How PhDs Can Own Their Focus
Are you struggling to manage the distractions in your life?
Are these distractions pulling you from more important goals like finishing your PhD or your industry transition?
Nir Eyal has identified the root psychological cause of these distractions
This week on the Cheeky Scientist Radio Show, we are joined by Nir Eyal, time management expert, speaker, and author of the national bestseller, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. Nir will share his results-driven techniques for honing and owning your focus and time in order to reach your goals.
We’ll also be joined by Irene Mencia Castano, PhD, Senior Innovation Consultant. Irene will share her industry transition experience and how other PhDs can move into a similar role.
Skip ahead to:
00:09:26 Nir Eyal
00:33:53 Show Me the Data
00:59:05 Irene Mencía Castaño
About Our Guests
Nir Eyal – Author, Speaker, and Thought Leader
Nir Eyal writes, consults, and teaches about the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. The M.I.T. Technology Review dubbed Nir, “The Prophet of Habit-Forming Technology.” Nir founded two tech companies since 2003 and has taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. He is the author of the bestselling book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. In addition to blogging at NirAndFar.com, Nir’s writing has been featured in The Harvard Business Review, TechCrunch, and Psychology Today.
Nir is also an active investor in habit-forming technologies. Some of his past investments include Eventbrite (NYSE:EB), Refresh.io (acquired by LinkedIn), Worklife (acquired by Cisco), Product Hunt, Marco Polo, Presence Learning, 7 Cups, Pana, Kahoot!, Byte Foods, FocusMate, and Anchor.fm (acquired by Spotify).
Irene Mencía Castaño, PhD, is a Pharmacist & Biochem Masters from Universidad Complutense of Madrid that spent some time in Germany and completed her PhD in the RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) Dublin – Ireland. With 2 years post-doc, she spent 7+ years in the regenerative medicine R&D area and generated relevant IP leading to a CEO innovation recognition award, also accumulating over 10 peer-reviewed publications, over 30 conference presentations (EU & US), talks at primary schools, and 10+ communication awards.
She joined CSA in March 2018 and began networking and gaining confidence to surpass the Impostor Syndrome and transition from academia. Since summer 2018 she works as Senior Innovation Consultant for Inspiralia Group – a middle size company leading the Public funding consulting in Europe and also expanding in the US. Here, she coordinates the preparation of bids by EU-wide clients, many start-ups! requesting up to 15 M€ from the H2020 Framework.
1. Technology distracts, but it is not the root psychological cause of distraction
2. The opposite of distraction is not focus – it’s distraction
3. Distraction is in itself a form of traction in which you are pursuing less important goals instead of the priority
4. The role of senior innovation consultant is part project manager and part project coordinator
The Behavioral Psychology Of Getting Hired As A PhD w/ Nir Eyal: A Conversation With Nir Eyal
Isaiah: Say you’re trying to get something done like trying to get a job or a promotion. Can you walk us through the key principles that you covered in your books? Like how to set up good habits and what we can do to not be a slave to technology but leverage it to our advantage.
Nir: I know the pain. I mean, I wrote this book for me. I was Patient Zero. There’s so much that can potentially distract you from doing what you know you should do. And that was exactly my position. I mean, five years ago, I constantly got distracted, whether it was when I was with my daughter or when I was doing my work or when I was with friends and family – I was constantly getting distracted. And so I wanted to understand why. So I bought every book I could find on the topic. And they all basically said the same thing. The self-help industry basically says it’s all technology’s fault: Stop using the technology and you won’t get distracted. But of course, that doesn’t work. I tried it. I got rid of my smartphone and I got a flip phone. I got a word processor from the 1990s that I found on eBay. And I still got distracted. You know why? You sit down at your desk and say,
Okay, now I’m definitely going to work. But there’s that book I’ve been meaning to read. I should probably do some more lit review, or wait, let me just clean up my desk. Oh, and then take out my trash.
Right? That’s feels like a productive thing to do. And I kept getting distracted because I didn’t find a book that explained the deeper psychology of distraction. I really wanted to dive into the root causes. So the way I set up this paradigm is that if you think about the word distraction, what does it really mean? Well, the best way to understand distraction is to understand the opposite of distraction. The opposite of distraction is not focus. Many people think that the opposite of distraction is focus. I don’t agree. If you look at the etymology of the word, actually the opposite of distraction is not focus. It’s traction. Both come from the same Latin root, trahare, which means to pull. Traction is any action that pulls us toward what we want to do.
Now, the opposite of traction is distraction. Anything that pulls us away from what we plan to do. So why is this so important? Number 1, anything can be a distraction, right? How many times have you sat down at your desk and said, okay, now I’m going to work on that dissertation. Now I’m going to work on that hard project. I’m finally going to stop procrastinating. I’m going to do what I said I’m going to do – right after I check email – right after I Google this one quick thing. Right after I do just a bit more research. And I would argue that those tasks are what we call productive procrastination, right? It feels productive, but it’s still a distraction because it’s not what you plan to do with your time. So conversely, just like how anything can become a distraction, anything can be an act of traction.
I argue the time you plan to waste is not wasted time. That if you plan to go on Facebook or YouTube or Netflix, there’s no moral hierarchy here. Why is Facebook inferior to watching a football game? There’s no difference. If you want to play a video game, enjoy yourself, but do it without guilt. By planning ahead, by saying, This is what I want to do with my time, as long as it’s consistent with your values and you’re doing it on your schedule, there’s nothing wrong with it. So we’ve got traction, we’ve got distraction. Now, the missing piece is: Why are we drawn to traction or distraction? This is where it gets really interesting, because all of our behaviors are prompted by two types of triggers…
Senior Innovation Consultant Career Track: A Conversation With Irene Mencía Castaño
Isaiah: I have to know… What is a senior innovation consultant? I love the title. I’d love to hear what you do.
Irene: It’s a part of innovation where you are mainly directing companies. I meet with clients, I organize calendars with my collaborators and with our writers. We organize a work plan to prepare all the documentation for a proposal that is sent to a public body. This involves a lot of things. It involves a lot of technical expertise in multiple areas. It involves a lot of meetings, lots of questioning to get the information from the client, lots of portraying guidelines to the person who is working with you, a good bit of traveling… Actually, traveling at least once a month. The company’s very dynamic, so we are all over Europe, really. Basically, I’m working with profiles that involve high management in all cases.
Isaiah: So you help small, medium-sized companies get funding. Whether it’s from the government or from private sources.
Irene: I’m specially dedicated to government, but we have some part with connection for private sources too.
Isaiah: Are you technically an industry company, or would you be more in the nonprofit sector? Or more in the government?
Irene: My employer is definitely a for-profit company. We have our KPIs very established.
Isaiah: So the company gets a commission from a small-to-mid-size company client if they get awarded money from any of these sources, and you are really doing a lot of the coordination. Are you consulting more with the businesses or the funding sources – or both equally?
Irene: We have instructions, basically public guidelines, from the funding sources because everything has to be public. But my real contact is with the client. I have days where the average number of meetings with different projects and clients is at least 2 or 3.
Isaiah: So you’re, so you’re managing people – you’re managing the project overall. Probably multiple accounts, I’m guessing multiple projects. And then this involves a lot of time management and understanding the budgets, the commissions, everything that is involved…
Irene: Yes. There is a lot of free planning. I just have to spend so much time organizing how we’re going to do everything.
Isaiah: What are some similar roles to yours? It sounds like senior innovation consultant has some aspects of a project manager and some aspects of a project coordinator.
Irene: Yes. I think the most similar role would be that of a project manager at an intermediate level. I’m not doing most of the technical work itself – of actually controlling the project execution. My position is kind of overseeing that and the person who is executing the technical work reports to me. But there is also a strong component of the technical writing itself that is very much like medical writing – the majority of the projects I’m working with involve medical writing of some kind…
** for the full interviews, check out the video above
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Isaiah believes--from personal experience--that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life, it’s a clear sign that you need to make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.
Isaiah is an internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant, CEO of Cheeky Scientist, and author of the straight-talk bestsellers Black Hole Focus and The Science of Intelligent Achievement.
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