This post summarizes the book, “Indistractable”.


The book is organized around four major themes.The first theme revolves around the psychological aspects that drive us to distraction. The second theme of the book is about becoming aware of internal triggers that drive us to distraction and traction. The third theme of the book is about external triggers and the final theme is about forming “pacts” that make us move towards traction and move away from distraction. The first 200 odd pages of the book covers the above four themes. The next 80 odd pages gives recommendations to become “indistractable” in our interactions with family members, friends and colleagues

The book starts off with a reference to a story from Greek mythology, “Tantalus curse”.The story goes that Tantalus was banished from the heaven and was kept in a lake where there was a tree dangling with ripe fruits on it. Whenever he tries to reach the fruits on the tree, the branch moved away from him denying him the fruit. When he tried to bend down to drink cool water, it receded so that he could never quench his thirst. This is a great analogy to our current situation. We try to reach out for things, more things, more money, more of everything in the false hope that they are going to give permanent pleasure. Much like the Tantalus situation, we are never tired of our desire to seek more. In this constant unease and longing for things beyond our rich, we are never relaxed and we are never truly happy with what we already have.

Part-I: Master Internal Triggers

The first part of the book begins with the story of Dr.Zoe Chance, a professor at Yale, whose addiction to pedometer illustrates maniac level addiction to our modern devices. Yet behind the easy explanation of blaming the device as a cause of distraction, the author tries to drive home the point that the root cause of distraction usually comes from one’s unhealthy attempt to escape the uncomfortable reality. Instead of dealing directly with the reality and working through it, the devices become a convenient escape and ultimately we are attached to the devices to insane levels.

Scientific literature on this subject has shown us that humans are hard-wired to remain in a state of discomfort. In fact it has been our evolutionary strength. However this same strength is working against us in today’s world. The author mentions four factors that are making us distracted:

  1. Boredom - Our inability to handle boredom in our usual regular day to day life is making us look for devices or actions that distract us from the state of discomfort. Over a period of time, these unhealthy escapades make us more and more distracted.
  2. Negativity Bias - We have easier time recalling bad events than good events. We are biased to remember bad events which in turn causes discomfort
  3. Rumination - We are forever trying to ruminate on bad experiences and make us distracted
  4. Hedonic adaptation - We easily fall back to the default discomfort state quickly after experiences pleasure from the things we seek out

As one can see, there are many aspects that force us to be in a state of discomfort. Unless we manage to deal with discomfort, it is likely that we will be distracted.

The author takes the reader through a study done on air flight attendants to illustrate the futility of mental abstinence. Whatever you don’t want to think, you are more likely to think about it. If you suppress your thoughts, they will anyway arise in one form or the other. Hence one must cultivate habits for dealing with those thoughts rather than suppress them. What are some of the things that we could do ?

  1. Re-imagine the mental trigger: One must be conscious of the thought that appears to move towards distraction. By paying attention to negative thoughts, we are successful in weakening them. At the same time, if you can log the moments that lead to distraction in a tracker, it is more likely that looking at such a log will make you realize the underlying cause. Also, one can use “surf the edge” hack, i.e. wait for 10 minutes and if your urge still persists, you can yield to it
  2. Re-imagine the task : This is probably the best chapter in the book because it resonates with some of the core principles of how I approach work. Firstly any deep work that one does is not pleasurable, in most cases. Be it programming, playing an instrument,understanding a math concept - it requires tremendous amount of effort. In order to remove the drudgery out of it, the best hack is to re-imagine the task with “fun” element in it. Looking in to the variability of a task, looking in to what are the constituent parts of the task and understanding it with a curious eye is the secret to making any task interesting
  3. Re-imagine your temperament: Before reading to this book, I had somehow formed an opinion that “Will-Power” is a finite resource and you need to carefully decide on how you spend it on various aspects of your life. However the chapter on re-imagining temperament dispels that myth and argues that willpower is like an emotion and can be managed. Belief of powerless to give in to a distraction is a self-fulfilling thing. If you believe that you can control using your will-power, most likely you will. The chapter also makes a point that having a bit of self-compassion towards your behaviour goes a long way in making one resilient.

Part-II: Make Time for Traction

The second part of the book talks about the need to make time for traction, i.e. the tasks that we do indeed care about and want to get done. One of the key ideas from this part of the book is

You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it’s distracting you from.

Hence in a way you know what you want to do on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, you will not even know that you are getting distracted. The author talks about “Time Boxing” technique that urges one to time box the day/week with specific tasks that you want to get done. Only in that way, you will be able to reflect, refine and think about the various times that your distractions from the tasks. The fact that you put some time aside to reflect the time boxed tasks and whether you had been able to accomplish them or not, is a great feedback to one’s own thought process.

Part-III: Hack back external triggers

This part of the book was one of the most useful parts for me, as I have managed to put most of the hacks to use, since the last two weeks.

  1. Hack back work interruptions : The hack in the book suggests placing a small screen sign on the computer so that co-workers do not disturb me. I have followed a less dramatic approach: Went to the nearby electronic store and bought a noise-cancellation headphones. Every day as soon as I get to work, I put on the head-phones and play some soothing white noise. I am completely oblivious to the chatter that goes on around me. This hack has given me a noise-free work environment and has thus lead an increase in productivity.
  2. Hack back email: I am now following “check email only thrice during office hours” policy. As soon as I get to office, I check my email once and reply to the emails that I find are super important. I check again at lunch time and respond to emails that I have to. I check for one last time before i leave for the day. This has cut my anxiety levels and has made sure that I don’t spend too much time on emails
  3. Hack back group chat : Not relevant to me as I am not involved in any group chats
  4. Hack back meetings : Not relevant to me as I tend to avoid most of the meetings
  5. Hack back smart phone: I have removed most of the irrelevant unused apps on my phone; reorganized most of the apps on phone; removed most of the notifications from the apps - overall I must say that I check my phone less often now
  6. Hack back desktop: Not relevant to me as I always maintain a clean desktop policy
  7. Hack back online articles : The hack was super useful to me. Instead of reading every article that I stumble on to, I have started saving the links in to an org file and storing away for reading during a specific day and time of the week. I was already a major fan of multi-channel multi-tasking.This hack has only reinforced my existing strategy
  8. Hack back feeds : Not relevant to me as I am usually away from social media

Part-IV: Prevent Distraction with Pacts

This part of the book talks about effort, price and identity pacts that can be formed to prevent us from distraction. Somehow I found the hacks mentioned here, not very useful.

Part-V, Part-VI and Part-VII

The last three parts of the book talk about making your workplace indistractable, raise indistractable children and have indistractable relationships. Based on whatever be interest, you can dip in to the relevant chapter and see if the content is useful. I speed read the last three parts of the book and found that the content to be a way to summarize some of the hacks mentioned in the first 200 pages of the book


I found this book very useful; have already implemented a few of the hacks from the book and found my productivity go up. If you are think you are distracted from your work often, then this book might just have the right kind of hacks to make you indistractable.