How to Minimize Distractions and be More Productive (The 3 I’s Framework)

Distractions are the #1 obstacle people tell me get in the way of their focus, productivity, and effectiveness. They’re the biggest barrier to living on-purpose and in-line with your priorities.

After all, it’s never been easier to be distracted. Most of us have an internet-connected device within arms reach nearly 24/7.

That’s not inherently a bad thing. Technology is a powerful tool.

But, technology is also addictive. And anything that’s addictive has potentially significant drawbacks. So we need to treat it with caution.

The more time we spend distracted by our devices, the less time we spend on the things we care about most.

I don’t need to cite statistics here—you know it from your own experience.

Where would you place technology in the ranking of villains that distract you from living on purpose, cultivating powerful presence, and taking bold action on what you care about most?

For me, it’s #1.

Dealing With Pickles

This isn’t something to complain about. It’s the nature of our reality, so there’s no use arguing with it.

We’re all addicted to our devices. And this addiction isn’t going to change anytime soon. As Adam Alter shares in Irresistible, you can’t un-pickle a cucumber. Which is one way of saying that “it’s impossible to ever completely escape the aftereffects of addiction.”

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Imagine your brain is a cucumber. Addiction is the pickling process. And once cucumber brain has been pickled, you’ll always be susceptible to that addiction.

Since our brains have been pickled by our devices, we’d be wise to embrace those constraints, and do our best to optimize within them.

Why Our Tech Relationships Matter

When your relationship with tech is out-of-whack, you’re less productive, creative, and fulfilled. You spend less time on what matters most.

But when you master this relationship, you’ll be more creative, focused, and present. You’ll procrastinate less, and you’ll spend more time on what matters most.

So, if you want to start…

  • Advancing your most important projects
  • Being fully present with friends and family
  • Caring more for your well-being

…and you want to stop…

  • Mindlessly surfing social media
  • Impulsively checking your devices
  • Hiding from the discomfort of doing what’s most important

…keep reading!

The rest of this article will give you a clear framework, an actionable reflection tool, and 21 strategies to help you spend less time on your devices.

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From Unconscious to Intentional

At the heart of optimizing our relationship with technology is shifting unconscious tech use to intentional tech use.

This helps you access the benefits of technology without the drawbacks. It’s how you can use technology without letting it use you.

unconscious vs. intentional

There are two parts to creating this shift and mastering your relationship with technology.

The first is your inner-game. This is your state of mind, thoughts, beliefs, and awareness about your devices. If this doesn’t change, your behavior won’t change either.

The second is the outer-game. This is the strategies, tactics, and action steps you can take to create the external conditions for success. It’s how you can change your environment to make the inner-game easier.

To bring this to life, imagine that making progress and creating amazing things in your life is like rowing a boat into a headwind. jpegbase64f1c741639ff634ff

Your distractibility is the strength of the headwind. The more distracted you are, the harder the wind blows, and the more difficult it is to make progress.

Your inner-game is how well you row the boat. It’s directly in your control. And the outer-game helps you reduce the strength of this wind. It’s how you influence the environment.

The inner and outer games work hand-in-hand. Without the inner-game changes, your boat can’t move forward. And without reducing the headwind, you’re playing the game on “hard” mode.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the nature of distractions.

The 3 I’s Framework to Minimize Distractions

Everyone knows the feeling of being distracted. But do you know what a distraction is?

Here’s where most people get it wrong: a distraction isn’t just one thing. It’s made of three distinct phases: Interruptions, Impulses, and Immersion.

I call these the 3 I’s, for obvious reasons.

First, we have interruptions. These are external things that interrupt your focus or intrude on your conscious awareness. (e.g. A push-notification on your phone, or the “ding!” of an email alert on your computer.)

Second, there are impulses. These are inner urges to dive into your devices. (e.g. Feeling some discomfort and having the thought to check your email/Instagram/Facebook/etc.)

And third, there’s immersion. The time you spend unconsciously immersed in your technology. (e.g. Mindlessly scrolling through social media, watching videos, or surfing the web.)

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First, you get interrupted. Then, you have an impulse to do something. And if you follow the impulse, you spend time immersed in your devices.

Oftentimes, you’ll see all three pieces together. The interruption (e.g. a push notification) creates an Impulse to follow it, and then you’re immersed.

But because we’re addicted to our devices, distraction often starts with the impulse. Without being interrupted by anything outside of us, we follow the impulse to check our devices. This is why the inner-game, and practice of managing your attention is so important. My friend Anthony Ongaro calls this “The Twitch”. It’s that icky, uncomfortable feeling that you try and soothe by reaching for your phone.

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You don’t need to sit on a rock in the ocean to free yourself from distractions. Just keep reading.

How to Minimize Distractions: The Inner-Game and Outer-Game

Now that we know what we’re up against, let’s see how we can start minimizing distractions. We’ll do this by looking at the inner and outer game through the lens of the 3 I’s framework.

Each is a different piece of the puzzle that shifts you from unconscious to intentional technology use.

1: Reducing (and Recovering from) Interruptions

Outer-game: How can you limit the number of interruptions present in your day?

Inner-game: When you are interrupted, how quickly can you recover to presence?

When there are fewer interruptions in your day, and you recover from them more effectively, you’re less distracted.

2: Limiting the Impact of Impulses

Outer- game: How can you reduce the strength of the impulses you feel to dive into devices?

Inner-game: How can you reduce the number of impulses you follow?

When your impulses to check your devices are weaker, and you act on fewer of them, you’re less distracted.

3: Minimizing Unconscious Immersion

Outer-game: How can you reduce the appeal of immersion time when using your devices?

Inner-game: How quickly do you notice you’re unconsciously immersed and return to conscious action?

When it’s less appealing to be immersed in tech, and you notice your unconscious immersion more quickly, you’re less distracted.

3 Is framework to minimize distractions

That’s the game we’re playing! Reducing interruptions, limiting the impact of our impulses, and minimizing unconscious immersion time.

And doing this all so we can spend more time on the things that we care about most, and less time on other people’s priorities.

For a list of 23 actionable strategies you can use that address the above areas, download the free guide here:

23 Ways to Minimize Distractions by Transforming Your Relationship With Technology

Limit distractions so you can do more of what matters.

You'll also get a weekly email with new mindful tips to try. Powered by ConvertKit

Meditation: The Biggest Bang-for-Your-Buck Strategy to Minimize Distractions

The inner-game in all phases of distraction is about developing two things:

  1. Awareness of what’s on your attention
  2. The ability to redirect your attention where you want it to be

These are also the fundamental skills you train while practicing meditation.

As Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction puts it:

“Meditation is the original neuroscience, the world’s oldest conscious exploitation of neuroplasticity, and it’s a twenty-five-hundred-year-old answer to the twenty-five-year-old problem of digital distraction.”

When you meditate, you train your mind. You become more aware. And you get better at focusing your attention where you’d like it to go.

This translates directly to distractions. You get better at noticing when you’re distracted. And you get better at returning your attention to the place you’d like it to be.

Put it Into Practice: Reflect and Act

Put your new understanding into practice by reflecting on the current state of your distractions, and creating an action plan to change your behavior.

  1. Consider: Where are your biggest challenge areas in the 3 I’s framework?
  2. Pick one area to focus on. If you could only focus on one of the 3 I’s, which would make the biggest difference for you?
  3. Identify your first action-step. What small action-step would help you make progress? (Check out the free guide below for 23 strategies you can implement right away.)
  4. Act. Do it. Right now!
  5. Keep practicing and experimenting over time. After implementing one piece, keep going. Identify the next most important piece. Create your own strategies. Find new ways that work better for you.

Transforming your relationship with technology happens both immediately and over time. You can create an immediate impact today with a bit of reflection and action. And day by day, week by week, you’ll continue on the path to master this skill.

Like all skills, mastery is a never-ending process. I’ve been practicing this for years and am better than I ever have been! And, I still fall prey to my devices on a regular basis. (Instagram, in particular, is most addicting to me.)

Now it’s time for you to take action. Create your own plan by following the instructions above, or by downloading the free guide below.

Here’s to optimizing our relationship with technology and spending more time on what matters!

23 Ways to Minimize Distractions by Transforming Your Relationship With Technology

Limit distractions so you can do more of what matters.

You'll also get a weekly email with new mindful tips to try. Powered by ConvertKit

Related Wisdom

  1. Free Guide: 21 Proven Ways to Stay Focused Every Day. A guide I created on how to help you stay more focused on what matters most.
  2. Digital Minimalism 101 on Optimize. A masterclass in transforming our relationship with technology, taught by Cal Newport. If you aren’t an Optimize member yet (what are you waiting for?!) you can access the class (and a whole lot more) via a free 14-day trial membership.
  3. How to Get Focused and Stay Focused at Work. An article I wrote in the early MA days about getting focused and staying focused.