Knowing the Difference Between “Traction” and “Distraction” will Change Your Life This Year

Nir Eyal
3 min readDec 24, 2020
Photo by Caroline Veronez on Unsplash

In my research and consulting work, I’ve heard countless people tell me how difficult it is to manage their time.

Yet, when I ask them what they got distracted from, that is, what they planned to do with any given moment in time, they have trouble answering the question.

What is a “distraction” anyway? The best way to understand what distraction is, is to know what it is not. What is the opposite of distraction? It’s not “focus.”

The opposite of distraction is traction.

A distraction is something we do that moves us away from what we really want. Traction is an action that moves us towards what we really want. The difference seems obvious but distraction has a sneaky way of tricking us.

At any given moment, it’s hard to tell whether we are moving towards or away from the very things we need to accomplish in our day. Checking your work email may feel productive at the moment but when you really need to focus your attention on a big project, you are bound to regret the time you wasted cleaning out your inbox.

The difference between traction and distraction is forethought.

Any action can be either a distraction or traction depending on what you intend to do with your time.

There’s nothing wrong with scrolling through your Facebook feed, watching YouTube videos or playing a video game, as long as that’s what you intend to do. Taking a break can be good for you. It’s when you do things unintentionally that you get into trouble.

When I ask clients to show me their calendar so I can see what they intend to do, they often show me schedules full of white space. They don’t keep a detailed calendar and as a result get thrown off track by the whims of family members, colleagues, and friends.

They have prestigious jobs yet leave themselves unguarded against their most valuable asset — their time. What I observe when my…

Nir Eyal

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