Cal Newport’s latest book, A World Without Email, hit my kindle on its release date, and, good Newportian that I am, I have pretty much flown through it. I’m not even a knowledge worker at my day job, and I found a plethora of great advice in this book.
We citizens of 2021 all know the tyranny of the email. I have had email exchanges with people in the next office rather than walk down the hall. Why does email seem to have less friction than getting up and walking? Of course, if I’m already at my computer, it does seem more effortless. But at what cost?
Newport writes about the history of email. It was never meant to be our first communication method, and it was certainly never intended to be our task management system. As a support staffer, I am prone to using my inbox as a to-do list, which means I tend to live with it open all day, pulling my attention over to the shiniest, newest message on top.
The topic of cognitive capital and the issues regarding cognitive residue (the stuff in your brain left from a previous task that gets in the way of the task in front of you) is where I got the most value. My internal kindergartener wants to see every glittery new thing on the internet when I am supposed to be writing. And then, going back to the writing, it takes longer each time to get back my focus on whatever I was doing.
I have moved my task management from my inbox to a bulletin board full on index cards. I did this earlier this week and I have to say, even four days in, the act of staying on one task at a time has helped me make some good progress on many things this week. Maybe not the two short stories I planned to write this week, but the day job is rocking and rolling.
This is a thick book that gives a lot to think about. I will probably read it again and what hits me that time may be totally different than this time. But if you enjoyed Newport’s other books, well, geek on, friends.