A World without Email by Cal Newport

Interesting book to read. I remember in the late 90’s when the email replaced fax and telex machines and the corporate world was abuzz with emails. Email swept through corporate life because people could suddenly send and read messages whenever they liked.

Georgetown computer-science professor Cal Newport calls emails “low-friction communication at scale.” As he observes in “A World Without Email,” engaging in digital back-and-forth proved useful but created disruptions that made it hard to focus. “The hyperactive hive mind” that email (and, to an extent, instant-messaging programs) enabled has been a “disaster for overall productivity.” In short, he says it’s time to try something else.

Newport is persuasive about the flaws of email though less so when it comes to finding an alternative. He profiles a number of small companies that use project boards such as Trello to manage workflow. Such tools aim at “flipping the script”: that is, “you decide when to communicate about a project; you don’t let the project decide for you.”

As Ms. Vanderkam the author of “Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done” says in her review – perhaps a better title for Mr. Newport’s book would be “A World With Less Email.” With that more modest goal in mind, Newport has smart recommendations for individuals and organizations such as daily short meetings that can help teams identify obstacles and keep people accountable without long message chains.

Newport suggests the life-changing habit of partitioning your time into deep work and interactive work. “An hour dedicated exclusively to a hard project followed by an hour dedicated exclusively to administrative work will produce more total output than if you instead mix these efforts into two hours of fragmented attention.” Chucking email entirely might be hard, but less drastic habit adjustments, at least, are doable.

A thought-provoking book that helps you improve your productivity in the world of email, WhatsApp, and social media distractions.

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