shape of my life.
I’m not telling you how to spend your time. I am helping you spend your time the way you want to spend your time. If you want to work on a project seventy hours a week, and that fits with your values, do it. But if you are using work to escape family life, consider how you really want to spend your time. Master internal triggers and make time for traction so that you can enjoy your family without guilt. Hack back the external triggers that distract you from people. Make pacts with yourself to be fully present.
- The book, Indistractable
- How to be More Productive and Focus (+ Free Schedule Maker)
- Nir’s website, Nir & Far
“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” – Soren Kierkegaard
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.