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Is It Time To Delete Work Email?

A logo sits illuminated outside the Microsoft booth on day 2 of the GSMA Mobile World Congress 2019 in Barcelona, Spain.
A logo sits illuminated outside the Microsoft booth on day 2 of the GSMA Mobile World Congress 2019 in Barcelona, Spain.

Many of us are now one year into working remotely, or partially remotely, as a result of the pandemic. But even though we aren’t physically in the office, we’re more connected than ever.

Between Slack channels, group texts, emails, and a raft of Zoom meetings, each workday can feel like a stream of nonstop communication.

Author and professor Cal Newport has done a fair amount of thinking about all that time we spend communicating with each other.

From a GQ review of his new book:

In his new book, A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload, computer scientist Cal Newport makes the case that the ballooning of our collective inboxes has helped create the perpetually harried state of the modern worker. In the most striking of the studies he cites, researchers found that the average worker had a total of 75 minutes every day that didn’t include a check-in on email or instant messaging—not 75 minutes in a row, just 75 minutes of total uninterrupted work, sprinkled throughout the day. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if humans were good at multitasking. But, as Newport lays out in the beginning of his book, we aren’t. The human brain isn’t wired to jump between “executing work tasks” and “managing an always-present, ongoing, and overloaded electronic conversation about those tasks.” It’s hard for us to constantly divide our attention between those two tracks. Obviously, we can do it, but it leaves our brain operating at reduced capacity—the cognitive equivalent of vaping while running a mile. Newport also argues that even not using email presents a different set of problems. We’re social animals, so even when we’re not in our inbox, we experience the psychological distress of knowing that it’s filling up with requests that we’re ignoring, a type of digital FOMO. Email, Newport says, is bad for business and for our souls.

But does this constant communication actually make us more productive? And more importantly, what effect does it have on us at the end of the workday?

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Arfie Ghedi