Dethroning email

Cal Newport’s Deep Work is a great book. I’ve been working through it for a few weeks, and am glad I’m taking a slower approach to it. It emphasizes the value of intense focus and eschews our culture of distraction.

A major contributor to fracturing our attention and making us feel like we’re doing work is how we communicate: email. He wrote recently:

[Email], 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. …

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.

I don’t like email, and I don’t typically enjoy writing email. In thinking about what I want the next fifty years of my life to look like, dealing with email ranks near the bottom of the list. But there are a few key people I stay in touch with almost exclusively over email, and it does serve a valuable communications function.

A new approach I’m taking with email is moving the app from its privileged place in the bottom row of my iOS devices. I think this will make it feel less urgent, so I focus more on what’s important. I’ve already had push notifications disabled for email for almost a year, and am probably going to experiment with disabling unread badge count on the app.

Another thing I’m considering, but which feels pretentious: setting a constant auto-reply for all incoming emails to the effect of “Thanks for writing. I check and respond to my inbox twice daily, typically. Grateful for your patience, and your time.”

In the meantime, I continue to hold out hope for a “Do Not Disturb” or “Mute” function to Google’s Inbox app that could be set to turn on/off on a schedule.