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Cal Newport's newest book, A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload is out. I've been hearing about it off and on, mainly through his Deep Questions podcast, which I sometimes listen to while driving.

Based on what I have heard there, Newport's thinking on the issue of the overwhelm and distraction generated by everyone using email for convenience at work is highly original and, if it becomes influential, it could largely tame the problem. In fact, I am pretty sure the book contains ideas on how to mitigate the problem on one's own end, and push for better collaboration and task assignment/work flow management in one's work place.

If any of this sounds interesting or potentially useful to you, the New Yorker has published an excerpt from the book. From that except, if think the following case study best captures the kind of solution Newport envisions and the kind of result it could provide:

Image by Christa Dodoo, via Unsplash, license.
[O]nce you move past just optimizing for speed or convenience, and begin instead to look for ways to minimize unstructured communication, numerous potential innovations emerge. The software-development company Basecamp, for example, makes use of regularly scheduled office hours: if someone has a technical question for a given expert, he or she can't just shoot an e-mail but has to wait until the expert's next office hours to make a query. In a book about Basecamp's workplace culture, published in 2018, the co-founders admitted that, at first, they were worried that their employees wouldn't put up with having to wait to talk to an expert, instead of just "pinging" the person in the moment. Their concerns were unfounded. "It turns out that waiting is no big deal most of the time," they write. "But the time and control regained by our experts is a huge deal."
Note that Newport has identified the source of the problem: countless individuals taking advantage of the convenience of email in an unstructured way. The solution is to use other, more appropriate ways to handle many of the things most people use email to do.

(The same principles and solutions also apply to other media, like chat apps and text messaging.)

The innocuous-sounding common saying, "Shoot me an email," captures this from the convenience perspective of the sender. But what about the receiving end? When dozens of people do this to you multiple times, and all day, every day, it is easy to see how this effectively becomes a machine gun, mowing down one's productivity.

-- CAV

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