Beyond Busy

A World Without Email with Cal Newport

Beyond Busy
A World Without Email with Cal Newport

This week on the Beyond Busy podcast we welcome Cal Newport.  

Cal is the author of ‘Deep Work’ and ‘Digital Minimalism’ and this is his second time on Beyond Busy. Last time we discussed the evolution of knowledge work, how social media compulsion has shifted in recent years and lots of other things. In this episode, we talk about his new book ‘A World Without Email’ and why it is so hard to make time and space for deep work. Cal also shares his own strategies on how to beat it. 

The conversation starts off with Cal and Graham talking about how they've dealt with the pandemic and how we finally got used to the new normality. Although, Cal tells us he is lucky enough to have some not-online-guests in his studio in Washington DC to record podcasts soon. 

Then they move to Cal’s new book ‘A World Without Email’. Cal shares that he actually paired his other workpiece ‘Deep Work’ with ‘A World Without Email’ so they work as a tandem. He also talks more about the main idea of the book: The Hyperactive Hive Mind.  

The hyperactive hive mind workflow was enabled by email. So, you need email for the hyperactive hive mind workflow to be possible, but it's not equivalent to email, and it's not a necessary consequence of having that technology. So, what is it? Well, it's a mode of collaboration and office work, where you say we will primarily work things out with unscheduled back and forth ad hoc low-friction digital messages. 

That's a very distinctive mode of collaboration. It emerged following email spread there haven't since been additional tools that implement the hyperactive hive mind even slicker. But it's that way of working that I think has a lot of problems that we underestimated and it's the villain of my book. And it's an important distinction because again, email is a tool I'm not super interested in, right? I mean, I think it's useful. It replaced a fax machine. It replaced voicemails, but the hyperactive hive mind that it helped enable. That's a real problem. 

Cal also shared his personal productivity tips in Trello: 

I use a different board for every role that I have so I break up my professional life into different roles. There's a role as a researcher. There's a role as a teaching professor. There's a role as a writer because when I'm looking at one context, they only want to be thinking about that context. I have cards for all the different things.  

I need to do obligations for those different roles. And they're categorized on different columns that keep track of what their status is so I can look at this thing each week and figure out what's going on. What should I be working on? Where can I put the information? This is a key one. Oh, here's a nugget of information related to a project that I haven't started yet, but I want to work on soon for my writing. 

Now I know what to do with it. I go to that board. I go to that card. I put it on there. Another key innovation of these boards is waiting to hear back from the column. So, okay. I'm waiting to hear back from this person about this. I'm waiting to hear back from my web developer about this. You have a post in the ground for each of these here. 

It's here. I'll see it. I don't have to remember it. You know, when I'm looking at this board. I'm waiting to hear back, look at that card and waiting to hear back from this person about this. I never heard back. It's been three weeks now. I know to actually ping them or to nudge them to see what's going on. 

All of this makes a huge difference. We're used to this idea that, well, it's all just kind of in an inbox and Slack and we just kind of go after it and figure it out. But it is cognitively so much superior to segregate these things into their own isolated context and deal with each thing when you deal with it.  

The full conversation is also available on the Beyond Busy YouTube channel. 

Graham Allcott is the founder of the time-management training company Think Productive 


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Brought to you by Graham Allcott of Beyond Busy