are email and meetings a waste of time

Are email and meetings actually a waste of time?

I recently discovered this fantastic blog by Paul Graham. Like so many others, he mentions that email is a digital time sink:

Some days I’d wake up, get a cup of tea and check the news, then check email, then check the news again, then answer a few emails, then suddenly notice it was almost lunchtime and I hadn’t gotten any real work done. And this started to happen more and more often.

He decided he would have one computer to browse the web and another to work:

My rule is that I can spend as much time online as I want, as long as I do it on that computer. And this turns out to be enough. When I have to sit on the other side of the room to check email or browse the web, I become much more aware of it. Sufficiently aware, in my case at least, that it’s hard to spend more than about an hour a day online. Source

check email or browse the web – wtf?

A huge amount of my work is done through email. Because some work involves other people, putting things in writing and communicating quickly.

How have the internets, including some of the founding fathers, deemed email so useless?

The Guardian rants:

In the Harvard Business Review, three consultants from Bain report the results of an exercise in which they analyzed the Outlook schedules of the employees of an unnamed “large company” – and concluded that one weekly executive meeting ate up a dizzying 300,000 hours a year. Which is impressive, given that each of us only has about 8,700 hours a year to begin with. Including sleep.

And The Washington Post weighs in:

Any cubicle drone with a corporate email address knows this well already, of course, but a new report from Adobe describes the problem with some pretty startling numbers. According to its data, which is sourced from a self-reported survey of more than 1,000 white-collar workers in the country, we spend an average of 4.1 hours checking our work email each day. That’s 20.5 hours each week, more than 1,000 hours each year, more than 47,000 hours over a career.

In that time, you could have learned two dozen languages. Or hiked the Appalachian Trail 100 times! Instead, you were tapping out gems like “plz acknowledge receipt, ty” and “ok sounds good, let’s meet at nine.”

Yeah… so it takes a lot of time. That doesn’t mean it’s a time waste.

Yes, you can do it all wrong and waste time, but you can do anything wrong.

I doubt Paul Graham gets less important email than I do. Yet he still calls it “not work”.

It’s actually kind of rude to the people who send you email to say that email is a waste of time.

It sounds so much like just another quick fix from the “productivity” industry, but it seems unlikely that a dude like Paul Graham would get trapped by that.

The only reasonable answer is that your work is something solitary. Same with “meetings” that people so hate. You can call yourself a team player all you want, but if you think email, or to use plain English, communicating is a waste of time, maybe you just aren’t?

When you’re browsing the web, no one cares. But when you don’t answer your emails or don’t turn up to/pay attention in meetings, somebody does.


10 thoughts on “Are email and meetings actually a waste of time?”

  1. I think this is a very grey area. Sure, email and the internet are necessary evils. The problem is when they are abused, especially the former. As someone who’s worked at 4 Fortune 500 companies – far too much gets communicated electronically. When often the person you’re emailing is sitting 500 feet away! So, I think it’s less about not using these tools as it is, using them effectively.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. 3 or so years ago my office internet was off for about a week while some network stuff was being installed in the building system.
    That week was FLAT-OUT the most productive week of the 12 years of working here. I would burn at the stake before I could pass a polygraph denying that computers are a hysterical waste of time.
    I agree completely with your blog friend.
    Unless of course…. if computers are what you are SUPPOSED to be doing at work. Then maybe they’re not a waste.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes. My example was actually quite poor in consideration of the spirit of your article.
        I have 1 and 1/2 hours to do a 40 minute job. I book 12 – 26 jobs per week. NONE of my work communication involves a computer so ANY computer time for me personally is a complete waste of time when at work.
        The week without a computer caused Indiana Jones sized success.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I operate my business via email. I think the big time waster is not check your email, but “check the news.” Either read it before you “go to work” or after you get home. There is nothing that happens that if you were to know it eight hours earlier would change anything.

    Checking the email is something I do too often, but I am expecting deliveries (of photos and text as attachment–the business is publishing)–so I do have an excuse. But checking first thing in the morning and the first thing in the afternoon is a great time saver. If someone expects an immediate response, I would question why (because they are important and demand compliance? because people will dies if you do not respond, just what is it?).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the thing, I would be the same. Email is central to a lot of what I do.

      As for people who demand a response – this has happened to me twice in my entire history. And once you explain that they don’t reply for ages and expect a reply at the weekend, they tend to lose their fervor


  4. Like you, Dr. Martina Feyzrakhamanova, I belong more in the camp of considering email communication a necessity. If I didn’t have a computer and no e-mail, I’d have no work to do. I work in the shared services department of a company with locations all over the country, so my primary method of communication is typically email.
    After listening to some super helpful productivity podcasts, I have heard of a technique of only checking your email once or twice a day. It theoretically allows you to focus more on the task at hand so you’re not interrupted every 10 minutes with something new. I’ve tried it once or twice, but it’s just not feasible with the nature of my current work.
    I wonder if the main fault these people find with email is not that email itself is useless, but the way that people use it makes their workdays less productive?

    Liked by 1 person

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