Sleeping with Your Smartphone: A book review by Bob Morris

Sleeping with Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the World
Leslie A. Perlow
Harvard Business Review Press (2012)

How and why to avoid or break free from a cycle that grows (unintentionally) vicious

Ignore the title of this book. It serves only the publisher’s marketing purposes. Focus instead on the subtitle: “How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work.” As is also true of most other business books, this subtitle is informative. It reveals why Leslie Perlow wrote the book. Clearly, she agrees with Charles Duhigg’s observation in his book, The Power of Habit: “”We now know why habits emerge, how they change, and the science behind their mechanics. We know how to break them into parts and rebuild them to our specifications. We know how to make people eat less, exercise more, work more efficiently, and live healthier lives. Transforming a habit isn’t necessarily easy or quick. It isn’t always simple. But it is possible. And now we know why.”

In Perlow’s book, the smartphone is not the problem nor is how the smartphone is used. Its use (actually abuse) is a symptom of the root cause: A mindset that ignores or under-appreciates the nature and extent of what can be controlled in terms of, for example, setting priorities, allocating resources, managing time, and renewing energy. Duhigg asserts – and I agree — that we must create a better habit for changing habits just as Clay Christensen urges us to think more innovatively about innovation and Jon Katzenberg urges us to change how we think about change.

What Perlow offers in this book is a non-nonsense, practical, results-driven process by which to turn off electronically, while improving the work that is done. She calls process PTO” because – at the core, when people work together to create `predictable time off’ [PTO], people, teams, and ultimately the organization all stand to benefit as do, I presume to add, an organization’s past, current, and prospective customers. Also, establishing and then sustaining a PTO culture will make the organization significantly more attractive the people it hopes to obtain in what is indeed a “war for talent.”

The specifics of the PTO process are best revealed in context, within the narrative, with a real-world frame-of-reference that Perlow so carefully establishes for them. However, I do want to cite a few of the dozens of passages that caught my eye:

o “The [Initial] Transformation” (Pages 31-33)
o “Two Teams: A Study in Contrasts (54-58)
o “The Cycle of Transparency” (67-68)
o “The Benefits of Openness” (75-77)
o “Eliminating Bad Intensity” (95-96)
o “The Perils of Resistant Leaders” (117120)
o “Getting Started: Guidelines for Team Members” (156-158)
o “Diffusing Throughout our Organization (177-178)
o “Going Forward with Facilitation” and “Practices of Effective Facilitation” (194-196)
o “Toward a More Humane Workplace” (204-205)

No brief commentary such as this could possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of the information, insights, and wisdom that Leslie Perlow shares in this volume. That said, I hasten to suggest that it would be a fool’s errand for a reader to attempt to apply everything learned from the material provided. My suggestion is to re-read the book slowly and carefully (especially Chapters 10-12, Part IV), underlining the key passages you may have missed the first time, then draw up a list of 2-5 strategic objectives (no fewer than three, no more than five) that the PTO process can help your organization to achieve. Next, review the material in the book that is most relevant to what specifically must be done to achieve the objectives. Game on!

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