Boosting Productivity and Mastering Habits: Key Takeaways from 'Indistractable' and 'Atomic Habits’

Book Review: Indistractable and Atomic Habits

by Ro

Book Review: Indistractable and Atomic Habits

by Ro

by Ro

I recently read the books Indistractable by Nir Eyal immediately followed by the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, and the two books reinforce each other well.

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In the book Indistractable, Eyal helps readers identify how to recognize, avoid, and ultimately defeat the distractions that stand in the way of big goals.

While Atomic Habits  is based on the principle that our small habits add up to make us who we are. In this world view, our habits determine whether we are super effective, build strong personal and professional relationships, or we diddle away our careers and lives on meaningless moments. 

It would be incredibly difficult to summarize these books (and unfair to the authors who spent so much time researching and writing their manuscripts).  Instead, I wanted to share a few key takeaways I got from both books. The first set of key takeaways are concepts, or frameworks for building habits and avoiding distractions. The second set are hacks, or actual tips and techniques you can use to implement the concepts in your daily life. 


Habit Loop (Atomic Habits): We all have habit loops that are triggered by a cue that leads to a craving, a response, and a reward. Every positive, negative, or neutral behavior we have has a cue. As an example, I might need to open Outlook to send an email to a client. I’ve opened Outlook and checked the inbox so many times that this is now automatic, so opening the program has become a cue to check my email. In fact, before I even start to compose the email to my client, I feel a craving to “just scan” my inbox. And my response is to inevitably find an email that feels urgent and requires 5 or 10 minutes to reply to. The reward is that brief feeling of joy about having responded to an “urgent” item. The cost of this behavior loop is that I have now spent time doing something I didn’t actually need to do and I might have even forgotten the reason I opened Outlook in the first place.

Laws of Behavior Change (Atomic Habits): Focusing on the cue, craving, response, and reward is key to changing behaviors and creating new habits. To change my unplanned inbox-checking behavior, I have programmed Outlook to move all new messages from my inbox to another folder. This ensures that I don’t see new emails when opening Outlook to send a message, and it means that I would have to intentionally check another folder to read email. This breaks the behavior loop from the very beginning at the cue.

It’s also possible to break the behavior loop at the craving, response, or reward levels. As an example, I have begun using the “Ten-Minute Rule” (see the section on hacks to learn more about this rule). 

Residual Beneficiary (Indistractable): A residual beneficiary is the person (or people) who benefit from our time and energy after we’ve completed everything that must get done. Too often, the residual beneficiary is our spouse, our children, our direct reports, or other important relationships in our life. This is because we aren’t scheduling and blocking time to cultivate and nurture these important relationships. Applying the economics concept of a residual beneficiary was an eye opener in my own life, and I’ve been making more of a conscious effort to be there for my family, friends, and colleagues. 


The Ten-Minute Rule (Indistractable): Eyal recommended this one distraction hack that has worked well for me. Many people incorrectly assume that the Ten Minute Rule is to stop and do any task you think about that takes less than ten minutes. In reality, Eyal argues, doing this will actually result in spending your day on a series of trivial ten-minute tasks. You may end the day having felt very productive while actually accomplishing very little. 

Instead, the Ten-Minute Rule is to respond to an impulse by allowing yourself to do it in ten minutes, and I’ve found this hack very successful. While drafting this blog post, for example, I remembered that I need to email my colleague Lexie. In response to this sudden impulse to switch tasks, I simply told myself, “I can email Lexie in ten minutes.” And by the end of ten minutes, my brain had fully re-engaged in drafting this blog post. 

Habit Stacking (Atomic Habits): When forming a new habit, “stack” it on top of an existing one. As an example, I’ve always had a difficult time remembering to clean my desk at the end of the day. But I never have problems remembering to shut down my computer. So, I stack the “clean my desk” habit with shutting down my computer habit. Whenever I shut down my work computer, I will also organize my desk. 

Automate Habits through Checklists (Atomic Habits): I’ve been a lifelong insomniac, and my sleep hygiene habits have contributed to my sleeplessness. My brain fights going to bed and will postpone it like a whiney toddler asking for the last glass of water. So, a few years ago, I created a goodnight checklist that includes everything from prepping the morning coffee to tidying the house. On average, my checklist takes 30 minutes to complete, and I set an alarm to start the process. Doing this has helped program my brain that it is time for sleep, and that I will wake up to a clean house, coffee ready, clothes laid out, and a great day ahead of me. 

Reading this book helped me realize that I also needed a “work day wind down” checklist that includes (a) reviewing my scheduled for the next day; (b) a final scan of email; (c) shutting down electronics; and (c) tidying my work station. 

Time Blocking (Indistractable and Atomic Habits): Both authors strongly recommend time blocking, which is simply planning time on your calendar to do all your tasks. If you’re going to check email daily, for example, schedule time when you will check email (hint: you’ll be surprised at how long you spend checking email daily). If you want to make thank you calls to donors every week, block that time. Continue until you have no time left on your calendar. If there’s an emergency, you’ll have to make a conscious decision about what tasks stay on your calendar this week, which move to a future week, and which are never completed. 

Why I’m Writing About This

Whether for executive coaching clients, my nonprofit book club, or my own personal development, I read several books on habits, behavior change, and time management each year. Over the years, I’ve developed a set of personal productivity tools that help me leverage my worktime, while also enabling me to stop working and enjoy time with family and friends. I want to make sure you have access to these tools, too!

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