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A new book offers insights on overcoming the master source of all distractions.
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Think of terms associated with the word “work,” and some of these likely pop into your head: “pressure,” “stress,” “team,” “target.” One word that will definitely not feature on the list is ‘”fun.” In his latest book, Indistractable, author and investor Nir Eyal presents insights from several research studies on themes surrounding productivity, work and focus. While the book is packed with interesting anecdotes and insights, one that jumped out at me is the need to reframe and rephrase the way we relate “work” and “fun.” As removed as work and play might seem, making work fun is the secret to getting things done. However, here is the catch: “Fun” does not always translate into “enjoyment.”
Eyal argues that our notions regarding both work and fun are limiting, i.e. work does not have to feel burdensome, and fun does not have to feel good. What significance does shaking up these notions carry? How does it matter?
“By relinquishing our notions about what fun should feel like, we open ourselves up to seeing tasks in a new way,” Eyal explained in a TED essay, citing the work of Ian Bogost, a professor of Interactive computing from the Georgia Institute of Technology. “Play can be part of any difficult task, and though play doesn’t necessarily have to be pleasurable, it can free us from discomfort, which, let’s not forget, is the central ingredient driving distraction.”
While the usual expectation is to gamify a job to derive fun out of it, this approach implies that the work itself is perceived as inherently undesirable. The real cause for drudgery is the fact that we don’t take things seriously enough, and a very effective way to overcome this is to focus intensely on the task itself. Instead of looking for external motivators like rewards and prizes, paying close attention to the job at hand and looking for new ways to overcome the challenges can make it so interesting that it begins to feel like fun.
Conventional distractors like television or social media work like slot machines to keep us hooked with relentless novelty. Making our work itself the source of refreshing newness is the secret to erasing the lines between work and play. In other words, this is the secret to making ourselves “indistractible” at work and the key to being insanely productive.
How can this be achieved, this gamification of work? Here are a few easy steps Eyal breaks down for us based on Bogost’s research:
Pay close attention to what you have at hand. While this may seem like rudimentary advice, it is, in fact, a great way to dive deep into any given subject while keeping the premise simple. Indistractable presents a simple example of cutting grass, which Bogost deconsturcts into immersive detail, from how grass grows to the methods involved in treating it.
Embrace the constraints. As Eyal tells it, learning deeply about grass opened Bogost up to absorbing information on the optimal weather conditions for the task of grass-cutting and which equipment is best suited for his needs. Working under natural constraints for an optimal grass-cutting exercise helped him work on it as if jumping over obstacles in a game, creating an “imaginary playground” in search of novel ways to beat them.
Eyal makes his argument about embracing discomfort — one of work’s most common distractions — by presenting examples of seemingly inconsequential work that have been perfected over many years to becomes sources of joy to themselves and others, whether that be a barista brewing the perfect cup of coffee or a motorcylist taming his beast by getting to know the machine intimately. “Why wouldn’t it be possible for us to bring the same mindset to other tasks?” is Eyal’s irrefutable argument against treating discomfort as a disadvantage.
Indestructible packs a punch with several other simple strategies that can be adopted to guard ourselves against an overwhelming sea of distractions, be it while working, spending time with family or — most important of all — guiding a younger generation with significant digital identities to discover the superpower of being truly indistractable.