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Sunday, 28 February 2021

No emails, no cry

The onslaught of daily emails is affecting productivity: If you’ve gotten anxiety looking at the number of unread emails in your inbox, well join the club. The issue has gotten so messy that Cal Newport, a US academic and computer scientist, has written a new book called A World Without Email, which was picked up in an op-ed by the FT’s Pilita Clark. The average worker now sends and receives about 126 business emails a day, Newport reports, with the cheap and easy format of emails contributing to a “hyperactive hive mind” — a new way of office working that revolves around an ongoing conversation of unscheduled messages that simply interrupts important tasks.

So how should we make our inbox less anxiety-inducing? Newport says the problem needs a “much bigger structural overhaul” than just writing better subject lines. He points to online project management tools such as Trello that drive more focused work on specific tasks or set hours when a worker cannot be interrupted. Another suggestion is hiring an “attention capital ombudsman” who will investigate and address complaints of maladministration to lead to more administrative support in workplaces. Such changes, Newport admits, can be “a pain in the short term”, but explains that the long-term productivity gains will be worth it.

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