Notes on “A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload” by Cal Newport

I’m reading widely to help prepare for strategic planning sessions this summer with the Library Technology Services and Digital Partnerships & Strategies Departments. My notes below are on A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload by Cal Newport (Portfolio/Penguin, 2021).

Early chapters are on email’s impact on business and communication practices with so much unplanned and un/understudied. Terms new modes of operating as “hyperactive hive mind”. Notes many studies of email as distracting and how often people check email/move off task.

36: email and stress levels

37: “predictable time off” as time blocked/off email that helped productivity/people

56: Getting Things Done in 2001

59: discussion of needing to add friction (describing email as too little friction), frequent example throughout the book is really on adding structure like IT ticket systems

83: “cycle of responsiveness”

84: “The media theorist Douglas Rushkoff uses the term “collaborative pacing” to describe this tendency for groups of humans to converge toward strict patterns of behavior without ever actually explicity deciding that the new behaviors make sense. I notice you’re responding a little quicker to my message, so I begin to do the same. Others follow suit”

109: autonomy and knowledge workers (also in many places throughout book)

124: “attention capital principle”

125: “locus of control theory”

129: “care must be taken in how you publicize changes to your personal work habits.”

132: personal Trello board example, for a specific committee

141: asserts that people resist process (absolutely counter to all of my experience; people crave process supports and ask for them regularly)

153: big board on a wall example (not stated, but underlying requirement is a lower total number of projects)

164: “works in process limit (WIP) limit. In  the video, Benson sets this limit to three.”

170: “Add a ‘Waiting to Hear Back’ Column”

184: prior pages and this on Claude Shannon, noting “coordination protocols” “cost” and “cognitive cycles”

185: “inconvenience” as a consideration for cost

193: “I would go so far as to say that anyone whose job requires more than one or two scheduled events in a typical week absolutley shoul dbe using a scheduling service or, if the work demands it, a part-time assistant.” in context of scheduling back-and-forth emails eating at concentration

195: office hours

201: firing bad clients

205: value of impersonal email addresses given expectation from users

206-207: five sentence emails

211: “As Hicks and Foster report, the regular rhythm of short meetings also creates a sense of ‘momntum’ that helps people both feel better about their work and experience more productivity.”

245: example of someone doing committee work poorly, to be so bad as to not be asked for service

251: reminds of ARCS form

258: Postman and new media as ecological, not additive, and issues that arise when misunderstanding and assuming 2021 is office of 1990+stuff, instead of overall change