Best of Both Worlds podcast: Email extravaganza

Email may sound like a dry topic, but wow do our inboxes affect our lives. So since Sarah and I both recently read Cal Newport’s book, A World Without Email, we decided to use this week’s episode of Best of Both Worlds to delve into how we communicate, the upsides and downsides of email, and our tips for keeping it under control.

Cal notes that the “hyperactive hive mind” behavior that email enables is both detrimental to productivity (people check messages on average something like every six minutes!) and makes people miserable. We can’t unplug easily, because the thought of a close colleague being unable to reach us puts the brain’s danger system on high alert. In evolutionary terms, you’d never ignore a tribe member helping you hunt a mastodon…and, alas, that’s what not checking email for a few hours can feel like.

We both agree that email is useful for some things (so maybe “A World With Less Email” as a title?) and can be managed better when organizations don’t treat employee attention as a limitless resource, subject to the tragedy of the commons. Listen to the episode to find out how and when we process email — on some level it sounds different, though probably not so terribly different in the end.

In the question section, we give advice to a listener who needs to study for a professional licensing exam. In industries where you must pass a high stakes exam, adequate study time needs to become a family priority. Sadly, there is some evidence that this might be less the case for women than for men. We talk about some ways to make time (and how Sarah has studied in the past).

Please give the episode a listen, and as always, we welcome reviews and ideas of other topics we can cover!

8 thoughts on “Best of Both Worlds podcast: Email extravaganza

  1. Hi,
    Just wanted to provide some feedback for the licensing exam question. I am an oral surgeon and took my oral boards 2 years ago when my daughter was 2.5. For an oral board exam I found it essential to practice with colleagues and take turns going through mock exam cases. Finding someone who is also studying at the same time and setting up a schedule for practicing was very helpful. We all had kids and we all did it after bedtime one or two times a week, every other day when we got closer to the exam date.
    I have to say I learned the most from someone who had taken and failed the test. Oral exams are difficult because during our training we get very good at multiple choice test but not really oral exams. People who have taken it recently have essential information about format and how the exam feels in general, the time crunch aspect and such. They make for very good mock examiners.
    I agree the whole family has to be supportive and understand this needs to be a priority.

    Love the podcast !!

    1. @Vinela- thanks for the feedback! This sounds like a really smart solution to practicing for the very different conditions oral boards present vs. a written exam. Congrats to you and your colleagues on making it work in your full lives.

  2. For Sarah and anyone else getting “looped in”. Check out the DACI framework often used in Product management. There are 4 explicit roles – Driver (leads project, assigns the rest of the roles), Approver (green-light or veto decision maker, but not involved in intermediate steps), Contributor (people Driver asks for advice, input, or pieces of work), and Informed (given FYI-type updates, usually on other teams or non-decision-makers who can benefit from knowing the state of the project).

    It may work well to ask people to use those key words (“Sarah, I want to keep you informed vs Sarah, you are the decision-maker, vs Sarah, you are asked to contribute ideas/work to this). Our docs often also have little DACI tables at the top of the doc so we don’t forget about Informed folks.

    1. Omg, I think this will transform how I interact with the 10 people who report to me. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  3. Laura, I read the same study about women taking the general surgery boards. It was really sad to see that even just being married (without kids) reduced a woman’s chances of passing, and motherhood reduced it further. My husband was really surprised by this while I was not. Laura- I remember you talking about single mothers doing less housework than married mothers. Unfortunately I think being married creates more housework/expectations for women. When I was single, I lived in a small space and ate simple meals. I recall eating frozen peas with marinara sauce and cheese for an entire month when I was on a busy rotation. Sad but it worked!

    I have only taken one exam as a mom so far, but gearing up for 2 more in the next 2 years. Doing questions has always been the most effective for me. I bought a question bank and divided the number of questions by the number of days I had to study, and put myself on a lighter rotation. I made sure I had reliable childcare during that time.

    I also have a routine of Sunday afternoon childcare during busy seasons of life. I take a break from work Friday evening-Sunday morning. Every time I’ve tried to work Saturday I am unable to be productive. Sunday 1-5pm is generally downtime anyway, so I get childcare and spend it working/studying as needed.

  4. I feel compelled to comment on the search function comment from the podcast. I agree in Yahoo and Gmail, the search function is great. However, I use Outlook for work, and it is rare for me to find something quicker via the search function versus manually searching. I wish the Outlook search function worked better so I wouldn’t have to rely on remembering which folder I moved an email to!

  5. Hi Laura, I listened to your Best of Both Worlds podcast episode on email extravaganza, and I must say, it was a great discussion. As someone who struggles to keep up with email, I appreciated the practical tips and strategies you and your guest provided for managing email overload.

    I found it helpful when you suggested having specific times of day to check and respond to email, rather than being constantly tethered to your inbox. This can help reduce distractions and allow for more focused work during the day. I also appreciated your emphasis on the importance of setting clear boundaries with email and not feeling guilty for not responding immediately.

    Your guest’s suggestion of using the “four Ds” – delete, delegate, defer, and do – is a great framework for quickly and efficiently processing emails. It’s a simple yet effective way to prioritize tasks and avoid getting bogged down by unimportant or low-priority emails.

    I also appreciated your discussion on the importance of email etiquette, such as keeping emails concise and avoiding unnecessary replies or forwards. These small changes can make a big difference in reducing email clutter and improving communication efficiency.

    Overall, I found your podcast episode to be a great resource for anyone looking to manage their email more effectively. Thanks for sharing your insights and strategies, and keep up the great work with your podcast! Learn more:

  6. I couldn’t help but leave a comment after listening to your “Best of Both Worlds” podcast email extravaganza episode. I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion and the insights you and your guests shared regarding email management and productivity. It’s a topic that many of us can relate to, and your tips were truly valuable.

    I loved how you emphasized the importance of setting boundaries with email and not letting it control our lives. The idea of scheduling specific times to check and respond to emails, rather than constantly being at its mercy, is a game-changer. It allows for better focus on important tasks and helps prevent the feeling of being overwhelmed by the never-ending influx of messages.

    The concept of the “inbox zero” approach was particularly intriguing. I’ve often found myself spending too much time on organizing and categorizing emails, which can be a drain on productivity. Your suggestion of focusing on the most important emails and handling the rest with a more relaxed approach is liberating. It’s about prioritizing effectively and not getting caught up in the small, less consequential messages.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and practical strategies for managing email effectively. Your insights have given me a fresh perspective on how to approach my inbox and reclaim control over my time. I’m excited to implement these techniques and experience the positive impact on my productivity.

    Keep up the fantastic work with your podcast, Laura! I always find your episodes enlightening and look forward to more valuable discussions in the future.

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