A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload
As a growth-minded team, we regularly dive into books on business, productivity, and mindset. This third edition of the Numberwise Book Club is brought to you by Numberwise owner, Andy.
The book I chose was A World Without Email, by Cal Newport. The premise of this book is that email and other digital messaging tools were intended to make the modern knowledge worker more productive. Instead, they have created a workplace centered around unstructured and unending communication. In order to combat this “hyperactive hive mind,” Newport says we must dramatically rethink how we organize our work.
I was drawn to this book because, like most people, I was overwhelmed by my inbox! I spent too much of my precious time every day reading, organizing, and responding to emails.
“When you’re at home at night, or relaxing over the weekend, or on vacation,
you shouldn’t feel like each moment away from work is a moment in which
you’re accumulating deeper communication debt.”
Distraction from productivity
It’s possible to spend an entire day focusing on your inbox and responding to emails, and not actually complete a single thing on your to-do list. Spending too much time on your inbox is handing over control of your day to others, rather than intentionally choosing your focus.
High cost of context-switching
A 2018 study found that half of the study participants were checking email or other communication apps every six minutes or less. That means switching tasks dozens or even hundreds of times in a single workday.
Context switching, or moving from one type of work to another, doesn’t just create a momentary pause in work between two tasks. The switching actually slows down your brain. If you leave one task incomplete, you perform worse on subsequent tasks because your brain is still spending resources on the incomplete task.
How to improve
Simple changes aren’t enough. We need to replace the existing system with a better workflow.
Email is easy, but sometimes it is better to have a little friction when it comes to communication. If there is no cost to sending an email, the volume of emails explodes. If we introduce a little friction – suddenly those “urgent” messages become a little less urgent.
“In business, good is not the same as easy, and fulfilling is not the same as convenient.”
Do less, but better. We all would perform better at our jobs if we focused more deeply on the important things we need to do.
What I wanted more of
Most of the “solutions” offered in the book were centered around internal communication among team members. I would have liked more examples of how to deal with email for businesses that have to request information from clients and respond to client inquiries.
The “solutions” also favored in-person, synchronous communication methods to replace email. But how can we get this to work in a remote office with people working different hours?
Who should read this book
Anyone who is trying to understand why they hate email so much would benefit from reading A World Without Email. There are some good solutions to the problem. At the very least, it will help readers understand why email never seems to get “done”.
“This mismatch between how we’re wired to communicate and how we’re coerced into communicating by modern technology creates a deeply human sense of frustration.”
We’re not ready to give up on email altogether, but it’s a conversation that we plan to continue. If you’re intrigued by the topic, consider checking out Cal Newport’s other books, like Deep Work and Digital Minimalism.
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