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Nick Saban Just Got Email

By most measures, Nick Saban is one of the most successful college football coaches in the history of the sport. As revealed in a recent interview with ESPN, however, he’s not exactly tech savvy. During this discussion, Sabin revealed that up until the last few weeks, when unavoidable remote work forced some changes, he had never used email.

I think this is an important story. Not because Saban’s specific work habits can be widely replicated (Saban, who was paid $8.6 million last year, has a staff who handles incoming requests), but because it underscores a point that we often forget. Low friction communication makes a lot of modern work easier, because it allows you to avoid the pain of setting up and optimizing systems that organize your efforts. But easy is not the same as effective.

We’re in a moment right now in which a lot of knowledge workers, dislodged from their normal routines, are forced to look at their work from a fresh perspective. There’s an opportunity lurking here among the abundant negatives: we might notice that our current commitment to unrelenting, uncontrolled, attention-devouring incoming communication is not necessarily the sine qua non of digital age productivity.

Saban didn’t need to check an inbox every five minutes to win six championship titles. This might be less exceptional than we realize.

(Image by Photographer 192)

14 thoughts on “Nick Saban Just Got Email”

  1. Hey, cal what do you think the cause of procrastination? Because I eleminated all the unnecessary tech from my life and I still, when faced with the work I should do, I find myself procrastinating by doing anything else other than work!

    • I think there are different reasons for procrastination. It depends on the individual.To “cure” yourself you will need to dig deeper and identify what the underlying reason that is causing you to procrastinate. Some of the major causes of procrastination are:

      1. Fear of Failure
      2. Fear of Success
      3. Perfectionism
      4. Lack of Energy

      For me perfectionism is the major cause of my procrastination.

  2. Sure. There are lots of jobs that don’t require to be constantly connected.
    But we can apply the same principles for our current situation.

    • I think most of Study Hacks readers understand and agree with Cal’s well formed ideas. Such posts are a good reminder but posts about execution and practicing the philosophy would be much more useful.

  3. Hi Cal,

    I am very interested in your views regarding platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams that are very popular in the current environment.
    They do provide some sort of structure to communication, but they suffer from all the sinkholes of social media, in my opinion.

    • Very interested in his take on this. My university has our work desktops set up so that Microsoft Lync literally cannot be closed, so we’re always available to get an IM unless our Outlook Calendar say we’re busy. It’s a horrible setup and the IT team that set it up (we have two separate IT teams – one institutional and one just for nursing) not only forced that on our nursing program but also just installed Teams about a week before we all had to start working from home.

      I’ve already emailed my boss, and our school dean, showing how much more productive I’ve been away from the constant pinging of needless interactions and the requirement that my office door always be open outside of whenever I took my lunch. I think things like Slack/Teams could be used well, but most of the folks implementing them don’t actually have any kind of deep work in their job descriptions and just push the new, shiny toy on everyone else.

      • Hi Joe,

        We have recently started using Microsoft teams, we are still setting up our channels etc. My first thoughts:
        1. There is structure – you can create a channel or chat and hold all discussions regarding a subject there, with documents etc. This is a massive plus as you can eliminate a lot of emails this way.
        2. You can create channels for the ‘trivial’ subjects. I used to hate the ‘I am away on vacation next week’ or ‘We are getting pizza…’ emails. These can move into channels that I can view if and when I want.
        3. Important communications can be again structured in a place that I can find fast.
        4. Notifications are a killer though. You can switch them off but people in the organization that you have the application on all the time. The same applied for impromptu discussions and chats. It’s easy so why not use them?
        5. I have seen the number of meeting grow thanks to the platform because of its ease of use and video is reliable. My real working time has consequently decreased. I am planning some remedies but it is a struggle to manage expectations.

        So there is a lot of potential in Teams or Slack, but it is a struggle to manage the time allocated in an environment where the platforms a core system.

        • The thing is, we don’t really need that organizational aspect as we’ve already got our own servers set up with a shared drive for out unit and individual drives for each employee. We have a working system in place for content management and collaboration, and we outpace the rest of the institution by a fairly wide gap.

          We moved to Canvas as our LMS while the rest of the schools at the institution stayed on Sakai, the cheapest and most outdated LMS out there. We wrote code that intercepted all of our Zoom recordings and immediately formatted and uploaded them to our Kaltura server while sending the meeting host a tinyurl once the upload was complete, yet the director of ed tech for one of our other schools literally did not know what Zoom was less than a week before we all had to go fully online.

          I’m sure there are ways to incorporate Teams that are noninvasive, but my experience has been (across 3 universities at this point) that the people pushing programs like that are just trying to make their job seem more relevant by forcing everyone onto the shiny new tool without any real insight into how or why it should be used.

      • Completely agree that it makes no sense to force being constantly available via IM. However, you do have a potential workaround – add “meetings” where you need to focus to block off your time in Outlook.

        You can also set Lync/Skype to “Do Not Disturb” – which warns the sender if they really want to send a message.

        I have come to dislike IM of any flavor more and more. And I’m an IT consultant.

  4. Your comment about Nick having administrative staff does raise an interesting question about the structure of a workplace, from an economic perspective.

    You’ve written a lot about managing your time, and minimising shallow work. What if shallow work could be almost entirely outsourced?

    What if more people who’s primary talents lie in deep thinking were supplemented by full-time paid secretaries?

    You could directly compare the economic productivity of a company where only managers had assistants, and knowledge workers did their own administration, with a company where all employee’s who’s responsibility was primarily in producing valuable work, had paid assistants, and it was part of the company’s business model, to prioritise the skills of its knowledge workers.

    • My industry (aerospace) has gone the opposite direction these last 10-15+ years: there used to be many more administrative assistants, but now there is usually one administrative assistant for an entire program. They usually have to dedicate most of their time to helping upper management, which means that all of us lowly engineers cannot just focus on our engineering work: we have to spend many hours over the course of a year to manage our own travel, prepare menial PowerPoint presentations, coordinate meetings, and conduct many other administrative tasks that there used to be assistants for. This was a short-sighted attempt at saving money…but since the trend continues after having been implemented for many years, I guess all these aerospace companies really do prefer to pay $40-$80+/hr to conduct administrative tasks, while at the same time taking away engineers’ time to focus on what they do best.

  5. Nick Saben is the poster boy for what’s wrong with universities. Whether he has email or not makes no difference to the mission of higher education. Sporting jesters are nothing but a distraction from the things that matter. So if he had email earlier in his career his coaching the team would have suffered? I’d rather see coaches eliminated before any technological distraction hands down.


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