[Link] A Modest Proposal: Eliminate Email

This is a linkpost for https://​​hbr.org/​​2016/​​02/​​a-mod­est-pro­posal-elimi­nate-email

My note: The ar­ti­cle de­scribes what seems like quite a pow­er­ful way to im­prove the amount of deep work and there­fore the qual­ity of think­ing, which seems es­pe­cially rele­vant to many peo­ple in the effec­tive al­tru­ism move­ment given the amount of “dis­en­tan­gle­ment re­search” and tasks that benefit from deep thought.

The ar­ti­cle starts by con­ced­ing that email, as a tech­nol­ogy, is not in­trin­si­cally bad. The weed that’s cur­rently stran­gling knowl­edge work is in­stead the work­flow en­abled and prod­ded by the pres­ence of this tool.
As I ex­panded:
Ac­com­pa­ny­ing the rise of this tech­nol­ogy was a new, un­struc­tured work­flow in which all tasks — be it a small re­quest from HR or col­lab­o­ra­tion on a key strat­egy — are now han­dled in the same man­ner: you dive in and start send­ing quick mes­sages which ar­rive in a sin­gle un­differ­en­ti­ated in­box at their re­cip­i­ents. Th­ese tasks un­fold in an ad hoc man­ner with in­for­mal mes­sages sent back and forth on de­mand as needed to push things for­ward.
This work­flow, I ar­gued, leads in­evitably to a state where con­stant email check­ing, dur­ing work hours and be­yond, be­come nec­es­sary to keep the wheels of progress turn­ing. And this state, in turn, is trans­form­ing knowl­edge work­ers into ex­hausted hu­man net­work routers who are pro­duc­ing at a frac­tion of their cog­ni­tive ca­pac­ity.
“The nat­u­ral fol­low-up ques­tion, of course, is what qual­ifies as a “bet­ter” work­flow. Even the most stri­dent email op­po­nents rec­og­nize that we need some way to co­or­di­nate and com­mu­ni­cate with col­leagues. To val­i­date the idea that or­ga­ni­za­tions can thrive with­out this tool, let me offer a con­crete al­ter­na­tive in­spired by my own ex­pe­rience in academia: office hours.”
I con­cluded:
Given the tan­gled re­la­tion­ship be­tween email and our cur­rent ap­proach to work, how­ever, it’s also clear that [a trans­for­ma­tion to a bet­ter work­flow] is al­most cer­tainly go­ing to re­quire a rad­i­cal first step: to elimi­nate email.


It would be in­ter­est­ing to see this de­velop in the EA com­mu­nity: peo­ple get­ting rid of email in fa­vor of vir­tual, on­line office hours (per­haps us­ing some­thing like periscope, which al­lows peo­ple to stream them­selves, and al­lows any­one to “drop in” on their stream and ask ques­tions). In the pur­suit bet­ter an­swers to prob­lems that benefit from deep work.