I’m enjoying listening to ‘World without Email‘ by Cal Newport. I’ve been an aficionado of inbox-management techniques for many years, but this book adds in new layers of systems and computer science understanding that I have found fascinating.

The book is a critique of the ‘hyper-active hive mind’, the term he uses to describe the way many knowledge workers now interact with each other. I don’t plan to summarise his key points here; rather to chart an experiment I am running.

I am interested in the idea of minimising modal shift, in other words, how often my brain flips from one activity to another. It is amazing how hard it is to stay focused on just one task, even if it is enjoyable. There are so many factors driving me towards the pull of distraction: the dopamine hit of a new message; the fear of social ostracisation if I don’t respond to a message; the design of the software itself leads me to distraction.

As Newport describes, we slip into just firing off messages because it is so easy, but by doing so we use up the attention capital of everyone else. It is a case of the tragedy of the commons. Instead, he says, we need to do the hard work of inventing systems for how we should communicate more effectively for different tasks.

Today I have enjoyed spending some time with Regenerative Design Lab co-convenor Ellie Osborne designing a process for short-listing, interviewing and finalising candidates for the next cohort of lab participants that requires the bare minimum use of our email inboxes. Features of the design are:

  • Agreeing where shared information can be stored – not in an email mailbox.
  • Finding tools to that enable candidates to book interview slots without the need for email back-and-forth.
  • Identifying in advance what things we might need to communicate about and booking in that conversation ahead of time, so that we can save queries for that exchange.

Setting this system up hopefully means both of us can get on with arranging the interviews with minimal recourse to our email inboxes. And that should mean we can spend more time focusing on the design of the lab itself.

I’ll report back on how the experiment went.