Sam Tidmarsh sits down with TFM 2019 speaker Jane Piper, author of the bestselling book Focus in the Age of Distraction, to discuss the impact of technology on marketers’ working and non-working lives, well-being and happiness
What was your first job?
I studied industrial and organisational psychology at University, and ended up in a job where I was dealing with disputes between employers and employees. It’s a bit of a different area than the one I work in now. I guess it shows the change that happens over the space of a career!
How have you arrived at your current role? Tell us about what it entails.
With the psychology background, you’re always interested in understanding people and understanding the context of how [people] work in organisations. From a business perspective [I’ve] looked at how we can engage people and excite people about their work.
That led into the area of communications, where I do a lot of work now. The way people work in a collective network, how we can get people to collaborate across academia, industry, and really trying to understand motivations and drivers.
[I’ve been] looking at the issues around burnout. What has changed over time is the way we’re working, and the issue of digital distraction. People use their devices so they can be on call and available answering emails 24/7. We’ve seen how people are changing the way they’re working.
How is what you have described impacting the way we work?
There are three things that are happening.
The fact you can be ‘on‘, 24/7, means that there’s not as many boundaries between work and life as there was. It was harder to be active at home when there wasn’t email everywhere. So it means that people are working longer hours.
Also there is an impact when people are at work. There are very few times people actually get time to concentrate and think these days, because so much of the time they will be quickly answering some email, or answering some text message. They forget about the power of actually having an hour of uninterrupted time where they can actually concentrate on a particular topic. People are getting very quick at just processing; a quick email here, something there, and they are never really paying attention, which affects motivation, interest and effects level of attention. People never really end up getting into a task and seeing it through to completion, instead there’s just lots of multitasking.
The final point is that [technology] means we are so much more stressed. [Alongside] both of the first two issues, it means that people are not enjoying their work as much. Reacting that quickly, and [being] expected to respond that quickly, means levels of stress and burnout are increasing.
Technology is intrinsic to the role of a modern marketer. What can we do about this when we spend so much time online?
I recommend people categorise time into blocks, where they can work solidly on one particular project.
It’s very easy when you’re online, when it’s part of your job, to be using something like LinkedIn and Twitter and be posting on social media. But we have to put more structure on it, so that you have time periods a day where you’re doing that very reactive work. Then you’ve got time when you actually need to plan and organise something. You can use scheduling systems, to post bulk tweets and messages at certain times. You don’t need to be there reacting all the time.
To get organised, you’ve got to be able to give yourself a time, when you know the couple of hours that you can block out. I suggest that people do that by using the aeroplane mode on your phone so that it’s not pinging at you all the time. You do that for a 25 minute or 15 minute block of time. And you take a short break of about four to five minutes, and maybe do another block of time where you have no interruptions on your phone, close down your emails and alerts from the internet and other messaging applications.
You need to be able to actually have that block of uninterrupted time for a couple of hours a day. You don’t need to work solidly for two hours, because it’s beyond most people’s concentration span!
It’s just so you can actually get something done, because otherwise it gets very frustrating. If you always have these short tasks, you never see the big picture being developed. It destroys the motivation and enjoyment of what could be an engaging job if you’re just hopping from one thing to another.