[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.