A few days ago I came across Cal Newport’s episode on “The failure of Cybernetic Productivity " where he talked about a term I’ve never heard before: Cybernetic Productivity. This productivity concept has been prominent since the early 2000s and has served as an effective strategy for managing the growing workload, particularly among knowledge workers . Now, let’s delve into the principles:

  1. Automate and speed up shallow task as much as possible
    • Have software tools “speak” with other ones, send data from your browser to your Exceel sheet or to your editor (and vice versa)
    • use as less clicks as possible
    • automate all the things ™
  2. Try to keep needed information at your finger tips
    • make it easy to organize and get access to information
    • the more we have the right information when we need it, the more effective knowledge workers we are going to be
    • Example: Google
      • You can search for all types of information
      • In general knowledge management tools implement this principle that information should never be to far from the person who needs it
  3. Remove friction from communication
    • communication has to be easy
    • if friction is removed, high velocity communication / colaboration can be achieved
  4. Simplify the extraction of actionable wisdom from data
    • the information we need to do things is often hidden in data
      • we need tools that can find trends
      • we need tools that can extract wisdom from data so we can have it at our finger tips

According to Cal Newport this approach doesn’t work because of the so called infinite buffer. A sort of inbox that never ends He arguments that the supply of work is infinite for most knowledge workers. Instead of having a pull approach where workers “pull” new tasks from a central registry, potential tasks are stored at individuals. This way tasks are pushed towards people until they’re ready to work on that task. The buffer of work is growing so people tend to have more and more to do.

This mentality combined with the cybernetic productivity has the following effect: It speeds up the shallow tasks (overhead work surrounding deeper work) Also check Shallow Work and at the same time frees up more time (for more work to fill in the infinite buffer). Here is a quote from the episode:

We’re jumping from project to project, google is findin this information or maybe if we’re more advanced chatGPT is grabbing the information for us that we’re automatically sending it over between different types of tools and this data automatically goes over there and it’s the cloud and it syncs. We’re moving faster, faster and faster and more work comes in to fill that void and there is no time left to do the important stuff all those overheads are trying to support in the first place.

So we feel tired, we feel exhausted, the context switches are making us dumber and we’re spending less time actually doing the underlying work that creates value, the actual work that is valued in the marketplace.


I have read Cal Newport’s books (Deep Work, Digital Minimalism, So Good They Can’t ignore you) His new book on “Slow Productivity” should be out for sale in March 2024! and I weekly listen to his podcast. So I’m quite familiar with the concepts he advertises for. However, in this case I somehow disagree with his thoughts on the cybernetic productivity and tools that are supposed to speed up communication/interaction.

As you might guess, I have a strong opinion why Emacs is a perfect tool to adress the four principles described earlier. Let me emphasize why by adding Emacs specific tools/methodologies to each one:

Not convinced yet? 😇