Book Review: A World Without Email

Do you remember sending your first email?

I don’t remember the specifics of that first email but I remember thinking what an amazing groundbreaking new technology it was. To communicate so quickly and so easily to just about anyone at any time. What a gift!

Fast forward to today’s world. A relentless barrage of incoming messages and back-and-forth digital conversations define our days. Author Cal Newport describes it as follows, “A state of constant, anxious chatter in which nobody can disconnect, and so nobody has the cognitive bandwidth to perform substantive work.”

We have gone from innovative communication to what current research suggests is a “hyperactive hive mind” that has also become a productivity disaster. And even worse, it makes us miserable. Humans are not wired for constant communication and yet that is exactly where we find ourselves today.

In A World Without Email, best-selling author and computer science professor Cal Newport makes the case that the current approach to work is broken. The author lays out a series of principles and concrete approaches for fixing it. He makes the case that a world without email is coming and questions whether you will be ahead of this trend or sadly lag behind it.

Several interesting takeaways from the book include:

  • A study conducted in 2019 estimates that the average worker was sending and receiving 126 business emails a day, which works out to about one email message every four minutes.
  • Another recent study found that employees were checking their email accounts on average every six minutes.
  • A survey by Adobe reported that knowledge workers self-report spending over three hours a day sending and receiving business email.
  • A 2016 research paper correlated email usage and stress and found that the longer one spends on email in a time period, the higher one’s stress level becomes.

 

I found this book to be a very interesting read. The author makes a straightforward case for why we are all overloaded by email and the negative impact this condition is having on job performance and our well-being. Newport also provides several relatively simple solutions for separating ourselves from email and releasing ourselves from the “hive” that we live in today.