We’re excited to kick off our new productivity content series here at SaneBox – interviews with some of the top leaders in the tech industry and beyond. We hope you’ll be inspired by their productivity wisdom, as well as their fascinating career learnings thus far.
First up, we’re featuring Nir Eyal, who has been dubbed “The Prophet of Habit-Forming Technology” by the M.I.T. Technology Review. Nir is the author of the bestselling book, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” an essential read for entrepreneurs looking to understand what it takes to create highly engaging products that capture widespread attention. He has founded two tech companies since 2003, and taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. Nir is also active in the Silicon Valley tech scene – he serves as a contributing writer at TechCrunch, and is an active investor in habit-forming technologies. You can follow Nir on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and check out his website here.
Today, Nir shares his daily email practices, his morning and nightly routines, and how he combats bad habits that hinder his productivity – among many other things! We hope you enjoy reading and learning from Nir’s varied influence in the tech space, backed up by years of research, consulting, and practical experience. If you have any questions for Nir, please leave them in the comments section below!
What’s your morning routine like?
Maybe a few minutes before I make breakfast, I’ll do a quick check of my email. I don’t usually respond to any emails in the morning, but I sort them. SaneBox already sorts my emails for me automatically, but for the ones that live in my Important folder, I’ll just label them based on when I need to respond. Then, I don’t check on those emails again until much later in the day
What’s your number one productivity time-saving tip?
I think my number one tip is to plan your time wisely. That sounds simple enough, but I think the vast majority of people don’t do this. My method of planning seems a bit extreme, meaning I portion out every single minute of the day – if you look at my calendar, there’s no white space. That doesn’t mean I don’t have buffer time for unexpected events that pop up – it’s just that those things are already factored in.
The world is always going to be distracting – what we have to do is change ourselves so that we can live and thrive in the world.
I do have certain times in the day where I am absolutely uninterruptible. Unless there’s something happening that’s really outside the ordinary, I refuse to be interrupted during the first two hours a day because that’s my writing time. Setting that boundary gives me the head space to focus on what I’m doing right now and not get distracted.
Do you have any favorite tools for optimal productivity?
SaneBox is definitely one of my favorite tools – it’s been a great help to avoid the distraction of email. I appreciate the fact that it sorts less important emails in the Sanelater folder, and I love the Black Hole feature as well – it’s great for recipients you never want to hear from again! (Try SaneBox for free for 14 days!)
I also use certain apps on my desktop that help me concentrate. I also have an app called Self-Control that disconnects my computer from the internet, and I use it while I’m writing and need focus time.
How often do you check your inbox?
I used to check it all the time. Then, when I started to understand how these technologies work through my research, I realized the deeper psychology behind it, and how unproductive that habit is. In a normal day, I would say I check my inbox first thing in the morning while I’m making breakfast, just to scan and sort my emails. Then I check it once later in the day, and then again at night.
What’s your number 1 email tip?
Sort your emails! I think sorting is super important because it dramatically reduces your need to constantly check your inbox. It gives you peace of mind because you don’t need to worry after sorting because you’ve already processed and labeled it once, so you don’t need to get to it again until you need to. My favorite SaneBox feature is the BlackHole, I love that. I get a lot of outreach from PR companies or people who want me to write about their app. Those emails don’t come with unsubscribe buttons, so all you can do is mark them a spam usually, but with the BlackHole feature, I never have to hear from them again!
What’s the biggest hindrance to your productivity, and how do you combat it?
I think the biggest hindrance is not having a system. I think once you have a personal system, it becomes a lot easier to do the things you want to do. The world is always going to be distracting – what we have to do is change ourselves so that we can live and thrive in the world. Have technology be part of that system, but also have certain rituals, routines, and barriers in place to make sure we don’t overuse technology.
When you lose focus, what do you do to regain it?
When it comes to losing focus, we need to expect to fail – staying attentive while working hard is not easy. To help counteract this fact, I suggest keeping track of how you lose focus each time it happens. If you find that there’s a pattern in your loss of focus, you can start doing something about it, and you can keep it from happening again. For example, if your boss constantly interrupts you, you can have a conversation with them about it, and the issue can be resolved.
There are cases when you interrupt yourself – and that’s the worst of all in my opinion, because it seems to happen most frequently. You’re bored, so you start to check emails, or wonder what’s happening on Facebook. This is when you need a different strategy that is a little bit more complicated. So for instance, when I get distracted and I want to go on Facebook, I’ll look out the window, play with these prayer beads I have instead. It just gives me something to do that takes my mind off the hard work for a second. It’s okay to let your mind wander, just not for too long.
I appreciate the fact that SaneBox sorts less important emails in the Sanelater folder, and I love the Black Hole feature as well – it’s great for recipients you never want to hear from again!
What bad advice do you hear often?
One thing I’ve been hearing lately that really bugs me is that that technology is addictive and is hijacking your brain. That’s a dangerous idea. There is no doubt that these technologies are built to hook us – after all, I wrote the book on how it happens. But that’s not an excuse! We can enjoy technologies while making sure they don’t harm us. The worst thing you can do is to tell yourself, I’m addicted to technology. Why? Because when you say you’re addicted, you’re giving away responsibility and control. Technology is not something that we are powerless around. We are very much empowered to resist if we have a system in place. Instead, simply figure out a system on how to approach technology in a healthier way.
What’s the most worthwhile investment that you’ve made?
I think spending time with friends, family, and yourself are all very worthwhile investments. I find that today we don’t really appreciate the benefit of just taking time to think. Many people look for answers somewhere – they look for an expert, religious figure, or book to tell them the answer. Maybe not all the answers – but a lot of them – would appear if people just sat gave themselves the time to work through a problem. You’d be surprised how many insights can be discovered just by thinking about the problems you’re trying to solve. Simply having a conversation with yourself in a way you would have a conversation with a friend will help you come up with the answers to whatever you’re struggling with. So that’s why I think the most worthwhile investment is time with yourself to think and reflect. I think that’s undervalued.
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