My highlights from A world without email By Cal Newport
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Introduction: The Hyperactive Hive Mind
- One study estimates that by 2019 the average worker was sending and receiving 126 business emails per day, which works out to about one message every four minutes
- A software company called RescueTime recently measured this behavior directly using time-tracking software and calculated that its users were checking email or instant messenger tools like Slack once every six minutes on average
- The Hyperactive Hive Mind:
- A workflow centered around ongoing conversation fueled by unstructured and unscheduled messages delivered through digital communication tools like email and instant messenger services.
- Whether you’re a computer programmer, marketing consultant, manager, newspaper editor, or professor, your day is now largely structured around tending your organization’s ongoing hive mind conversation.
- This constant interaction with the hive mind, however, requires that you frequently switch your attention from your work to talking about work, and then back again
- pioneering research in psychology and neuroscience reveals that these context switches, even if brief, induce a heavy cost in terms of mental energy—reducing cognitive performance and creating a sense of exhaustion and reduced efficacy.
- The world without email referenced in the title of this book, therefore, is not a place in which protocols like SMTP and POP3 are banished. It is, however, a place where you spend most of your day actually working on hard things instead of talking about this work, or endlessly bouncing small tasks back and forth in messages.
- Knowledge work does not yet have its Henry Ford, but workflow innovations with impact on the same scale as the assembly line are inevitable.
- I can’t predict all the details of this future, but I’m convinced it will not involve checking an inbox every six minutes. This world without email is coming, and I hope this book will get you as excited about its potential as I am.
Part 1: The Case Against Email
Chapter 1 Email Reduces Productivity
The Hidden Costs of the Hyperactive Hive Mind
- “I would work until one a.m. every night,” he said, “because that was the only time I felt free from distractions.”
- Another common argument for email diminishing productivity centered on its ability to increase the amount of irrelevant information it suddenly forces you to process
- “People now confuse answering emails with real work,” wrote an editor named Stephanie.
- Slack: email with faster response expectations
Constant, Constant Multitasking Craziness
- When Mark tabulated these results into a single data table, a clear trend emerged. From 1965 to 1984, the employees studied spent around 20 percent of their day engaged in desk work and around 40 percent in scheduled meetings. In the studies since 2002, these percentages roughly swap. What explains this change? As Mark points out, in the gap between the 1984 and 2002 studies, “email became widespread.”
- Unlike scheduled meetings, however, conversations held through email unfold asynchronously—there’s usually a gap between when a message is sent and ultimately read
- The researchers found that, on average, the employees they followed divided their workday into eighty-eight distinct “episodes,” sixty of which were dedicated to communication
- In 2016, in another paper co-authored by Gloria Mark, her team used tracking software to monitor the habits of employees in a research division at a large corporation and found that they checked email, on average, over seventy-seven times per day.
- Papers measuring the average number of email messages sent and received per day also show a trend toward increasing communication: from fifty emails per day in 2005,5 to sixty-nine in 2006,6 to ninety-two by 2011.7 A recent report by a technology research firm called the Radicati Group projected that in 2019, the year when I started writing this chapter, the average business user would send and receive 126 messages per day.
- The primary purpose of RescueTime is to provide individual users with detailed feedback on their behavior so they can find ways to be more productive.
- A report from the summer of 2018 analyzed anonymized behavior data from over fifty thousand active users of the tracking software.9 It reveals that half these users were checking communication applications like email and Slack every six minutes or less.
- To help understand the true scarcity of uninterrupted time, the RescueTime data scientists also calculated the longest interval that each user worked with no inbox checks or instant messaging. For half the users studied, this longest uninterrupted interval was no more than forty minutes, with the most common length clocking in at a meager twenty minutes.
- The average user studied had only fifteen such uninterrupted buckets, adding up to no more than an hour and fifteen minutes total of undistracted productive work per day. To be clear, this is not an hour and fifteen minutes in a row, but instead the total amount of undistracted productive work conducted throughout the entire day.
- To say we check email too often is an understatement; the reality is that we’re using these tools constantly.
The Sequential Brain in a Parallel World
- the prefrontal cortex can service only one attention target at a time.
- As Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen bluntly summarize in their 2016 book, The Distracted Mind: “Our brains do not parallel process information.”
- when you attempt to maintain multiple ongoing electronic conversations while also working on a primary task like writing a report or coding a computer program, your prefrontal cortex must continually jump back and forth between different goals
- network switching slows down the mind.
Email Is Not a Job
- Many people feel the same way as my friend. They acknowledge that some jobs might benefit from significantly less interruption, but not theirs.
- For many different knowledge work positions—if not most—the ability to slow down, tackle things sequentially, and give each task uninterrupted attention is crucial, even if the role doesn’t regularly require hours of continuous deep thinking.
- It’s obvious that constant attention switching is bad for Graham’s makers, but as I’ll now show, it can be just as bad for his managers.
- George Marshall was the US Army chief of staff during World War II
- even though Marshall managed more people, had a larger budget, and faced more complexity, more urgency, and higher stakes than just about any manager in the history of management, he rejected the attraction of an always-on, hyperactive hive mind approach to his work
- Marshall reduced a bloated staff of over three hundred personnel, operations, and logistics officers down to only twelve. Some major divisions were eliminated altogether.
- You were instructed to enter his office and sit down without saluting (to save time)
- Perhaps Marshall’s most striking habit was his insistence on leaving the office each day at 5:30 p.m.
- Having experienced burnout earlier in his career, he felt it was important to relax in the evening.
- “A man who worked himself to tatters on minor details had no ability to handle the more vital issues of war,” he once said.
- He then trusted his team to execute these decisions without involving him in the details
- if something like a hyperactive hive mind workflow had persisted in the 1940s War Department, we might have even lost the war.
- management is about more than responsiveness.
- a dedication to responsiveness will likely degrade your ability to make smart decisions and plan for future challenges—the core of Marshall’s success—and in many situations make you worse at the big picture goals of management.
- One of the paper’s authors summarized their findings as follows: “When managers are the ones trying to recover from email interruptions, they fail to meet their goals, they neglect manager-responsibilities and their subordinates don’t have the leadership behavior they need to thrive.”
- Ticketing systems have become big business because they’ve consistently been shown to reduce IT staffing costs, as focused technicians solve problems faster.
- communicating about tasks often gets in the way of executing them
- we think of those with minder roles as automatons, who spend their days cranking through tasks, one after another, as they arrive as input through inboxes and chat channels. But this perspective condescendingly dismisses the cognitively demanding nature of this work.
- even for the much more varied and administrative obligations of minders, the hyperactive hive mind still ends up causing problems.
- Inspired by some of my writing on these issues, the engineer set up a meeting with his CEO. He summarized the research on how attention switching reduces cognitive performance and explained his concerns about constant interruptions hurting his work.
- They agreed that he should spend four hours a day—50 percent of his work hours—in a distraction-free state, and the other 50 percent plugged into the hive mind workflow.
- As a result, the engineer’s productivity significantly increased—with few negative impacts. The real surprise in all this was the fact that until the engineer forced the issue, no one had ever stopped to wonder about whether the way they were working was actually working.
- when we get specific about what exactly can be gained when makers are extracted from hyperactive communication, this trade-off can suddenly resolve itself to be massively lopsided.
Beyond the Hive Mind
- They shut down their Slack servers for good and relegated email to a tool used mainly to coordinate with entities outside the company.
- "on a normal day I check email once"
- Some days he doesn’t get around to checking his inbox at all.
- Email and Slack served important purposes in Sean’s company: they’re how his team coordinated and how they interacted with their clients. If Sean had eliminated these tools without replacing the functions they served with alternative processes, his company would have fallen apart
- Then everyone does something that has become exceedingly rare in our current age of connectivity: they simply work, for several hours in a row, with no inboxes to check or chat channels to monitor, until the block is over.
Chapter 2: Email Makes Us Miserable
An Epidemic of Silent Suffering
- In early 2017, a new French labor law went into effect that attempted to preserve a so-called “right to disconnect.” According to the law, French companies with fifty employees or more are required to negotiate specific policies about email after work hours, with the goal of significantly reducing the time workers spend in their inbox in the evening or over the weekend.
- "The longer one spends on email in [a given] hour the higher is one’s stress for that hour."
- batching emails actually makes you more stressed (perhaps due to worry about all the urgent messages you’re ignoring).
- The researchers also found that when stressed, people answer emails faster, but not better
- Another way to measure the harm caused by email is to see what happens when you reduce its presence
- predictable time off (PTO)
- Before PTO was introduced, only 27 percent of the consultants reported that they were excited to start work in the morning. After the reduction in communication, this number jumped to over 50 percent. Similarly, the percentage of consultants satisfied with their job jumped from under 50 percent to over 70 percent.
- When employees are miserable they perform worse. They’re also more likely, as the French labor minister warned, to burn out, leading to increased healthcare costs and expensive employee turnover.
- Leslie Perlow found that predictable time off from email increased the percentage of employees planning to stay at the firm “for the long term” from 40 percent to 58 percent.
Email Scrambles Our Ancient Social Drives
- The drive to interact with others is one of the strongest motivational forces humans experience.
- "These social adaptations are central to making us the most successful species on earth,"
- Much in the same way our attraction to food is coupled with the gnawing sensation of hunger in its absence, our instinct to connect is accompanied by an anxious unease when we neglect these interactions.
- deeply embedded human drives are not known for responding to rationality
- Thrive Away: if you send an email to a colleague who’s on vacation, you receive a note informing you that your message has been automatically deleted—you can resend it when they return.
- a simple vacation autoresponder should be sufficient—as it tells people sending you a message not to expect a reply until you return—but logic is subservient in this situation
- the awareness that there are messages waiting for you somewhere triggers anxiety, ruining the potential relaxation of your time off. The only cure is to prevent the messages from arriving altogether.
Email Communication Is Frustratingly Ineffective
- remember that written language is at most only five thousand years old,23 which is minuscule with respect to evolutionary timescales.
- The ancient collaboration processes etched into our neural circuits over millions of years of evolution
- This mismatch between how we’re wired to communicate and how we’re coerced into communicating by modern technology creates a deeply human sense of frustration.
- There are many signals that work on this social channel. As Pentland explains in his book on the topic, Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World, this information is processed largely unconsciously, often using lower-level circuits in our nervous system, which is why it evades our perceived experience. Its impact, however, shouldn’t be underestimated. “These social signals are not just a back channel or complement to our conscious language,” Pentland writes. “They form a separate communication network that powerfully influences our behavior.”
- We know these signals are important because, as Pentland demonstrates in his research, by measuring them using his sociometers he can accurately predict outcomes of face-to-face scenarios such as dating, salary negotiations, and job interviews without any reference to the actual words spoken
- The executives who simply read the plans didn’t realize how much they were missing. Both groups reviewed the same pitches, but they were working with vastly different information.
- this prioritization of abstract written communication over in-person communication disregarded the immensely complex and finely tuned social circuits that our species evolved to optimize our ability to work cooperatively.
- emails are commonly misunderstood because of the “inherent difficulty of moving beyond one’s subjective experience of a stimulus and imagining how the stimulus might be evaluated by someone who does not share one’s privileged perspective.
- email is not a universal form of interaction
Email Creates More Work
- Tools like email almost completely eliminate the effort required—in terms of both time and social capital—to ask a question or delegate a task.
- the side effect of this transformation is that knowledge workers began to ask more questions and delegate more tasks than ever before, leading to a state of perpetual overload that’s driving us toward despair.
- For many knowledge workers, this story probably makes sense—how many of the quick asks for someone else’s time and attention that you dash off over email during a normal day would you still make if you had to instead walk down the hallway and interrupt someone’s work?
- If slightly increasing friction drastically reduces the requests made on your time and attention, then most of these requests are not vital to your organization’s operation in the first place; they are instead a side effect of the artificially low resistance created by digital communication tools.
- What would happen to this “stuff” if some friction was reintroduced to the system (as in Gloria Mark’s email freedom experiment)? My guess is that a lot of these urgent tasks would simply disappear
- the vital question I dashed off in a quick Slack message suddenly becomes less vital when asking it requires me to go interrupt what you’re doing and confront that look of annoyance on your face. I might drop it or just handle it myself.
Clarifying the Misery Mechanisms
- A world without email, as we’ll explore in part 2, is largely a happier world
Chapter 3: Email Has a Mind of Its Own
The Rise of Email
- Most organizations lacked the resources to build a system similar to the CIA’s tubes, so for them, the arrival of email was the first time they could enjoy high-speed asynchrony.
- the speed with which email spread through the business sector is astounding. In 1987, it’s a clunky tool useful to only a “niche market.” By 1994, it’s the “killer app” of the decade and the foundation of a half-billion-dollar software industry. That’s about as close to an overnight transformation as you’re likely to find in the history of commercial technology adoption.
What Does Technology Want?
- Communicating in big organizations during this period was a real pain, and email, when it came on the scene, offered a simple solution.
- almost immediately after email was introduced at IBM, the volume of internal communication exploded
- We like to believe that we deploy tools rationally to solve specific problems. But cases like IBM’s server meltdown complicate this story line.
- who ultimately decided that everyone should instead start interacting five to six times more than normal? To some who study this question closely, the answer is radical: it was the technology itself.
- Charles Martel realized that the advantage provided by the stirrup was so “immense” that he had to do whatever it took to get it before his enemies did—even if that meant upending centuries of tradition and creating a brand-new form of government.
- this idea that tools can sometimes drive human behavior became known as technological determinism.
- Postman replies that the influence of the resulting “typographic” culture did more than just speed up information flow; it changed the way our brains processed our world.
- A more modern example of technological determinism is the introduction of the Like button to Facebook. As revealed by contemporaneous blog posts written by the design team, the original purpose of this feature was to clean up the comments below users’ posts. Facebook engineers noticed that many such comments were simple positive exclamations, like “cool” or “nice.” They figured that if those could instead be captured by clicking Like, the comments that remained would be more substantive. The goal of this tweak, in other words, was a modest improvement, but they soon noticed an unexpected side effect: users began spending more time on the service.
- Whereas people used to log on to Facebook occasionally to see what their friends were up to, they were now more likely to check in constantly throughout the day to see how much approval their latest posts had generated.
Stumbling into the Hive Mind
- let’s look closer at the types of underlying complex forces that plausibly might have driven us from the rational adoption of email to the less rational embrace of the hive mind approach to work.
Hive Mind Driver #1: The Hidden Costs of Asynchrony
- Writing distributed system algorithms that could handle this asynchrony turned out to be much harder than many engineers originally believed.
- in a 1985 paper, three computer scientists—Michael Fischer, Nancy Lynch (my doctoral adviser), and Michael Paterson—proved, through a virtuosic display of mathematical logic, that in an asynchronous system, no distributed algorithm could guarantee that a consensus would always be reached, even if it was sure that at most a single computer might crash.
- The details of this result are technical, but its impact on distributed systems was obvious. It made it clear that asynchronous communication complicates attempts to coordinate, and therefore, it’s almost always worth the extra cost required to introduce more synchrony
- In 2013, Leslie Lamport, a major figure in the field of distributed systems, was given the A. M. Turing Award—the highest distinction in computer science—for his work on algorithms that help synchronize distributed systems.
- While the business world came to see synchrony as an obstacle to overcome, computer theorists began to realize that it was fundamental for effective collaboration.
- People are different from computers, but many of the forces that complicate the design of asynchronous distributed systems loosely apply to humans attempting to collaborate in the office.
Hive Mind Driver #2: The Cycle of Responsiveness
- answer client questions that arrive after work hours or respond quickly to colleagues in different time zones. These clients and colleagues now learn that you’re available at these new times and begin to send more requests and expect faster responses. Faced with this increased influx, you check your phone more often so you can keep up with the incoming messages. But now the expectations for your availability and responsiveness increase further, and you feel pressured to respond even quicker.
- when Perlow later persuaded teams at Boston Consulting Group to schedule protected time away from communication devices, the team members described their efficiency and effectiveness as increasing
- I notice you’re responding a little quicker to my message, so I begin to do the same. Others follow suit; the pattern of responsiveness emerges, then becomes a new default
Hive Mind Driver #3: The Caveman at the Computer Screen
- The problem, of course, is that the hyperactive hive mind deployed in an office differs from the hive mind collaboration of a Stone Age elephant hunt in one key property: the office connects many more people.
- Unstructured coordination is great for a group of six hunters but becomes disastrously ineffective when you connect many dozens, if not hundreds, of employees in a large organization.
- Summarized simply: the more people working on a project, the easier it is to get away with putting in less effort.) But another key factor is the rising complexity of communication.
- if you increase this size to sixty
- why military units of this size almost always feature strict chains of command.
- although the now common tableau of the frantic business executives furiously typing on their phones might seem like the personification of our modern moment, it’s perhaps downright Paleolithic in its origins.
Peter Drucker and the Tragedy of the Attention Commons
- “The knowledge worker cannot be supervised closely or in detail,” Drucker wrote in his 1967 book, The Effective Executive
- “He must direct himself.”
- industrial management saw workers as automatons executing optimized processes carefully designed by a small cadre of wise managers.
- Drucker argued this approach was doomed to fail in the new world of knowledge work, where productive output was created not by expensive equipment stamping out parts, but instead by cerebral workers applying specialized cognitive skills.
- knowledge workers often knew more about their specialties than those who managed them.
- The best way to deploy these highly skilled individuals, Drucker concluded, was to give them clear objectives and then leave them alone to accomplish their brainy work however they saw fit.
- Knowledge workers have to manage themselves. They have to have autonomy.
- the tragedy of the commons
- the hyperactive hive mind: we cannot tame it with minor hacks—we need to replace it with a better workflow. And to do so, we must soften Peter Drucker’s stigma against engineering office work.
- Drucker was right to point out that we cannot fully systematize the specialized efforts of knowledge workers, but we shouldn’t apply this to the workflows that surround these efforts.
- This goal of putting into place smarter workflows that sidestep the worst impacts of the hyperactive hive mind is of course a substantial endeavor—one that will require trial and error and many annoyances. But with the right guiding principles it’s absolutely possible, and the competitive advantage it will generate is potentially massive
Part 2: Principles for a World Without Email
Chapter 4: The Attention Capital Principle
On Model Ts and Knowledge Work
- It used to take more than twelve and a half labor hours to produce a Model T. After the assembly line, this time dropped to ninety-three minutes.
- In the fall of 2019, The Wall Street Journal reported on a German entrepreneur named Lasse Rheingans, who had adopted a novel practice at his sixteen-person technology start-up: a five-hour workday.
- During the day, social media is banned, meetings highly restricted, and email checks constrained. When they’re done with work, they’re actually done until the next morning—no late-night sessions at the keyboard, no surreptitious smartphone messaging during their kids’ sporting events—as professional efforts are restricted to time spent in the physical office.
- Rheingans’s bet was that once you eliminated both distractions and endless conversations about work, five hours per day would be sufficient for people to get done the main things that mattered for the company
- when we turn our attention back to knowledge work, we find this same spirit of experimentation and reinvention lacking
- Soon after my Times op-ed was published, Rheingans reached out to me and we began a conversation about life at his company
- He ended up hiring external coaches to reinforce “that checking email or social media all the time won’t help them.”
- The coaches also encouraged employees to embrace stress-reducing mindfulness exercises like meditation and to improve their physical health through practices like yoga.
- In the same 1999 article cited earlier, Peter Drucker notes that in terms of productivity thinking, knowledge work was where industrial manufacturing was in 1900—that is, right before the radical experiments that increased productivity by fifty times.
- The Attention Capital Principle
- The productivity of the knowledge sector can be significantly increased if we identify workflows that better optimize the human brain’s ability to sustainably add value to information.
Case Study: Devesh Ditches the Hive Mind
- If you’re assigned to a project, all of your work, including discussion, delegation, and relevant files, is coordinated on its corresponding board—not in email messages, not in Slack chats
- Devesh agrees. His employees seem much happier now that they’re freed from email as the main driver of their efforts, and there have been no major complaints or drops in productivity.
Build Structures Around Autonomy
- What Drucker realized was that knowledge work was too skilled and creative to be broken down into a series of repetitive tasks that could be prescribed to workers by managers, as was the case with manual labor.
- Knowledge work is better understood as the combination of two components: work execution and workflow.
- When Drucker emphasized autonomy, he was thinking about work execution, as these activities are often too complicated to be decomposed into rote procedures.
- Workflows, on the other hand, should not be left to individuals to figure out on their own, as the most effective systems are unlikely to arise naturally. They need instead to be explicitly identified as part of an organization’s operating procedures.
- Differentiating workflows and work execution is crucial if we’re going to continue to improve knowledge sector productivity.
Minimize Context Switches and Overload
- Any workflow that requires you to constantly tend conversations unfolding in an inbox or chat channel is going to diminish the quality of your brain’s output.
- communication overload—the feeling that you can never keep up with all the different incoming requests for your time and attention—conflicts with our ancient social wiring, leading to unhappiness in the short term and burnout in the long term.
- seek workflows that (1) minimize mid-task context switches and (2) minimize the sense of communication overload.
- A mid-task context switch is when you have to stop an otherwise self-contained task and switch your attention to something unrelated before returning to the original object of your attention.
- In open office settings, for example, you might be frequently interrupted by people stopping by your seat with questions, and if your workflow demands constant meetings, then this, too, will fracture your schedule into slivers too small to support start-to-finish work on tasks.
- when it comes to producing value with your brain, the more you’re able to complete one thing at a time, sticking with a task until done before moving on to the next, the more efficiently and effectively you’ll work.
- The optimal way to deploy our human brains is sequentially.
- When you’re at home at night, or relaxing over the weekend, or on vacation, you shouldn’t feel like each moment away from work is a moment in which you’re accumulating deeper communication debt.
- in the long term, you must still monitor the key bottom line metric: the quantity and quality of valuable output you’re producing. For a knowledge work organization, this means tracking the impact of new workflows on revenue, while for an individual knowledge worker, this might describe the rate at which you’re hitting milestones or completing projects.
Don’t Fear Inconvenience
- Imagine you want to make a major change to your own or your organization’s workflow. How can you avoid the inconveniences associated with this experimentation? You can’t. You must instead adjust your mindset so that you no longer fear these annoyances
- Ford’s early assembly line, by contrast, must have been a nightmare for his employees.
- the assembly line also required the addition of more managers and engineers to supervise. It was not only more annoying but also much more expensive to operate!
- In the context of industrial production, we readily accept these stories, because when we think about a factory, it makes sense that the goal is not convenience, or simplicity, or preventing bad things from occasionally happening—it’s instead manufacturing products as cost-effectively as possible.
- "The man of the hour is the one who can handle the complex problems created by the increasing speed of invention. . . . He is the man of exceptional originality. He is the man who has disciplined himself to keep acquiring new knowledge and skills. He has created new production concepts, marketing concepts, approaches to financing."
- We still talk about “innovation,” but this term now applies almost exclusively to the products and services we offer, not the means by which we produce them.
- In business, good is not the same as easy, and fulfilling is not the same as convenient
- Deep down, knowledge workers want to feel as if they’re producing important output that takes full advantage of their hard-won skills, even if this means they can’t always get a quick response to their messages.
An Aside: Weren’t Assembly Lines Awful for Workers?
- Frederick Winslow Taylor had earlier tried to boost efficiency by measuring workers’ performance with a stopwatch and offering incentives to those who were fast. Henry Ford bypassed Taylor’s approach by simply making it impossible to be anything but fast.
- In a reversal of what happened when Ford introduced the assembly line, Devesh’s employees found their professional lives less grueling and more sustainable after Devesh innovated their workflow.
- in knowledge work you must maintain skilled workers’ autonomy in how they actually apply their craft. The attention capital principle asks you to experiment instead with the workflows that structure how this work is assigned and reviewed.
When Implementing Changes, Seek Partners, Not Forgiveness
- The acknowledgment that his business was in its final moments paradoxically gave Carpenter confidence to experiment with bold new approaches.
- There are two ways applying the attention capital principle can impact the people with whom you work.
- The first is when it alters workflows in such a way that people are forced to change how they execute their own work
- The second type of impact changes only other people’s expectations about your own work. This applies when you focus on upgrading your personal workflow.
- If, for example, you now check your inbox only twice a day as part of a larger overhaul of how you work, your colleagues’ expectations for how quickly you’ll respond to their messages must shift.
- A key insight preached in Carpenter’s book is the need to involve those who are affected by a new work procedure in the design of that procedure.
- “If an employee has a good idea for improving a procedure, we will make an instant modification—with no bureaucratic hangups,”
- He takes this employee involvement so seriously that he now requires his service representatives to submit at least a dozen proposed improvements before they qualify to receive their annual performance bonus.
- There are three steps necessary to keep these experiments collaborative. The first is education.
- For many knowledge workers, email is synonymous with work, so it’s crucial to break up this misunderstanding
- The second step is to obtain buy-in on new workflow processes from those who will actually have to execute them
- The classic example is to use phone calls as the catchall fallback: your colleagues can call your cell phone if something pops up that’s too urgent for the official workflow to reliably handle in time.
- A common method for handling these personal workflow overhauls is to clearly explain the structure of your new approach to your colleagues
- A famous example of this idea in action is the following email autoresponder that Tim Ferriss cited in his 2007 mega-bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek
- these experiments are best executed quietly. Don’t share the details of your new approach to work, unless someone specifically asks you out of genuine interest
- A better strategy for shifting others’ expectations about your work is to consistently deliver what you promise instead of consistently explaining how you’re working.
- If people trust you to handle the work they send your way, then they’re generally fine with not hearing back from you right away. On the other hand, if you’re flaky, others will demand faster responses, as they’ll feel they have to stay on you to ensure things get done.
- The better you are at what you do, he explains, the more freedom you earn to be idiosyncratic in how you deliver—no explanation required.
- In most IT setups, you now submit a problem in the most natural possible manner: by sending an email to a general-purpose address like firstname.lastname@example.org. Most ticketing systems can be configured to receive these emails directly, then transform them into tickets and place them in a virtual inbox to be processed.
- Don’t require the people you work with to learn about your new systems or change the way they interact with you. Instead, when possible, deploy a seamless interface.
- When someone sends me an email or stops by my office with an issue concerning the graduate program, I immediately transform it into a card and place it in the applicable column on the Trello board.
- My general rule is that when I move a card to a new column, I send an email update to the person who brought me that issue.
- The key property of this system is that the professors and graduate students in my department know nothing about it.
- It takes me about thirty minutes, once a week, to process my board and send update messages.
- Work is not just about getting things done; it’s a collection of messy human personalities trying to figure out how to successfully collaborate.
Chapter 5: The Process Principle
The Power of Process
- What industrial productivity hackers like John Runnells began to discover in the first decades of the twentieth century is that efficiency extends beyond the actions involved in physically manufacturing something. Equally important is how you coordinate this work.
- In his 1983 cult business classic, High Output Management, for example, former Intel CEO Andy Grove dedicates the first two chapters to explaining the power of production process thinking. He notes that without this structure, you’re left with only one option for increasing productivity: figuring out how to get people to “work faster.” Once you see the whole process, however, a much more powerful option emerges: “We can change the nature of the work performed.” Optimize processes, he urged, not people
- The core claim of this chapter is that production process thinking applies equally well to knowledge work as it does to industrial manufacturing.
- In knowledge work, any type of valuable result that you or your organization regularly produces can be understood as the output of a production process. If you’re a marketing firm that runs publicity campaigns for your clients, your firm has a publicity campaign production process
- Production processes, by definition, require rules about how work is coordinated. Rules reduce autonomy—creating friction with the belief that knowledge workers “must manage themselves,”
- The Process Principle:
- Introducing smart production processes to knowledge work can dramatically increase performance and make the work much less draining.
Case Study: Optimizing the Optimizers
- There’s no physical headquarters for Optimize, meaning this team operates entirely remotely.
- the company is on track for $2.5 million in annual revenue
- "We don’t email at all. Zero. There will never be an email between a team member and another team member."
- “Our team is absolutely committed to single-tasking,” Johnson told me. “You do one thing at a time.”
- Here’s what amazed me about this production process: it coordinates a fair-sized group of specialists, spread out around the world, to accomplish the complicated feat of releasing highly produced multimedia content on a demanding daily schedule—all without requiring even a single unscheduled email or instant message
- Almost 100 percent of their time is dedicated to actually doing the work they’re trained to perform, and when they’re done working, they’re done working—there’s nothing to check, nothing urgent requiring a reply.
- Johnson is insistent on enforcing a “digital sunset” for his company: he wants his employees to end their workday at a reasonable hour to spend time with family and recharge.
- Though they forbid internal email, they do use email to communicate with external partners. Their interaction with these inboxes, however, is highly structured.
- those responsible for these external-facing email addresses have “discrete blocks” in which they check for messages, typically once a day.
- Every employee of Optimize is expected to spend at least the first ninety minutes of every day in a deep work block, free from inputs (some people, like the manager profiled above, spend much more).
- "You need time away from inputs to figure out how best to systematize those inputs,"
Who’s Doing What and How? Properties of Effective Processes
- These examples of effective production processes share the following
- It’s easy to review who is working on what and how it’s going.
- Work can unfold without significant amounts of unscheduled communication.
- There’s a known procedure for updating work assignments as the process progresses.
- A good production process, in other words, should minimize both ambiguity about what’s going on and the amount of unscheduled communication required to accomplish this work.
- nothing about these properties restricts the knowledge worker’s autonomy in figuring out how they get their work done
- The main issue with production processes in the knowledge work context is that they often must be custom-built to fit each circumstance
Cards in Columns: The Task Board Revolution
- This property of task boards makes them applicable to more than just software development, which is why we see them show up frequently in examples of forward-thinking knowledge work organizations trying to become more systematic about their processes
- I’ve collected several best practices for getting the most out of task boards in the context of knowledge work.
Task Board Practice #1: Cards Should Be Clear and Informative
- One of the cards I encountered on his boards, for example, corresponded to the task of writing up an analytics report for a client. Attached to the card were the relevant files containing the data for the report and some notes on how to format it. For the person working on this task, there’s now no need to sift through cluttered inboxes or chat archives to find these materials.
Task Board Practice #2: When in Doubt, Start with Kanban’s Default Columns
- which includes just three columns: to do, doing, and done. You can then elaborate this foundation as needed.
Task Board Practice #3: Hold Regular Review Meetings
- A foundational idea in agile methodology is that short meetings held on a regular schedule are by far the best way to review and update task boards.
- A standard format for these meetings is to have each person briefly summarize what they’re working on, what they need from other people to make progress for the rest of the day, and what happened with the tasks they had committed to working on the day before.
- Of course, many modern knowledge work organizations include remote employees, making it impossible for everyone working with a given task board to show up in person for these review meetings. The standard solution is to use conferencing software such as Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime (if the groups are small). The key is real-time interaction.
Task Board Practice #4: Use Card Conversations to Replace Hive Mind Chatter
- A fair concern is whether these card conversations might allow hyperactive hive mind–style unstructured messaging to sneak back into your organization. Based on what I observed, however, the experience of card conversation was significantly different from the experience of hive mind chatter.
- When you have a general email inbox through which all discussion flows, you’re forced to continually check this inbox, which then confronts you with discussions about many different projects. When you rely on card conversations, on the other hand, the only way to encounter the discussion surrounding a given project is to navigate to that project’s board. At this point, you’re encountering conversation about only this project. This flips the script because now you decide what project you want to talk about, as opposed to allowing the projects to decide for you.
Personal Kanban: Organizing Your Professional Life with Individual Task Boards
- The first is labeled options, and it’s where you arrange all your obligations into neat stacks of Post-it notes: one note per task
- The key to this column—and a big part of the secret sauce of Kanban systems in general—is that you should maintain a strict limit on how many tasks you’re allowed to be doing at any given time. In Kanban-speak, this is called the works in progress (WIP) limit.
- you could just discard a Post-it once you completed its task
- the psychological boost of physically moving the Post-it from doing to done is a powerful motivator.
- task boards are not just effective for coordinating work among teams, but can be incredibly effective in making sense of your individual obligations
- here are several best practices for making individual task boards work well for you.
Individual Task Board Practice #1: Use More Than One Board
- maintain a separate board for every major role in your professional life.
Individual Task Board Practice #2: Schedule Regular Solo Review Meetings
Individual Task Board Practice #3: Add a “To Discuss” Column
- A regular rhythm of efficient meetings can replace 90 percent of hive mind messaging, if you have a way to keep track of what needs to be discussed in these meetings. The task board makes this simple.
Individual Task Board Practice #4: Add a “Waiting to Hear Back” Column
A Follows B: Automatic Processes
- Once you’ve identified a process that does seem like a good candidate for automation, the following guidelines will help you succeed with the transformation:
- Partitioning: Split the process into a series of well-defined phases that follow one after the other. For each phase, clearly specify what work must be accomplished and who is responsible.
- Signaling: Put in place a signaling or notification system that tracks the current phase of each output being generated by the process, allowing those involved to know when it’s their turn to take over the work.
- Channeling: Institute clear channels for delivering the relevant resources and information from one phase to the next (such as files in shared directories).
- Automatic processes, however, don’t necessarily have to rely on software systems
- the energy and attention saved from administrative wrangling can be invested into activities that actually improve the quality of the class, like polishing lectures or answering student questions.
- the management consultant Rory Vaden said “You should spend 30x the amount of time training someone to do a task than it would take you to do the task yourself one time.”
- if your team or organization produces a given type of result thirty times a year or more, and it’s possible to transform its production into an automatic process, the transformation is probably worth the effort.
Making Individual Work Automatic
- The key was to reduce cognitive energy wasted on planning or decision making, allowing the student to focus simply on execution.
- If there’s a particular outcome or result that you’re individually responsible for producing again and again, there’s probably nothing to lose by trying to come up with a more structured process that specifies when and how you tackle this work.
Chapter 6: The Protocol Principle
The Invention of Information
- Claude Shannon → information theory
- Underlying this framework is a simple but profound idea: by adding complexity to the rules we use to structure our communication, the actual amount of information required by the interactions can be reduced.
- I’ll adapt this principle to workplace communication, arguing that by spending more time in advance setting up the rules by which we coordinate in the office (what I’ll call protocols), we can reduce the effort required to accomplish this coordination in the moment—allowing work to unfold much more efficiently.
- Like his better-known British counterpart in the pantheon of computing pioneers, Alan Turing, Shannon had done some work on code-breaking during World War II, and therefore would have been familiar with the idea that certain letters are more common than others.
- This was the central idea of Shannon’s information theory framework: clever protocols that take into account the structure of the information being communicated can perform much better than naïve approaches. (This wasn’t the only contribution of information theory. Shannon’s paper also showed how to calculate the best possible performance for a given information source and revolutionized the way engineers thought about reducing interference from noise, making both high-speed electronic communication and dense digital storage possible.5)
- Without these insights, something as routine as downloading a movie from iTunes might take multiple days instead of a handful of minutes, and the images making up your Instagram feed might require an hour to appear instead of just the seconds we’ve come to expect.
- We will now add one more area where Shannon’s framework provides insight: coordination in the office.
- Whether implicit or formal, many office activities are structured by some manner of rules. In honor of Shannon, let’s call these collections of rules coordination protocols.
- When evaluating coordination protocols in the workplace, however, we’ll need some more nuanced notions of cost.
- We might measure cost, for example, in terms of cognitive cycles
- To measure the cognitive cycle cost of a particular coordination protocol, we count the number of these buckets in which at least some effort was expended toward the coordination task.
- Another relevant cost when considering workplace coordination
protocols is inconvenience. If a protocol induces a long delay for someone to receive critical information, or requires extra effort on the part of the sender or receiver, or leads to a missed opportunity, then this generates inconvenience.
- Shannon teaches us that we need to pay careful attention to these costs and be willing to tinker with our protocols to find ways to balance them optimally.
- In our scenario, the high cognitive cycle cost of the hive mind protocol for dealing with client requests seems prohibitive, even though it scores well on inconvenience. We might instead turn to the weekly meeting protocol, which scores well on cognitive cycle cost, and seek ways to reduce its inconvenience.
- Take the time to build the protocol that has the best average cost, even if it’s not the most natural option in the moment, as the long-term performance gains can be substantial.
- A key element of any workflow is the means by which people coordinate their work.
- This coordination requires communication, and whether or not you use this terminology, this in turn requires the people involved to agree in advance on a set of rules about how and when the communication occurs—what we call a coordination protocol.
- Most organizations default to using a hyperactive hive mind–style protocol for most coordination activities, because it’s simple to set up and persuade people to follow.
- The Protocol Principle
- Designing rules that optimize when and how coordination occurs in the workplace is a pain in the short term but can result in significantly more productive operation in the long term.
Meeting Scheduling Protocols
- The standard protocol for setting up meetings is what I call energy-minimizing email ping-pong.
- The cognitive cost of this protocol is large, as each one of these back-and-forth messages requires time spent in your inbox.
- As reported in a 2017 Harvard Business Review article, dramatically titled “Stop the Meeting Madness,” the average executive now spends twenty-three hours a week in meetings.7 The sheer volume of the scheduling required to set up those meetings becomes a major driver of hyperactive inbox checking, and therefore induces a major cognitive cost.
- This is why investors are willing to spend $40 million to see whether artificial intelligence might drastically reduce this cognitive cost—this price is small compared with the massive amount of productivity that would be unlocked if the knowledge sector could abandon energy-minimizing email ping-pong altogether.
- there are several solutions that are significantly less costly on average than ad hoc emailing.
- hire an actual flesh-and-blood assistant who has access to your calendar and can schedule meetings on your behalf.
- Online freelance services have made it simple to hire assistants to work remotely for a limited number of hours on specific tasks.
- I was surprised to discover that she could easily handle my meeting scheduling in no more than two to three billable hours a week.
- That’s why in my professional life, I use my assistant to manage the overwhelming number of meeting and interview requests I receive in my writing business, not, for the most part, to deal with the demands of my other job as a university professor.
- I’ve been using an online scheduling service called Acuity
- Tools such as Acuity, ScheduleOnce, Calendly, and, of course, x.ai (to name a few examples among many) make it easy for other people to set up meetings with you during times when you’re available.
- If the meeting involves multiple people, it’s worth using a group polling service like Doodle
- I would go so far as to say that anyone whose job requires more than one or two scheduled events in a typical week absolutely should be using a scheduling service or, if the work demands it, a part-time assistant.
Office Hour Protocols
- "There’s great advantage for those organizations willing to end the reign of the unstructured workflow and replace it with something designed from scratch with the specific goal of maximizing value production and employee satisfaction."
- "The concept is simple. Employees no longer have personalized email addresses. Instead, each individual posts a schedule of two or three stretches of time during the day when he or she will be available for communication. During these office hours, the individual guarantees to be reachable in person, by phone, and by instant messenger technologies like Slack. Outside of someone’s stated office hours, however, you cannot command their attention. If you need them, you have to keep track of what you need until they’re next available."
- Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the iconoclastic cofounders of the software company Basecamp, published a book titled It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work.
- nestled among its suggestions is a familiar strategy: office hours
- For some experts, these office hours might be sparse, such as one hour per week, while for others they might be frequent, such as one hour every day.
- "But what if you have a question on Monday and someone’s office hours aren’t until Thursday?" → "You wait, that’s what you do."
- “It turns out that waiting is no big deal most of the time,”
- “But the time and control regained by our experts is a huge deal.”
- office hours have long been popular among venture capitalists.
- It’s so easy to just come in and spend your whole day on email
- Office hour protocols seem to work best for activities that are not too negatively impacted by these delays.
- The conclusion is that any time you find yourself involved in a type of coordination activity that’s both frequent and non-urgent, an office hour protocol might significantly reduce its cost.
- Sean’s company began adding a section titled “Communication” to every statement of work. “We want the client to be aware of all of this at the front of the project,” he told me.
- The new section specified the rules for communication between the client and the company, including, as Sean emphasized to me, what to do when urgent matters arose. In most cases, the standard setup was a prescheduled weekly conference call with the client, after which a written summary of the call was sent to the client.
- the structured nature of our portal didn’t frustrate clients; it instead gave them peace of mind, as they didn’t have to waste cognitive energy worrying about our contract.
- Another important point is the need for clarity. Sean’s company included a detailed description of their client protocol in the statement of work all their clients signed. This was smart. If they had instead just casually suggested to their clients that a weekly call should work, the clients would have been much more likely to default to the hive mind as soon as the first minor inconvenience arose.
- The details of these protocols, in other words, can depend on the specific type of work
- There are also certain individuals for whom this approach won’t apply, not because of the nature of their work but because of their personalities. To use the technical term, I’m talking about jerks who enjoy badgering people because it makes them feel important.
- he talked about how he ended up “firing” one of his more stress-inducing and belligerent clients.
- "If you go into business school and suggest firing a customer, they’ll kick you out of the building. But it’s so true in my experience. It allows you to identify the customers you really want to work with."
Nonpersonal Email Protocols
- This arbitrary and seemingly innocent decision to associate email with individuals ended up playing a role in the rise of the hyperactive hive mind workflow
- When a client is used to contacting a specific individual in your organization when they have questions or issues, it might be hard to diminish their expectation of quick responses. They will personalize these interactions and begin treating delays as a personal affront (why are you ignoring me?!).
- Now imagine instead that each client is assigned a dedicated email address of the form email@example.com. It’s now much easier to break them from the idea that their messages are going to an individual person, who is seeing them right away and therefore better answer them quickly!
- By depersonalizing communication, you have many more options to optimize it.
- There are many different ways to build low-cost protocols into your professional life or organization, but in many cases, freeing email addresses from individuals provides a powerful boost to these efforts.
- “I keep all of my emails brief—no more than [the length of] an average text message.”
- What happens to the emails that demand an interaction more involved than what can fit into a text-length reply? Nikias calls the person or asks them to set up a meeting.
- When deployed properly, these short-message policies implement efficient protocols that use email for the type of communication for which it’s best suited (quick and asynchronous), forcing people onto better mediums for everything else.
Status Meeting Protocols
- They even experimented with holding the meetings standing up and found that, “surprisingly,” it really did help them stick to the constrained time limit.
- A bigger issue with this style of communication protocol is that its effectiveness will rapidly diminish if you allow the status meetings to become longer and less focused.
- "In the Fall of 2007 the meetings were approaching 30 minutes as students talked more with their adviser, during the meeting, about particular technical issues. While the longer meetings produced more technical information, they did not generate more group interest or contribution. To the contrary, the longer meetings became boring and tedious, and so we redisciplined ourselves to keep the meetings short."
- Weekly meetings are too infrequent and vague. They take up too much time and often feature people trying to weasel out of commitments through doublespeak and conversational diversion.
- Status meetings, by contrast, are both frequent and structured in the questions they demand of participants: What did you do, what are you going to do, what’s in your way?
- These two shouldn’t be confused.
Chapter 7: The Specialization Principle
A Productivity Puzzle
- "productivity puzzle" → Why did the arrival of personal computers in the workplace fail to make us as productive as we predicted?
- a study by the economist Stephen Roach which found that between 1980 and 1989, investment in advanced technology in the service sector grew by over 116 percent per worker, while the workers’ output increased less than 2.2 percent during the same period
- a study by economists at the Brookings Institution and the Federal Reserve that calculated the “contribution of computers and peripherals as no more than 0.2 percent of real growth in business output between 1987 and 1993.”
- Tenner offers several explanations for this puzzle, but one of his primary arguments is that instead of reducing labor, computers end up creating more work.
- As Sassone documents, professionals paid to do highly specialized work were spending more and more time doing administrative work.
- Because the professionals have much higher salaries than the support staff, replacing the latter with more of the former can be expensive.
- Sassone crunches the numbers and argues that the organizations he studied could immediately reduce their staffing costs by 15 percent by hiring more support staff, allowing their professionals to become more productive.
- "Indeed, in many instances firms have used technology to decrease, rather than to increase, intellectual specialization,"
- Knowledge workers with highly trained skills, and the ability to produce high-value output with their brains, spend much of their time wrangling with computer systems, scheduling meetings, filling out forms, fighting with word processors, struggling with PowerPoint, and of course, above all, sending and receiving digital messages from everyone about everything at all times.
- Tenner notes that economics textbooks used to introduce the idea of efficient labor markets by telling the story of the best lawyer in town who also happens to be the best typist. The obvious conclusion of the textbook story is that the lawyer would be foolish to not hire a typist. If the lawyer bills $500 an hour and a typist costs $50 an hour, then the lawyer will clearly end up better off outsourcing the typing so she can spend more time on legal work. The arrival of computers in the workplace, it seems, obscured this once obvious reality. We’ve all become the lawyer spending hours at the typewriter.
- The Specialization Principle:
- In the knowledge sector, working on fewer things, but doing each thing with more quality and accountability, can be the foundation for significantly more productivity.
- He stopped attending conference calls that weren’t relevant and learned that just because someone sent him a meeting invitation didn’t mean he had to accept.
- The quality of his work improved to the point where his managers awarded him the biggest bonus of his career.
- Sam’s story highlights a truism we easily forget: there are few things more valuable than someone who consistently produces valuable output, and few approaches to work more satisfying than being given the room to focus on things that really matter.
Case Study: Working at the Extremes
- XP development teams work in the same physical room, where face-to-face communication is prioritized over digital alternatives.
- "Sometimes my developers will literally go days without checking emails.”
- If you need something from someone else on your team, you wait until they look like they’re at a natural stopping point and then walk over and ask them.
- The project manager places any tasks extracted from these interactions into a priority queue.
- Another source of productivity in the XP method is its intensity. When you’re working with a partner, you’re locked into your work. There’s no tactful way to disrupt your focus to check email or idly surf the web, as doing so would leave your partner just sitting there, annoyed, waiting for your attention to return.
- XP is as close to a pure deep work environment as I’ve ever seen deployed successfully.
- Most practitioners of this methodology stick to traditional forty-hour workweeks,
- "With XP, we want you to come in, work super hard for eight hours, then go home and think about other things,"
- The average engineer at a non-XP company may only do two to three hours of actual work a day; the rest of the time is spent surfing the web and checking email.
- "An XP team of eight to ten can do the work of a non-agile team of forty to fifty"
Do Less, Do Better
- They lead busy lives, and the thought of reducing that busyness seems like a step backward.
- I know how addictive busyness is
- the importance of doing fewer minor things so you can do the main things better makes a lot of sense.
Work Reduction Strategy #1: Outsource What You Don’t Do Well
- attempt to outsource the time-consuming things that you don’t do well. The key obstacle to overcome in applying this strategy is that you’ll likely pay a price in the short term before you reap long-term benefits.
- Scott, for example, had to give up profit margin and some control over his business to create a company that would be massively more successful over time.
- Flynn had come to a similar conclusion as Scott: If he wasn’t able to spend significant time on the specialized activities on which his business was built, then what was the point of running that business?
- Outsource what you can so you can excel at what you can’t.
Work Reduction Strategy #2: Trade Accountability for Autonomy
- Busyness is controllable: if you decide to be visibly busy, you know with certainty that you can accomplish this goal. Producing high-value results under scrutiny, as Amanda is now committed to doing, is much more demanding! Just deciding to produce valuable things is not enough to ensure that you’ll pull it off.
- Less can be more; the trick is building up the courage to embrace this in your own work life.
Sprint, Don’t Wander
- “design sprint.” → The goal of the design sprint is to help companies efficiently answer critical questions by requiring executives to dedicate five consecutive days of (nearly) uninterrupted concentration to the problem at hand.
- the hard rule during sprint sessions is “no laptops, no phones, no tablets, nothing.”
- You’re not demanding a huge time commitment, and our minor assistance is crucial for you to succeed with your major objective.
- The problem, of course, is that these requests accumulate. If two dozen other units and committees all make these same reasonable requests, suddenly we’re desperately overwhelmed by work that has little to do with our main objectives of research and teaching—a recipe not just for inefficiency, but outright frustration.
- deep-to-shallow work ratios
- when you run an office haphazardly, a Hobbesian dynamic arises in which those who are most brash and disagreeable get away with doing less work, while their more reasonable peers become overloaded.
- Programmers who deploy extreme programming, for example, spend much less time in meetings and answering emails than their peers, but their companies seem to do just fine without this extra activity.
- When you allow specialists to work with more focus, they produce more, and this extra value can more than compensate for the cost of maintaining dedicated support.
Supercharging Idea #1: Structure Support
- “Because we all interact with each other in person throughout the day, there’s more camaraderie,”
- when it comes to support, workflows matter.
- Hiring new support staff and then simply pointing them to an inbox and saying “Be useful” is a recipe for misery and high turnover.
- A support staffer should not be faced with ambiguity about what to do next, as such uncertainty drains energy and can generate endless and frustrating ad hoc conversations.
- In addition, it’s important to remember that transactional work typically trumps concurrent efforts. If it’s possible, set up a process that allows a support staffer to work on one thing at a time until done, and to deal with issues in person (not through back-and-forth messaging)
Supercharging Idea #2: Build Smart Interfaces Between Support and Specialists
- In most knowledge work settings, it’s the specialists who directly produce the valuable output that sustains their organization.
- Google, for example, already invests heavily in free food and subsidized dry cleaning to help its high-paid specialist developers produce more value. Against that backdrop, the cost of an ombudsman of this type might be minor relative to the additional value it would unlock.
- no knowledge work organization ever conquered a market because of the internal efficiency of its HR department.
Supercharging Idea #3: As a Last Resort, Simulate Your Own Support Staff
- If you’re instead an employee without this control
- I suggest simulating your own support staff.
- One way to accomplish this goal is to partition your time into two separate categories: specialist and support. For example, perhaps 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. are support hours. During all other hours, you act as if you work in a specialized organization
- Don’t answer administrative emails or attend administrative meetings—just work on what you do best, as if you’re an XP developer.
- During the support hours, by contrast, act as if you’re a fulltime support staffer whose objective is to make your specialist alter ego as effective as possible. Don’t simply get lost in emails during these times, but actually follow the advice given above and put in place processes for minimizing the sense of overload you experience juggling these logistical matters
- Another advanced tactic is to assign entire days to these roles.
- switching back and forth between support and specialist work reduces your cognitive capacity
- An hour dedicated exclusively to a hard project followed by an hour dedicated exclusively to administrative work will produce more total output than if you instead mix these efforts into two hours of fragmented attention.
Conclusion: The Twenty-First-Century Moonshot
- "For every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage."
- these advantages and disadvantages are never “distributed evenly” among the population.
- "Technological change is not additive; it is ecological. . . . A new medium does not add something; it changes everything. In the year 1500, after the printing press was invented, you did not have old Europe plus the printing press. You had a different Europe."
- email made the hive mind workflow possible, but it didn’t make it inevitable.
- Once you accept that the primary capital resource in knowledge work is the human brains you employ (or, more accurately, these brains’ capacity to focus on information and produce new information that’s more valuable), then basic capitalist economics take over and make it obvious that success depends on the details of how you deploy this capital.
- The Luddites in this current moment are those who nostalgically cling to the hyperactive hive mind, claiming that there’s no need to keep striving to improve how we work in an increasingly high-tech world.
- “We need to proceed with our eyes wide open,” concluded Postman, “so that we may use technology rather than be used by it.”
Disclaimer: I don't always agree with the content of the book, the purpose of sharing my highlights is to help you decide whether to buy the book or not.