I’m the Author of a World Without Email by Cal Newport, and This Is How I Work.

Cal Newport is tired of the technological flood that comes to the modern working world. In his opinion, the flood of Slack notifications, emails, meeting alerts, text messages – everything that forms the basis of modern office communication, is also, ironically, an obstacle to working better and more efficiently. Newport is a professor of computer science at Georgetown University, but is probably best known for his books that explore the relationship between culture and technology.

Advances in technology and our growing reliance on them did not quite project the working utopia that the early leaders of Silicon Valley sought to create, but Newport is keen to find new ways in which we can take advantage of its most beneficial aspects and perhaps avoid its more harmful and distracting ones. To some, this directive may seem revolutionary. For example, his most recent book is A World Without Email: Rethinking Working in a World of Communication Overload . I asked Newport about his ideas and how he tries to find productivity in a maddening world.

First of all, tell us a little about your past and how you got where you are now.

I’m a computer science professor who also writes about the impact of technology on culture. My first big book in this area was Deep Work , which came out in 2016. It argued that we underestimate the importance of undistracted attention in working with knowledge and place too much emphasis on superficial alternatives such as fast communication and social media.

A big topic of feedback I received for this book was that the culture of communication in the modern office, based on tools like email and Slack, makes it nearly impossible to get distracted. Starting in 2016, I decided to understand how we got to this place and whether changes are coming. It took me five years to piece together all the relevant topics, but the result is my new book, A World Without Email.

You are somewhat of a thought leader in the area of ​​personal productivity, so I wonder how you follow the rules and guidelines outlined in your books.

The ideas in my books certainly influence my personal behavior. For example, I put a lot of emphasis on continuous deep work (often done outdoors with writing the results in paper notebooks), I never had a social media account, I don’t have a public email address, and I don’t even have an email client on my phone. and I’m such a big fan of time blocking that I ended up creating and publishing my own scheduler last fall as none of the standard notebooks had exactly what I needed.

Have you ever found it difficult to follow the rules or ideas that you support in your books? Thinking about your latest book, how can you work without email, if you can?

The main idea of ​​my recent book is that we must move away from a hyperactive collective mind workflow in which we use ad hoc digital messages as our primary mode of collaboration. The solution is to instead identify the core processes in our work life – the effort we return to over and over again – and implement them with smarter processes that require far fewer unplanned messages.

As my work life is constantly changing (for example, as a book is approaching or I have a new administrative positive at my university), these processes are constantly changing, and I, in turn, constantly pursue them and try to implement alternatives to the hive. intelligence. It can be hard to keep up sometimes, but I try.

Has the pandemic helped you become more or less productive?

It was a wash. On the plus side, I don’t spend whole days traveling for events. On the other hand, my children’s school was closed for a year, which is not optimal in terms of parental productivity.

I believe you are one of the most self-sufficient and highly disciplined productivity hawks. What part of your work routine is self-directed rather than relying on time management apps and other tools?

I believe in quarterly / weekly / daily planning. Make a general plan for the current quarter, use it each week to create a weekly plan that takes into account what is actually on your plate and figures out what you want to make progress in the remaining time. Then, each day, make a time block plan in which you devote every minute of your workday to work.

The specific tools used to implement this planning are not as important as the philosophy itself. In my case: I am using a Google document for my quarterly plan; print my weekly plan in a text file and print it to take with you; and use my recently released time slot planner ( timeblockplanner.com ) to build your daily time slot plans. I usually attach a printed weekly plan to the front cover of my diary.

It’s kind of ironic that most of your (estimated) workday is spent figuring out how to work more efficiently. If you ever lag behind and start procrastinating, how will you get out of it?

I can question the premise of this question. I am a tenured professor of computer science, so I spend most of my working day collecting evidence and teaching in the classroom! Blocking time is a great procrastination cure because you never ask yourself, “What do I want to do next?” (the question “messing around on the Internet” is always the right answer) you have a plan that you follow through. I am sticking to the plan because I have a lot of work to do and I prefer to close by 5:30 to be with my family, so I have no room for error.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but your job is about understanding both the positive and negative sides of our ongoing technological floods. At what point do you start identifying which digital tools are more hassle than good?

You must always work to maintain a positive vision. For example, in your life outside of work, figure out how you want your life to look, then select the tools you think will support that vision and set rules for them to maximize benefits and minimize costs. Don’t subscribe to TikTok or Clubhouse simply because it might be “interesting”.

Something similar applies to your professional life. Find out what actions are really causing the need in your job or business, and develop your habits by prioritizing those actions. You cannot turn ordinary employment into profit; no one has ever built an empire based on their quick email response; no amount of social media frenzy will make a bad product good, or a mediocre employee is indispensable.

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