Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Email Flood is Drowning Us

I rarely use my blog to forward links to articles, but this one from the Harvard Business Review strikes me as very important. (Unfortunately, it does a better job of pinpointing the seriousness of the problem than it does resolving it.)

The writer diagnoses two ways in which email is harming productivity—and, much more important, harming us.

First, this incessant communication fragments attention, leaving only small stretches left in which to attempt to think deeply, apply your skills at a high level, or otherwise perform well the core activity of knowledge work: extracting value from information. To make matters worse, cognitive performance during these stretches is further reduced by the “attention residue” left from the frequent context switching required to “just check” if something important arrived.

The second harm is more personal. As more knowledge workers now acknowledge, the inbox-bound lifestyle created by an unstructured workflow is exhausting and anxiety-provoking. Humans are not wired to exist in a constant state of divided attention, and we need the ability to gain distance from work to reflect and recharge. Put simply, this workflow, which can transform even the highest skilled knowledge workers into message-passing automatons, is making an entire sector of our economy miserable.

The drastic solution he proposes—replacing email with other systems for workplace communication—is beyond what I could implement as a pastor or even at the Archdiocese. In fact, another HBR article argues against such extreme measures.

But I know I have to do something, since there’s no doubt in my case that the daily torrent of emails is “exhausting and anxiety-provoking” and that their portability gravely impairs my ability to reflect and recharge, as the first article suggests.

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