One Question to Help You Get More Done

Struggling to stay focused? Knowing which external triggers serve you—and which ones don’t—can help you get back on track.

Nir Eyal
Published in
5 min readOct 22, 2021


Photo: Carol Yepes/Getty Images

It was 9 a.m. and Wendy, a freelance marketing consultant, knew exactly what she needed to do for the next hour: be in her office chair to write new client proposals, the most important task of her day.

She fired up her laptop and opened the client’s file on her screen, eager to win new business. As she held her coffee mug with both hands and took a sip, a fantastic addition to the proposal entered her head. “This is going to be great!” she thought to herself.

But before she had a chance to write down the idea — “Ping!” Her phone buzzed with a notification.

Wendy ignored the intrusion at first. She jotted down a few words, but then the phone buzzed again with a different notification. This time her focus faltered, and she became curious. What if a client needed her?

She picked up her phone, only to find out that a trivial tweet by a celebrity rapper was reverberating through social media. After tapping out of the app, another notification caught her eye. Her mom had messaged her to say good morning. Wendy fired off a quick heart emoji to let Mom know she was fine.

Oh, and what’s this? There was a bright red notification bubble over the LinkedIn app icon. Perhaps there was a big business opportunity waiting? Nope. It was just a recruiter who’d viewed her profile and sent an introductory message.

Wendy was tempted to reply, but she remembered the time. It was now 9:20, and she hadn’t made any progress on her proposal. Worst of all, she’d forgotten the big idea she had been so excited to add to it.

“How did this happen?” she moaned to herself. Despite having important work to do, Wendy wasn’t getting it done. She was, once again, distracted.

Does this sound familiar?

These distractions aren’t caused by internal triggers, such as intrusive thoughts. They’re external triggers: cues that arise in your environment that prompt you to act, including notifications, pings, dings, alarms, and even other people.



Nir Eyal
Writer for

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