There’s Only One Good Way to Email Your Boss

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My boss gets 500 emails a day. I try not to email her but sometimes I have to, and the one way to get her to reply quickly is simple: I start every email to her with a question. And then if needed, I explain the context to my question in one or two more sentences in the fewest possible words.

Starting with a question is important because if your boss scrolls through emails on her phone, like most of us do, her screen allows her to see only the first few words of an email before she chooses to reply, delete, or ignore it. Words like “Do you think…” or “Could we…” or “Will you confirm…” are quick shorthand phrases that tell her THIS IS AN EASY EMAIL. All she has to do is reply yes or no. And she’ll email you back faster.

Another great touch you can add while emailing your boss, co-workers, and especially people who don’t work at your company is changing every “can” and “will” to “could you please” and “would you.” At first you will worry you sound ridiculously formal: “Could you please tell me if…?” and “Would you consider…?” But then people will start being SO NICE TO YOU and MOVE MOUNTAINS to help you only because you SOUND like a very nice refined person with poise — even if you’re falling apart at your desk, even if they’ve never met you.

 

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On Physician Burnout and the Plight of the Modern Knowledge Worker

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On Screens and Surgeons

Atul Gawande has a fascinating article in the most recent issue of the New Yorker about the negative consequences of the electronic medical records revolution. There are many points in this piece that are relevant to the topics we discuss here, but there was one observation in particular that I found particularly alarming.

One of the striking findings from Maslach’s research is that the burnout rate among physicians has been rapidly rising over the last decade. Interestingly, this rate differs between different specialities — sometimes in unexpected ways.

Neurosurgeons, for example, report lower levels of burnout than emergency physicians, even though the surgeons work longer hours and experience poorer work-life balance than ER doctors.

As Gawande reports, this puzzle was partly solved when a research team from the Mayo Clinic looked closer at the causes of physician burnout. Their discovery: one of the strongest predictors of burnout was how much time the doctor spent starting at a computer screen.

The Employer Surveillance State

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The proliferation of surveillance is due, at least in part, to the rising sophistication and declining cost of spy technology: Employers monitor workers because they can.

Perhaps the most common argument for surveillance—one often deployed by firms that make employee-monitoring products—is that it can make workers more productive. Purveyors of monitoring software claim they can help managers reduce the number of wasted hours and ensure that employees make better use of their time.

Worse yet, some studies suggest that workers who sense they are monitored have lower self-esteem and are actually less productive. In fact, Anteby told me, those of us who do “cheat” on the job often do so in retaliation for the very lack of trust surveillance implies: For example, some TSA employees he observed wasted countless hours finding clever ways to evade the surveillance camera’s roving eye.

Practical Frameworks for Beating Burnout

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In a way it’s ironic that this problem plagues Type-A players the most. The people who want to do their best and accomplish the most end up limiting themselves unintentionally. In startup culture, this usually manifests in people trying to have peak performance at work while also going to all the social events and being great to their families at the same time. Then they’re hard on themselves for not getting perfect marks in every category. As soon as they meet their own bar, they raise it.

But there’s a second, even more invisible cause of burnout: The lack of inclusive environments in tech. This isn’t solely about gender or race or even socio-economic background. It’s about your personality and work style and how you operate professionally. Everyone is different in these ways, but tech companies — and startups in particular — tend to demand a specific style.

Think of the talented introvert in a workplace where you have to fight to get heard. Maybe you’re a night owl, but the hours required are designed for morning people. Perhaps your work requires dedicated, quiet, constant focus but most of your co-workers listen to pop music and take loud phone calls all day.

“Most organizations haven’t evolved to create an environment that embraces the diversity of their people,” says Saxena. “Which places an additional burden — or you can even think of it as a tax — on the folks who have to strive to fit in with the prevailing culture. They basically have to be someone they’re not at work, and that’s exhausting.”

Gmail’s New Nudge Feature Is a More Efficient Way to Feel Guilty About Your Inbox

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Anyone who’s ever had an office job—or, come to think of it, a life—is familiar with the “nudge,” the email you send when you need someone to do something for you and that person hasn’t responded to your first request. So you send another one. And even though you phrase it as politely as possible, both parties know exactly what it is: It’s a second notice. It’s strike 2, as in one more and you’re out. Even the word we use to describe these actions, and sometimes in the emails themselves, nudge (“Just wanted to send a nudge on this!”), attempts to put a gentler name on what is at heart a demand.

The New York Times Fired My Doppelgänger

A black-and-white photograph of Quinn Norton superimposed on an upside-down image of the New York Times building in New York

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But this isn’t what the internet did with the idea of me that emerged from a scatter of tweets before Valentine’s Day. The internet lets people create and then interact with a character. Regardless of who I am and what I’ve done, there is now a Nazi-sympathizing and homophobic “Quinn Norton” out there: She was born into privilege, and in some versions of this story even attended two universities in California. She is an abusive and deceptive person, who lies about her family, her disabilities, and even her sexuality. She is also fictional, a creation of a collaborative writing process that took place on social-publishing platforms, over a matter of days, between countless people who had never met each other. That creativity, however much I believe it was misapplied in this case, is part of what makes our networks miraculous and wonderfully strange. I wish it hadn’t affected my life, but it also illustrates to me why my work is important, and why I must continue exploring and explaining these things.

Context collapse is our constant companion online. The openness of the web that has given us so much has given us this phenomenon, too, and it complicates things. It isn’t inherently dangerous, but it does require work and critical thought. The internet makes us telepathic, angry, and weird—but it also lets us collaborate, remix, and rapidly reconfigure one another’s ideas on a massive scale.

Around Valentine’s Day, people found some things I’ve said over the last decade upsetting. Some of those things I said, and the way that I said them, I stand by completely. They require context to understand, but that’s not a flaw—that’s part of what makes them complicated and useful thoughts. Some things I’ve said—mostly things not discovered by the mob, to be honest—are not so great, and I don’t agree with them now. But that’s a worthwhile part of my story. I’d hate to think I haven’t learned anything in the last 20 years. I used to think that color-blindness and not talking about race would fix racism. They won’t. I used to be too scared to let people know when I didn’t understand something, and just muddle through hoping I wouldn’t get caught. That was a terrible way of dealing with the world. I used to think that showing someone how wrong they were on the internet could fix the world. I said a lot of stupid things when I believed that.