Have you ever had your day perfectly planned out, but in the end, you find yourself derailed from your schedule? That’s normal, and we quickly get distracted by many things. But, here are a few hacks to manage distractions and help you focus on your daily priorities.

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In this episode, Ann will speak on how to be “indistractable”. It’s a concept from a book by Nir Eval. Ann will help us identify the things that distract us and share some great strategies to counter those distractions. She’ll dive deep into the causes or the external and internal triggers that derail us from our original intention. Stop the cycle of sleeping late, waking up late, and finishing late or never. Start forming a new habit of being “indistractable”. Listen in!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Traction is the opposite of distraction. It means you’re moving towards your goal.
  • Distraction means that you’re derailed from your original intention.
  • What distracts us?
  • Ann talks about the internal and external triggers of distractions.
  • Ann shares strategies to combat those triggers.
  • The first step is to identify the things that distract you.
  • The next is to think about the cost.
  • Negative self-talk is something that should be managed as well.
  • How does a kitchen timer help Ann manage her internal triggers?
  • Ann shares how she manages her external triggers.
  • Ann discusses how to involve the people around you.

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“Think about your pain point, think about what it is costing you down the line.” [00:10:08]

“There’s no need to beat yourself up if one day you get distracted from your top priority list and that is okay. Think about the good that came with it.” [00:21:44]

“Put it in your calendar, your me-time, your family time, your time the way you intend to do certain things.” [00:19:03]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

It’s Not Rocket Science Show website

Ann Tsung on Facebook

Ann Tsung on LinkedIn

Ann Tsung on YouTube

Ann Tsung on Instagram

Ann Tsung on Twitter

Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal

Kitchen Timer

About Ann Tsung, MD


Ann Tsung, MD, MPH is a physician who is triple board-certified in emergency, critical care, and preventive/aerospace medicine. She is the podcast show host of It’s Not Rocket Science Show, and a real estate investor. Her mission is to help people create time, vitality, and deep relationships so people can achieve peak performance and fulfillment in life. Her passions include mind-body medicine, functional nutrition, longevity, productivity, and human optimization. She firmly believes that everything we need is within us now.



Please note the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein belong solely to the speaker, and not necessarily those of the speaker’s employer, organization, government institution, or medical program. This show is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing, or other professional health care services, including the giving of medical advice, and no doctor/patient relationship is formed. The use of information on this show or materials linked from here is at the user’s own risk. The content of this show is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should not disregard, or delay in obtaining, medical advice for any medical condition they may have and should seek the assistance of their health care professionals for any such conditions. Please assume that any links leading you to products or services are affiliate links that I will receive compensation from. I only mention products or services that I have used and believe would add value for you. Please note that I have not been given any free products, services, or anything else by these companies in exchange for mentioning them on the site.

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Full Transcript




ANNOUNCER: If you’re struggling with your vitality, energy, mood, focus, or sleep, this podcast is for you. Your host, Dr. Ann Tsung, ER doctor, and aerospace flight surgeon, will help you reach for the stars and remove the barriers or blockades that have been holding you back from living your best life. If you’ve been challenged by your health, relationships, or productivity, then it’s time for a breakthrough. So, here’s your host, Dr. Ann Tsung.



Hello, and welcome to It’s Not Rocket Science Show. I am your host, Dr. Ann Tsung. Have you ever wanted to do something like a presentation or reading, and you put it on your calendar? And then at the end of the day, you can only read like 10 pages in like a few hours when really you don’t even get to get started because you’re distracted by emails. Or perhaps you intended for you to eat healthy, to not overeat or not get that dessert. And then you just get derailed and you overeat and stuff yourself even though you’re already full. And what about other times when you start watching Netflix, you just wanted to watch one episode of House, which is what happened to me just a few weeks ago. And then it keeps going because it just keeps playing. And then all of a sudden you watch three episodes. And then all of a sudden, it’s 10:30. And way past your bedtime, you get completely derailed. And the next morning, you wake up thinking why didn’t you just go to bed earlier. And a lot of times we have set bedtimes for us. And we get derailed by our children, by work by anything else, by our phones, by the apps. And essentially, we intend to do something and we get derailed because we get distracted. 


And in this episode, I want to talk about how to be indistractable, which is a concept, in a book by Nir Eyal. And we’ll talk about the definition of indistractable and distractible. And also, what causes it. And of course, the strategies that you can use to counter it, the opposite of distraction is actually traction. So, what that means is traction is something that you’re doing your actions, you have intentions of doing a certain item, and you’re actually moving towards that goal and it aligns with your values and what you stand for. So that’s traction, anything that you’re doing that is moving you along to achieve that goal or intention. 


And distraction means that you’re derailed from your original intention. And you don’t end up achieving whatever goal or that you set or intention that you set from the very beginning. So, the example of I only want to watch Netflix for one episode, you intend to watch one episode, you end up watching three, and it goes past your bedtime, your intended bedtime of eight or nine o’clock, for example. And then you ended up going to bed at midnight and derail your next morning’s work that you planned. And I thought and when I heard that concept, it was very enlightening to me, it was a fantastic framework for me to now think of what distraction actually is. Distraction simply is when you have moved away or derailed from your original intention. And the next question is what causes it, we often think it is usually caused by external triggers, like a phone, a notification, or a paying email notification. And so, we get distracted by electronics. And it was surprising to find out that actually, 10% of the distractions come from external triggers like that. And 90% of the distraction come from internal triggers. So, what that means it’s actually coming from our own thought process. 


There was that email that I was going to respond to, but I have my own urgent deadline within myself that you know, really I should respond like right now. And because to me, because I’ve seen it, I feel like it’s urgent or perhaps there’s some trip that I’ve been wanting to book you know, I want to look at flights on my like a traveling hotel. And that’s all I can think of, there’s like that itch and that urge to start researching because I keep thinking about it’s been on my mind. And that happened to me just last week actually, which derailed my morning’s productivity. So, a lot of times it’s about managing our internal triggers and how to deal with that discomfort because the discomfort of wanting to do something or the urge to want to do something causes pain. And what our brain wants to do is to relieve that pain. And something very similar that is mentioned in the book, that’s something very similar happens in smokers, when the smokers, they have that itch and urge to smoke and they actually smoke not because they actually like the taste of cigarettes, but it’s to scratch that itch, it’s to relieve that internal pain. The strategy is really to combat that internal trigger or combat that internal pain. And that’s how you can really be indistractable.


And some of the antidotes that are mentioned first is that rule number one, you have to find out what is actually distracting you. And I would say after this episode, I will pick one thing that you have intended to do for the longest time. But you have not been able to get yourself to achieve that habit or even start. So, pick one thing that you’ve intended to do and identify what is distracting you from it. Is it your phone? Isn’t the email notification? Is it perhaps your internal thought of like wanting to celebrate, you know, if you had a stressful day, wanting to relieve that stress by eating or drinking alcohol, or if you have always wanted to wake up early, but have not been able to because you go to bed late because you’re distracted by work or watching TV shows at night, then you can identify those intentions that have been derailed and identify those distractions? Number one, you can’t really address it if you don’t know what they are. And I would say to think about the pain points, or the cost of you, not meeting your intentions, and not achieving your goal. So, for me, when I thought about my distractions, there were typically like my phones, the app, the email notifications, and even though I’ve set like a top-three priority list to be done for the day, and for work, or when I was in medical school or residency, and I get distracted by phone, by email, or by researching other things that don’t matter. The cost to me is that I tend to have to stay up a little bit later, I have to keep working until seven or 8 pm sometimes. And it’s a huge cost because now I don’t have time to enjoy myself with my friends and my family, my fiancé. I’ve refused a lot of dinner gatherings, and even lunch gatherings. And I’ve even had to skip some weddings and bachelorette parties just because I thought that you know, I am behind on work, I have to keep going I have to study, I didn’t get to finish all of my practice questions on USMLE. So, I can’t go to that event. So, when I thought about the cost, then that got me the motivation to really focus on what really matters, the priorities, and not let anything else get in the way of my top morning priorities. 


So, I started this when I was a medical student, actually, when I was taking step three, and I wanted to leave my afternoons and evenings free. So, I decided to wake up at four o’clock, 4:30. And I did 150 to 200 USMLE questions before I even began work. And then I was done for the day and my top priorities have already been done for the day. And I was free to actually work in the clinic and not be distracted and go all day. Otherwise, if I work on the questions after I am in the clinic all day, there was no way I would have finished 150 to 200 questions and that includes going through it, reading all the explanations, and understanding and learning the material there was just no way. And more recently, when I decided to, you know, keep my morning wakeup times consistent. So waking up by five or 5:30. When I thought about the cost that if I don’t do this if I don’t focus and finish the reading that I have to do the deep work I have to do in the morning, then at night I will have to work past 5 pm and I will lose the precious time that I have with my fiance Mike and typically those are the time reserved for us to walk our dog and cook and have a nice meal together enjoy our time together. And so that is a huge pain point for me if I don’t get to do that, and I get more stressed out, feel more overworked. 


So, again, think about your pain point, think about what is costing you down the line, not just first-order effects, second-order effects, third-order effects. So that means that, yes, I get less time, less productive, I don’t get to finish my work my reading, and I get distracted, then I don’t get enough time to spend with my friends, my loved ones, and then I’m imbalanced in my life. And then I’m stressed, I am actually overworked and burnt out, and it keeps going, because it affects your health, it affects your mindset, it will affect everything you do the subsequent days, I mean, the effects are huge. And that doesn’t count the negative self-talk that you give yourself, at least it happens to me, I’m trying not to do this, that oh, my God, I like these three things set up to do that my top three priorities for the day, I didn’t even finish, I didn’t even touch it. The negative self-talk is something that needs to be managed as well, you have to be okay, if you don’t get to do this all the time that you know, you accept yourself as who you are. Because if you’re distracted, you’re only human. And you just tell yourself that is okay. And we keep going we try again tomorrow. So that is a huge thing. And I still get caught in that trap of negative self-talk and blaming myself for not finishing or not being distracted. That’s okay. Just be okay with yourself. You are beautiful and perfect as you are. 


So, now we’ll talk about the antidotes or strategies. Number one, since we talked about the 90% of the time is to manage internal triggers. And ten percent of the time that distraction comes from external triggers. So, to manage that urge or the itch to do certain things, then you would get a kitchen timer. That’s one of the items mentioned, I have one here myself that I used for Pomodoro techniques, the 25 Minute work, and the five-minute rest cycle, I will get a kitchen timer and not a phone as your timer so that you are not distracted by your phone. And whenever you have that itch of like, well, maybe I’ll just eat a little bit more, or I’m almost done eating what’s on the plate and there’s like a little bit in the pot to minus we’ll just finish what’s in the pot. Or perhaps, well, I’ll watch one episode and the next episode is only like 30 minutes. So, it’s okay, well, we’ll just keep going. It’s fine. Or perhaps there’s one email that I thought I need to get back to. And let me just send that one email or make that one request. And I’ll close that email. And that’s it. I mean, how many times do we actually do that where we go in, we just wanted to do one thing to find that one address, to find that one fact, one information in the email. And then we just stop. I mean, very, very few times that we have enough focus to do that. 

So, whenever you have that urge, you just set a timer for 10 minutes, and just ride that wave. Just allow yourself that okay, in 10 minutes, I will be able to find that information, my email to respond to that email. In 10 minutes, I will be able to start that Netflix episode or whatever episode you’re doing in 10 minutes, then I will go get up and get the next serving the next plate that I have wanted to eat, or the dessert or whatever, like snacks that you have. In 10 minutes, I will say, check Facebook, check my social media, check Instagram. And the reason why you set a timer and allow yourself to do it is because when you just tell yourself no, I can’t do it. No stop. Can’t do it. No way, then your brain wants to do it even more. And it just kept bugging you and bugging you and bugging you. It just doesn’t stop. And that’s why a lot of times we just give in. But if you give yourself 10 minutes to ride that urge, the wave, it will most likely pass and you will most likely be okay not doing it. Because the urges usually last seconds to minutes, which is what I found as well, when I have the urge, like in the morning to check my messages. And like a lot of times, my friends stay up later than I do. So, they’re talking quite a bit and text quite a bit. There’s WhatsApp messages. And there’s so many times where I have the urge when I found waking to check it and I just think about the cost. Now that’s gonna derail my whole afternoon. I won’t have time to spend with them that I sometimes just wait a little bit and said, okay, let me just shower first. Let me brush my teeth first. Let me get ready. Let me make my matcha tea first, and then I’ll check. And a lot of times, I’m okay not doing it. The urge is gone. So, I would suggest getting the kitchen timer, manage the internal urges, think about the cost to you if you decide to do a certain item, and you get distracted from your original intention, and you lose traction. 


And regarding managing the external triggers, I would suggest, for me what’s worked really well is leaving my phone outside in the dining area. While I work for while I do my very, very deep work in the morning, especially when I have to read like 100-page documents, or 100 slide shows, or when I have to review articles scientific article, I take my phone outside, and I do not allow any notifications on my laptop, no email pop-ups, for sure. No texts, I close all the chats. And I have found that that has worked really well for me to decrease the external triggers. And one thing regarding that too is at night when you’re going to bed, I found that what’s worked really well for me is to leave the phone outside charging, actually, I leave it in the office, and I have another phone that I leave in the laundry room because it’s closer to my bedroom. And so, I can hear the alarm. So, the benefit of that is that you’re not distracted or tempted by it. When you’re in bed to look at your phone, which derails your whole bedtime, of course. And if you derail your bedtime, you derail your morning. And another benefit is that if you have to wake up to turn off the alarm, you have to walk and that wakes you up automatically. And so the one thing that he mentioned when he manages the external triggers is that he actually has a timer near (inaudible), he has a timer that cuts off the internet and Wi-Fi at 10 pm. Because as a family as a whole, they have decided they have come up with a pack that at 10 pm is when we should be off of all of our devices or TV, whatever it is because that aligns with their values. I thought that that was a really great idea that we have timers now that let you manage other items. And I think that’s a fantastic idea, we’re gonna start plugging into our router. So, I would say that you need to allow for the manager internal triggers you have to allow yourself to be able to do that item. But just delay a little bit, move the devices out of your room if you want to manage your external triggers or use technical timer devices like outlet timers to manage, say your Wi-Fi network. And to put everything that you want to do on the calendar to allow time on the calendar for you to do whatever you want. So, what that means is that if you are distracted by your kids, just make a pact with your kids that you know from this time to this time, this is our time to hang out and I will be available to you during this timeframe. Before that please allow me to do the work I need to do. Of course, you have young kids, so it’s a little difficult. But if they’re a little bit older, I think this is possible. Or they could pact with your loved ones, your family that from this time to this time than you know, this is our bedtime. This is my productive work time. Like in the morning, please do not come in to distract me. And pencil in the times you want to check your social media on your calendar, say from 4 pm to 5 pm. This is social media time for me to respond to connect to my friends or my loved ones, or from 6 pm to 8 pm, this is my relaxation time. I can take a bath; it is a me-time. I can watch TV or a movie if I wanted to. Or I can just do nothing and sit and meditate or walk. So, put it in your calendar, your me-time, your family time, your time the way you intend to do certain things like watching TV shows, like checking social media, and checking emails and responding to people at work or making calls, set times. Usually, I do it in the afternoon so that in the morning when all my productive work is done. All of my calls, meetings, emails, are done in the afternoon and I set a one-hour time slot because if you don’t set a one-hour time slot for the emails, you find that one or two hours depending on how long it takes or how in-depth your emails are. But if you don’t set a timer, you could keep going forever. So, I know that was a lot. 


In summary, the opposite of distraction is traction. And all that means is that traction is when you are moving towards your intended goal or purpose and distraction is when you are moving away from your intended goal and purpose, nothing is good, and nothing is bad, all that means is that you intend to do something, then the first step is to identify the distractions, that distracts you from it. The second step is that think about the cost that it’s costing you, if you’re distracted from it, then think about it at first, second, third-order effects, too. And then the next thing is to manage your internal triggers or some of the thoughts that are coming up, that make you itch, and have that urge to do that certain thing. And set a timer for it and allow just 10 minutes. And you will do that in 10 minutes and see how you feel. See how you can ride a wave of that internal urge, and remove any external triggers from your environment, if possible. And the last thing I think is to make sure you pencil in on your calendar, your intended activities, and discuss with people at your work, your family, your kids, your time that you’re available for them so that they understand and you have an agreement, and you have a pact. So now you’re not so stressed out about it. And I think the most important thing is this is a whole process. It’s a learning process. It’s a habit-forming process. And as human beings, we are going to have those urges, and we’re going to give in to those urges. And we will be distracted from our intended purpose every so often, it’s inevitable. And just think of it as a part of life and you’re just being a normal human being. And there’s no need to beat yourself up if one day you get distracted from your top priority list and that is okay. Think about the good that came with it. Think about, you’ve enjoyed this extra episode, I gave you joy, perhaps you enjoy extra time for your, with your kids, you’ve communicated with your co-worker more today. It’s okay. It’s all okay. Because in the end, it really doesn’t matter that much. If you look at the scope of it, if you look at the scope of how tiny we are, in this tiny amount of frame on Earth, really nothing is that urgent, or that important, or that negative. And if that makes sense. If we don’t hit our top priorities for the day, the world is going to keep spinning. Our life really will not be drastically impacted. We just have this imaginary deadline or imaginary urgency importance of these tasks. And really, it’s going to be okay. You’re perfect the way you are. 


And thank you so much for being with me today. I’m so grateful for your time. And for the show notes, the links, the information I talked about, please go to itsnotrocketscienceshow.com. And if you go on there, there will be a free gift available for you as well for productivity hacks. And remember, everything we need is already within us now. Thank you.


ANNOUNCER: That’s it for today’s episode. Head on over to iTunes and subscribe to the show. One lucky listener every single week that posts a review on iTunes will win a chance in the grand prize drawing to win a private VIP Day for a health and life makeover with Dr. Ann Tsung, herself. Then, be sure to head on over to itsnotrocketscienceshow.com and pick up your free gift from Dr. Tsung. Then, join us on the next episode.


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