Study Hacks Blog Posts from April 14, 2020 - Study Hacks - Cal Newport

Beyond the Inbox: Rules for Reducing Email

April 14th, 2020 · 28 comments

In my last post, I warned that a sudden shift to remote work could inadvertently push knowledge workers into a state of inbox capture, in which essentially all of their time outside of Zoom calls ends up dedicated to sending and receiving email (or Slack messages). As I hinted, I think the best solutions here require radical changes to how these organizations operate. In the short term, however, I thought it might be useful to provide a few ideas about what individuals can do right away to avoid the perils of this state of capture.

It’s important to first bust a popular belief. The key to spending less time in your inbox is not simply to check it less often. This advice is out of date, echoing a simpler time when emails were novel. In recent years, of course, this technology has (unfortunately) become the medium in which most work now unfolds. Ignoring your inbox for long stretches with no other accommodations might seriously impair your organization’s operation.

What’s instead imperative is to move more of this work out of your inbox and into other systems that better support efficient execution. You can’t, in other words, avoid this work, but you can find better alternatives to simply passing messages back and forth in an ad hoc manner throughout the day.

Here are three concrete rules along these lines to help clarify what I mean…

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