New book ‘A World Without Email’ challenges companies to ditch the inbox

Mar 17, 2021, 4:51 PM
no email, inbox...
(Photo by Solen Feyissa, Unsplash)
(Photo by Solen Feyissa, Unsplash)

Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University, has written many best-selling books about how to study and work smarter. His book Deep Work is about avoiding distractions, and Digital Minimalism is, …well, it’s just that.

But Newport realized many workflow inefficiencies aren’t the fault of individuals, but rather the fault of our system; specifically our seemingly unavoidable, time sucking, constant tether to email. His new book is called A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload.

Big brands like Burger King and Tide are switching to reusable packaging

“We’re checking our inboxes once every six minutes because there are so many back-and-forth ad hoc conversations going on,” Newport said. “We have to tend this channel all the time, be it an email inbox, or a Slack channel, or Teams. Our brain can’t do that well. It actually is a complex, non-trivial, neurochemical process that has to unfold to change our attention from one thing to another and it takes time.”

“It’s a huge cognitive pileup,” he said. “It reduces our ability to think clearly, it makes us anxious, and it gives us a sense of cognitive fatigue. We didn’t know this was going to be a problem [when we started using email], but it has become a major drain on our ability to actually get work done using our brains.”

Our email inboxes are packed with a potpourri of topics and information, and quickly bopping from one subject to the next slows our brains down. Newport argues that we should spend most of the day working, and have scheduled interruptions for pointed communication.

“Early in the book, for example, I talk about a UX design firm out of London. They got completely burnt out on Slack, they lost a couple engineers due to burnout, they said ‘no more.’ So they built a new workflow, based largely around Basecamp. They have pre-scheduled, highly efficient, status meetings twice a day at set times. They might say, ‘OK, what happened to what you’re working on? What are you working on next? What do you need to get it done? Go.’ Then they would just work, and four hours later they would meet again. And it was night and day!”

“They don’t have an inbox they check anymore, there’s no Slack messages that can bother them and they were fine,” he said. “It was complicated to work it out, and there was some other things they had to automate and systematize, but they were much happier and much more effective. So this is definitely possible.”

Newport mentioned Basecamp, which is a project management tool that allows a team to organize information pertaining to a single topic or project, opposed to an email inbox filled with miscellaneous messages that can make you feel scattered.

I asked Newport if the constant email checking is partly due to addiction, the thrill of seeing a new email message.

“No, the underlying workflow demands you check it because all these messages are there and they need your response for things to move forward,” he replied. “So it’s actually quite rational to be on your inbox all the time. The more you’re away from it, the more you fall behind, and the more problems you cause.”

“So I tend not to think about the checking issue as a personal will issue because it’s actually a rational response to a broken way of working,” he said. “I think we focus too much on what the individual can do to have better habits and will, and now we have to turn our attention to how our organization is actually functioning.”

While changes need to be company-wide in order to truly work, one tip Newport offers individuals is to schedule your day so you’re doing deep work in big, several-hour long chunks, and then schedule in 20 minute increments to do your administrative work, like checking emails. But don’t hop back and forth between the two all day.

“I’m convinced that there is so much GDP and economic growth at stake here that it is inevitable that we’re going to move past [email],” Newport said. “Ten years from now we’re going to look back at this notion that we answered emails once every six minutes. It will be as laughable as the original way we built cars in the late 19th century seemed to Elon Musk today in his Tesla factory. So this world without email is coming, I’m just trying to figure out how we can help people get ahead of that trend.”

Newport admits the title of his book is hyperbolic. He doesn’t think email will stop entirely, but it must be reduced significantly if companies want to increase productivity and happiness, and reduce anxiety.

Listen to Rachel Belle’s James Beard Award nominated podcast, “Your Last Meal,” featuring celebrities like Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Rainn Wilson, and Greta Gerwig. Follow @yourlastmealpodcast on Instagram!

  • listen to rachel belleTune in to KIRO Radio on weekdays to hear Rachel Belle.
Who is Rachel Belle?

Your Last Meal

Rachel Belle

supply chain...
Rachel Belle

Start your holiday shopping now or risk supply chain issues

Now is the time to start holiday gift shopping because if you don't buy soon, supply chain issues may make it tough to get what you want later.
15 days ago
Rachel Belle

How does Dick’s Drive-In pay workers $19 an hour with a menu completely under $5?

Dick's Drive-In recently raised its base pay, as did Taco Time, which is now offering employees $20 an hour at select locations. How do they keep prices low and pay high?
16 days ago
Rachel Belle

Don’t like how you look on Zoom? Many young Americans are now getting Botox

More people are turning to Botox to get rid of lines and wrinkles, but is it safe? How does one age naturally in a youth obsessed country? Experts weigh in.
22 days ago
certified wildlife habitat...
Rachel Belle

Turn your backyard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat

The National Wildlife Federation will help you make your yard a habitable home for bees, birds, bugs and critters. And they'll give you an official sign!
1 month ago
Emily Cherkin and Ben Gitenstein, pictured months after 9/11. (Photo courtesy of Emily Cherkin)...
Rachel Belle

‘You either got married or broke up’: 20 years later, a Seattle couple on falling in love in NYC in the wake of 9/11

On Sept. 11, 2001, Seattle's Emily Cherkin and Ben Gitenstein were 22 years old and separately taking the subway into Manhattan when two planes crashed into the Twin Towers. This is their story.
1 month ago
dirty work...
Rachel Belle

New book ‘Dirty Work’ reveals psychological toll of working unsavory jobs nobody wants

A new book by Eyal Press called "Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America" takes a deeper look at jobs no one wants to do.
2 months ago

Sponsored Articles


Medicare open enrollment for 2022 starts Oct. 15 and SHIBA can help!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at www.ComcastRISE.com for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
New book ‘A World Without Email’ challenges companies to ditch the inbox