Can you share with us an overview of your new book and why it’s important to the Gapingvoid community?
Brian: In Lifescale I’m sharing a personal journey to understand, work through and solve the challenge of my own digital distractions and even addiction to share that journey with readers. It offers some short-term solutions, but it’s about much more than that. I delve into the tech industry’s persuasive design techniques that got us addicted in the first place and then offer step-by-step guidelines for assessing our values and rearranging our priorities to achieve greater productivity, heightened creativity and balance in our lives. I’m not coming from a “throw out your smartphone” perspective. Lifescale is about learning to get the most out of technology without allowing it to dominate our lives.
Why is it important? When it comes to understanding how to engage employees and how to inspire them around meaningful culture and meaningful direction. We really have to understand what’s happening to them when they’re at work and at home.
Because of their relationship with tech, they carry a lot of unresolved stress, anxiety, discontent or worse simply because of the everyday technologies they use. At the same time, they’re struggling with distractions that affect productivity, output, and depth of creativity. This situation has largely been ignored and left untreated.
And so true engagement is going to require employers and especially human resources to help employees with a new generation of health, wellness and growth regimes.
This is your 8th book, but I don’t think anyone who follows your work saw Lifescale coming. What inspired you to write it?
Brian: Lifescale evolved out of a realization that I had become a victim of all the technology I’d been studying for 20 years. I’d lost the capacity to focus for extended periods of time and do my best work. I was also damaging relationships with family and friends. I realized that I had been distracted by technology – to an ever-increasing degree – for the past 15 years.
Specifically, I was trying to put together a book proposal for a follow up to my book X: The Experience When Business Meets Design. The process was taking too long and I just could not focus for any significant period of time. Gradually, a certain sense of panic set in and I had to acknowledge that I had reached a low point. So, as a digital anthropologist and researcher who delves deep into topics for a living, I started to do my research.
First, I Googled the problem, like almost anyone we know would. Short-term solutions like yoga, the Pomodoro Technique (which I recommend), meditation and apps came up. They were useful, but I really couldn’t find anything that went deeper, that offered true long-term solutions. As I did this research and often came up empty, I decided to put my original project aside and focus on writing the book that became Lifescale.
Mobile, social media, it’s all a normal part of everyday life. What are some of the human impacts of using this tech we do today?
Brian: Two of the most damaging aspects of digital distraction–and they’re closely connected—is that it makes it nearly impossible to focus for extended periods of time and it encourages us to multitask, which has become an epidemic. I would love for the term “multitask” to become a universally negative term, but it hasn’t yet. We’re all trying to do 2-, 3- or more things at once and it just doesn’t work. We may “feel” busy, but multitasking actually decreases our productivity by 40%.
But that’s just the beginning. There’s a growing list of negative side effects to multitasking, including loss of memory, lower IQs, more stress (often much more), lower EQ (so a reduced capacity for empathy), and research is even pointing toward brain damage.
Plus, multitasking aside, anyone who is on their devices 24/7 is almost always living with some level of depression.
How do these effects play out in how we work?
Brian: Distraction is costing us close to $1 Trillion a year in lost productivity, not to mention creativity and peace of mind. Almost all of us are guilty of giving in to distraction, but a study found that something like a third of millennials and Gen Z employees spent two hours or more checking their smartphones for personal activities during the workday, that’s over 10 hours of productivity just tossed away each week.
An article The Economist reported that “logging onto social media costs the US economy a mindboggling 650 billion dollars.”
What do we as individuals need to do once we learn about what’s happening behind the scenes?
Brian: In many ways, this question was the inspiration for Lifescale. I needed an answer to write my next book and found myself without the tools or mental capacity or even emotional motivation to seriously tackle this project.
I lacked any sense of direction about how to fix this. I tried all the systems promoted, including apps, and found myself slipping back into bad habits. It became clear I would need to get to the bottom of this. This became my Lifescale journey and it was one I wanted to share with everybody.
The next stage for me is to work to bring Lifescale and Lifescaling to college campuses and to share this work with more life coaches and business coaches to encourage them to incorporate it into their training. I also believe this work has an important role to play in corporate training, as part of formal employee engagement programs.
There’s a quote I like, “We didn’t lose our ability to create. It was programmed out of us by design.” I’ll add that it is high time we start developing programs to put it back!
What do organizations need to do differently to improve employee experiences and ultimately corporate culture?
Brian: Good question. A focused, Lifescale-based approach won’t work if employees are trying their hardest to focus deeply on important tasks, while their managers are interrupting them with needless meetings, emails, and incidental assignments. The whole organization must understand the importance of cultivating focus and a workplace with minimal digital distractions.
Ultimately it all aligns with where the organization is going, culturally and professionally. Everyone will have to be in alignment and believe in the key messages of Lifescaling, including focusing on single tasks at a time and prioritizing corporate and personal values. I’ll add that I think Gaping Void is doing a great job of sharing different perspectives and solutions that can motivate teams and shake up the corporate structure in positive, forward-thinking ways. Your mission to find an emotional connection with work is 100% in-line with an approach I’m working to cultivate through this movement.