By David Skidmore
November 8, 2022

Is email counterproductive?

Cal Newport explores the rise of email and its effects on the larger business environment in the book A World Without Email.
Cal Newport dissects email's impact on businesses in A World Without Email. (Photo: Brent Fuchs)

A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload

By Cal Newport

When I saw this book at a famous bookstore one Sunday afternoon, my first response was to mutter, “Impossible.” However, after feeling the buzz of a few more notifications on my phone, I was intrigued. Newport’s work in “Deep Work” and “Digital Minimalism” had already profoundly impacted my life. The best part is that Newport doesn’t just throw opinions into the wind. He is an engineer, and his writing is evidence-based. 

Newport details the history of email and introduces the idea of the fully formed, hyperactive hive mind. 

Early on, email was something very few companies accepted. Then, it became widely accepted. Then, it became the way in which organizations chose for communication to take place. While this was happening, no one asked, “Why?” 

The general idea from many corporations around communication technologies is, “Let’s add them, as they will help us become more efficient.” They haven’t. Now, organizations can even have meetings scheduled about the internal communication misfires that are happening across the internal communication platforms. We have increased our technology, yet work isn’t becoming more efficient. Instead, it is being muddled by the flurry of incessant “reply alls” that often just say, “Got it.” 

Imagine being taken out of deep focus in your work from a ping of an email just to read the words, “Got it.”

Now, on top of email, Slack arrived. Like many other users, I quickly embraced SlackIt was like email but cleaner and lighter. That’s what I thought until I discovered my phone was only increasing in notifications. Notifications distract from current work getting done, and communications can feel like a hyperactive hive mind. Instead of making well-thought-out decisions, we’re rushing from idea to idea. 

Newport suggests having intentional meetings where deadlines for work are set. Then, using project management tools like Asana, work is able to be done more efficiently. Important decisions occur in meetings instead of email. 

Our team no longer uses email except to share the occasional document or to send a recap of the notes from a meeting. We use project management tools to stay on track and make key decisions in meetings. This means we have to be more thoughtful and deliberate. 

Thanks to Cal Newport, the hyperactive hive mind has almost completely been stopped in our business. We are thinking more clearly and deeply and feel more at peace every day. I went back to the bookstore again this Sunday. I didn’t feel a notification go off on my phone. Thanks to Cal Newport, I removed email from my phone. Why? I’ve got work to do. It will have to wait for Monday, though.

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About David Skidmore

David Skidmore is a speaker, leadership trainer, and executive coach. He is the founder and CEO of LeaderGrowth, a leadership company designed to help individuals and organizations overcome challenges and experience transformation. David is the author of Unstuck: Turn Potential into Purpose which is available on Amazon, and his podcast LeaderGrowth with David Skidmore is available wherever you listen to podcasts. He is the co-organizer of TEDxOklahomaCity and has coached 17 speakers resulting
in over 150k views. David enjoys the Oklahoma City Thunder, summers at the lake, and exploring new cities.