A modest proposal: eliminate email

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.

On the flipside, when you’re between your own scheduled office hours, you have no inboxes to check or messages demanding response. You’re left, in other words, to simply work. And of course, when you’re home in the evening or on vacation, the fact that there’s no inbox slowly filling up with urgent obligations allows a degree of rest and recharge that’s all but lost from the lives of most knowledge workers today.

This is from an HBR article by Cal Newport. You can and should follow his blog.

I want to hear what you think… particularly the ways in which you can make this (or some version of it) work. Drop me a note using the “Contact me” button on the ruler.

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Because you don’t hire half a person

“That one can hire only a whole man [or woman] rather than any part thereof explains why the improvement of human effectiveness in work is the greatest opportunity for the improvement of performance and results”.

– Peter Drucker

We’re all rational decision makers? Think again.

We say we make decisions based on an assumption of a rationality that maximizes. In reality, we are imperfectly rational creatures who make sub-optimal decisions. Time to re-visit our assumptions.

The model of rational choice makes several assumptions. It assumes that our goal is to maximize self interest. It assumes that different dimensions of our decisions are “commensurable” (that is, comparable on a common scale—say a “utility” scale). And it assumes that we act with complete information and can meaningfully assign probabilities to every outcome. (…)

What modern research tells us is that we are imperfectly rational in two different respects.

  • One is that we do the “math” wrong; we are bad at thinking about uncertainty and at creating relevant and accurate spreadsheets in our heads.
  • The second is more important: we often want the wrong things.

We mispredict how much satisfaction, or utility, a given outcome will give us. We discount future consequences of decisions too steeply (and thus eat and spend too much, and exercise and save too little). And we mispredict how long a given decision will satisfy us. That is, we tend to ignore the fact that we get used to good things so that they provide us with satisfaction for a much shorter time than we imagine.

The model [of rational choice] is not fine. Virtually all of the assumptions built into it about human beings and the world are false:

It assumes that people are self-interested. Well, yes and no. Self-interest is certainly part of what moves us, but we are also interested in the welfare of others (…), and even the world. And we are also interested in doing what’s right (…).

It assumes that there is a common scale of value on which everything can be compared. There isn’t. Sure, we can assign value numbers to things like salary, colleagues, being close to our families, and the like, but in doing so, we are only kidding ourselves that these numbers actually represent a common underlying metric. Tradeoffs are hard to make, and often can’t be made formulaically. (…).

It assumes that we can attach meaningful probabilities to outcomes. Sometimes we can, but life is not a roulette wheel or a series of coin flips, in which probabilities are well defined. The world is a radically uncertain place, and we deceive ourselves if we think we can always attach numbers to our uncertainty.

via Barry Schwartz.

Before you write anything, ask yourself these questions

Says George Orwell:

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

  1. Could I put it more shortly
  2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

More here.

See also: George Orwell at Encyclopedia Britannica.

 

Want to improve your writing? Read a lot. And slowly.

Learning to write sound, interesting, sometimes elegant prose is the work of a lifetime. The only way I know to do it is to read a vast deal of the best writing available, prose and poetry, with keen attention, and find a way to make use of this reading in one’s own writing.

The first step is to become a slow reader. No good writer is a fast reader, at least not of work with the standing of literature.

Writers perforce read differently from everyone else. Most people ask three questions of what they read: (1) What is being said? (2) Does it interest me? (3) Is it well constructed?

Writers also ask these questions, but two others along with them: (4) How did the author achieve the effects he has? And (5) What can I steal, properly camouflaged of course, from the best of what I am reading for my own writing? This can slow things down a good bit.

More here.

Make your 300 months genuinely shine for you

 

“Human lifetime is less than 1,000 months long. For only 1/3 of those 1,000 months will you have time for serious thinking, serious loving and serious acting – that gives you only 300 months.” (…)

The rest of the time you’ll spend doing things like sleeping, eating or being stuck in a traffic jam.

via WSJ.

Challenge: a day without distraction

Here are the rules: All work must be done in blocks of at least 30 minutes.

If I start editing a paper, for example, I have to spend at least 30 minutes editing. If I need to complete a small task, like handing in a form, I have to spend at least 30 minutes doing small tasks.

See the conclusions here.

Sneak preview:

if you survive the annoyance, (…) your work will be of a much higher quality.