Screw the inbox, top computer scientist proves you don't need email


Not all of us could do this. Some of us have jobs that prevent it. Some of us have friends or partners that would also prevent it. Some of us are just too addicted to the digital drip-feed.

BUT – let it be noted – it is possible. It is possible to withdraw from your email address and break the tyranny of the inbox. It doesn’t need to rule your life. And this isn’t some shaggy-haired cave dweller telling you this. This is from one of the world’s most-renowned computer scientists.

Stanford Professor Donald Knuth is one of the important living computer scientists – and he stopped using email in 1990, at a time when most of us probably didn’t know what it was. He had been already using it for 15 years and decided it was distracting him from his work which required long periods of deep concentration.

Instead, he receives communications by “snail mail” – with a secretary to sort out the urgent from the everyday. And then deals with it all in one batch for a day once every three months.

Blogger Cal Newport draws this conclusion from the correspondence:

“Professor Knuth is quite insightful to notice that for some jobs — such as those that require long periods of concentration — on the whole, e-mail can do more damage than good. Sure, it’s convenient for some things, but it scuttles your primary professional purpose. When contemplating the E-mail Zero lifestyle, ask yourself the following two questions: What do I do that makes me most valuable? Would e-mail make me better or worse at this primary role? A simple idea. But as mentioned, powerful in its implications.”

Thought-provoking eh? Though bear in mind that a gmail filter will be a bit cheaper than a secretary.

[via CalNewport]
Anna Leach