February 27, 2024

Following my recent book clearance, I finally managed to start tackling the backlog of books I want to read and have just finished A World Without Email by Cal Newport. To encourage me to complete this book I decided to read it with my ears’ and switched from paper to the audio book.

I have not read any of Newport’s other books and my interest in this one was triggered by a feeling that I (and others) are drowning in email. I experience many of the problems that are described in the book — a high volume of daily emails, the perception I should reply quickly, even the need to manage the build-up of emails while on holiday. Perhaps in a post-pandemic/working-from-home world communication has become a new metric for productivity. What follows are my thoughts and reflections on this book.

Overall I feel there is a much shorter book within this one given the conclusions. I have noticed in many of the self-help’ books I have read that they often provide excessive justification to their recommendations and conclusions using too many repetitive case studies and historical context. I didn’t need to learn about the introduction of stirrups into medieval Europe to understand why email was so widely adopted and so quickly. I don’t feel I needed to learn about the works of Claude Shannon to understand how information is managed within an office environment. As a result of these issues, it felt to me that this book does drag-on a bit and could have been much more focused — more on that below.

It is perhaps unfortunate that this book was released just as the world of work was changing due to the COVID pandemic and, as a result, feels a little dated with references to walking down the hall” rather than sending emails. It reflects a world before widespread work from home and the consequent need for increased levels of email and messaging communication. The book certainly underlined my own belief that lots of communication is not the same thing as good communication.

The title of the book hints at a revolution but the conclusions; that work should be managed using dedicated project management tools rather than ad-hoc email, that Kanban boards and scrum’ meetings are valuable and that we need to take time to get real’ (aka deep) work done does not feel like a great revelation. I thought the final section of the book spent far too much time on the case studies of the benefits of Extreme Programming, sprints, administrative support to specialists, and other productive workflows.

I work in a technology’ company so perhaps I am not actually the target audience here. Overall I was left disappointed — there was little in this book I could apply to change my life. And if I never hear the phrase Hyperactive Hive Mind” again it will still be too soon!


Previous post Cloud Howe My Desert Island book would likely be Sunset Song, a Scottish Novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. I’ve previously written about my love of this book Next post The One I was listening to a spin-off episode of the Thoroughly Considered podcast where they take a single designed object chosen by a guest and consider