The Best Emails I Read in 2020 – Part 1

Happy New Year! Welcome to a new season, may we all receive the grace to thrive. 2020 was a year filled with the entire spectrum of human emotion, from happy to despair, hope to grief, on a global scale. We mourn the departed, we hope for the best, and must continue to live more deliberately.

I thought to share some of the best emails I received from the blogs I subscribe to. I selected them from The Best Emails folder (label it is called in Gmail), a folder I created back in 2018 to move emails I especially find interesting or useful. I do this manually though, not with Gmail’s automated filter.

While the process is not precise or perfect, I find I can delete every other mail left in my inbox without needing to worry too much. Of course, I have other labels (folders) and filters set up for the most important emails I receive, for example, work, learning, family, and so on. Maybe I will share the arrangement some time.


1. Texts, Graphics and Culture: On the Decline of Reading and Civilization – Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.

Authors and publishers face a dilemma in the age of screens, video, and visual effects: Shall we make books to imitate what takes up the attention of today’s readers, that is, enhance the text with images, subtitles, various typefaces (bold, italics), font types and sizes, fancy spacing on book pages, or stick with the traditional linear form books have presented knowledge and ideas?

Dr. Groothuis explains:

The special effects cater to and encourage intellectual impatience and the skimming mentality. Here we face a vexing challenge. All writing must be aimed at an audience. If the audience is addled by screen addiction, it will be difficult for readers to adjust to unmoving, linear, and demanding textuality. Yet we ought [to] want these souls to learn from good books—books like the graphically cluttered book I am now reading and which prompted this essay. At the same time, we ought to challenge readers to bear down, turn off the phones, turn off the music, and let themselves be immersed in reading worthwhile words for long periods of time.

The author’s position: The embellishments distract one from really engaging with the text. If you choose the first option, you’d find available attention from people used to browsing and skimming text.

The other option is an opportunity to allow the text to provide the imagery (at least most of it) and special effects instead of relying on visual devices. It is also an opportunity to train or wean people off digital, and help them to become better readers who can longer attention spans.

Text still has its prime place in our hyper visually-oriented society. Videos and movies start out as written scripts. And for websites, ask marketers, SEOs, and Google, the quantity and quality of your text is most important.

A picture may be worth a thousand words but we’re overloading on them and reducing our ability to reason through and along with text and actually get meaning, both implied and explained, out of what we read.

Dr. Douglas Groothuis is a Christian Philosopher and Apologist. Read the post on his blog.


1. Stay Weird – Avinash Kaushik

Avinash Kaushik is the Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google, and he writes marketing and analytics. In this post, he shared the value of staying true to yourself even in the face of your organization’s (or community’s) insistence on conforming to the unspoken, oft unofficial, but generally expected ways of behaving and working. His point is to do your best work as the authentic you without bending to fit the mould others create and impose on people. Here’s an excerpt:

Stay weird.

Solve for your long-term emotional well being.

Don’t forget the sense of meaningful accomplishment that every human is wired to crave.

Keep your child-like curiosity about the technical work required by your department/team – so that your only redeeming value to your company is not just “managing.”

If you are the type that has big deal breakers[sic] like insulting people, bullying them, or doing things prohibited in your HR manual… Please get help to fix those issues.

But, these deal breakers aside…

If you talk loudly, talk loudly.

If you look at a good solution and instinctively look for problems to fix to make it even better, keep that “irritating world view.”

If you like to sketch ideas instead of writing them, keep sketching.

If you are an introvert, use those strengths rather than becoming someone you are not in order to fit in.

If you are impatient, admit this flaw and then show everyone through your actions that your impatience is rooted in customer love (first), company love (second), and team love (third), then keep being impatient.

For some reason I was unable to figure out, I couldn’t find the post on his blog but you can read the web version of the post here. You should also subscribe to his blog if you play in the digital marketing and analytics space.

2. Sir William Osler’s Advice to Students: Practice Concentrating on Hard Things – Cal Newport

Cal Newport is a professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University and a respected voice in the call for digital minimalism and deep work–focused work rid of the constant distraction of screens and online media, and I would add, meaningful, deliberate living. He expands on a section from Sir William Osler’s book, Aequanimitas: With Other Addresses to Medical Students, Nurses and Practitioners of Medicine. First, from the book:

Let each hour of the day have its allowed duty, and cultivate that power of concentration which grows with its exercise, so that the attention neither flags nor wavers, but settles with bull-dog tenacity on the subject before you. Constant repetition makes a good habit fit easily in your mind, and by the end of the session you may have gained that most precious of all knowledge—the power of work.

Cal Newport’s thoughts:

Modern educational institutions care a lot about content: what theories we teach, what ideas students are exposed to, what skills they come away knowing. But we rarely address the more general question of how one transforms their mind into a tool well-honed for elite-level cognitive work.

As students and professionals, creating or doing anything of value requires enormous devotion of focus and use of time. The only way to achieve this year is to limit the intrusions and excursions to digital media. This may sound contradictory coming from me as I work with digital tools all day. I am getting better at staying focused on my actual work without skipping to other tabs in my browser.

Please read the full post here and feel free to subscribe to his blog. You’ll thank me for it.

3. CR# 883: How to Break Barriers – John Forde

Roger Bannister was the first man recorded to run the mile under four minutes. And he did so when the situation appeared so unfavourable for this feat.

  • Other runners hired the best coaches, he couldn’t.
  • The experts said athletes could only do it on a day with perfect conditions, warm, not windy, and aided by a dry track. But it rained on the morning of his race. It was also cold and windy and the track was wet.
  • They said one needed a huge crowd to cheer a man to such a victory. That morning a tiny crowd watched.

And yet Roger Bannister achieved the impossible as a medical student and part-time athlete.

It took only 48 days for another athlete to break his record, and then another person did it, and then another…what had been impossible for over 70 years was now possible.

It’s a simple, powerful message, this one. We are empowered to do what we thought impossible when we see others do it. Similarly, we can open the door for others to attempt the ‘impossible’ and succeed as we stretch out and make out own attempts. We sort of give them permission to imitate us and succeed.

Read the full post here (I had to share it myself, couldn’t find the article on his blog) and do visit for more great thoughts.


1. Thoughts on a virus – Seth Godin

Seth Godin shared these insights on the coronavirus in March. The information remains relevant even now, nine months later when the nations hardest hit in the world are struggling desperately with the fallout of a second wave.

Viruses act like they are digital. A loud concert gets quieter as you move away from it. A chemical dumped in a lake gets diluted as it moves further from where it landed. But a virus starts fresh every time it infects someone else. Often, we act as if that’s not true. Even though it’s organic and living in our body, it’s a code, one that replicates fairly completely as it spreads. It evolves as it goes, but it also recharges with each new host.

[The virus] can spread even when we don’t know we have the disease.

A mask is not a good luck charm.

Please read the full post here.

2. The Deep Life: Some Notes – Cal Newport

To me, the deep life is about focusing with energetic intention on things that really matter — in work, at home, and in your soul — and not wasting too much attention on things that don’t.

Those who embrace the deep life often push some of these efforts to a place that seems radical to outsiders, but it’s exactly in this extremeness that they find the deep satisfaction. A life focused intensely on the things that really matter — even if it’s riddled with ups and downs — trumps a comfortable life that unfolds with haphazard numbness or excessive narcissism.

You may read the full post here. It will give you something to think about.

3. CR#887 Perspective – John Forde

Through pandemics–the Spanish Flu, Asian Flu, SARS–wars, recessions, and natural disasters, the people of the world have always found a way to bounce back.

What to do? We prepare for the future we are bound to when the tide turns, as the tide turns.

Please read the full article here and visit for more perspectives.


1. Building a Deep Work Cabin…in an Apartment – Cal Newport

Okay, I don’t mean to build a cabin in my apartment (yet). I like this post because it shares someone’s positive experience when he removed himself from digital distractions to focus on his craft. Read it here.

2. How I got lucky – Justin Jackson

Is anyone listening?

When folks are worried about their health and livelihood, it consumes their day-to-day thoughts. Having our basic needs met is the platform that enables humans to be their best selves. It frees people up to think long-term; it gives them the opportunity to engage with big societal problems.

Do take a few minutes to read the post on his blog.


1. Waiting and Worrying – Seth Godin

We humans aren’t strangers to waiting and worrying. The pandemic escalated these traits to a whole new level. But the thoughts here will serve us into the future, beyond COVID and more.

If we decided to simply reduce our waiting and worrying allocation by 50%, just imagine how much we could discover, how many skills we could learn, how dramatically attitudes could shift.

Full post here.

2. The Lost Satisfaction of Manual Competence – Cal Newport

There’s great fulfillment in applying skill to slowly create something useful that didn’t previously exist — a reaction that’s likely embedded in our genes as a lost nudge toward survival-enhancing paleolithic productivity. Matt Crawford perhaps summarizes this reality best in Shop Class as Soulcraftwhen he writes: “The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy.”

I recommend taking a look at this post if you have been re-examining your work and future lately. It’s just the right length, long enough to present the ideas and for us to digest.


1. Krulak’s Law – Seth Godin

Sometimes, the fewest words are enough to express the most potent wisdom. Hear ye, hear ye!

The experience people have with your brand is in the hands of the person you pay the least.

Read the post.

2. What’s at the front of the line – Seth Godin

Given the choice, most people pick among the first three items on a list. The people who present us choices know this and so push what they really want us to choose to the front. Are we really making a choice then?

As consumers, taking the pains to go down the list may be more profitable to you and me.

As creators, evangelists and advocates, electing our conscience to present the most beneficial options at the the top of the list is the right thing to do.

Please read the post.

3. The Stolen Address Book – Seth Godin

Trust, and not the number of connections we have, is our true asset.

Here’s the link to the post.

And there ends part one. Click here to read the second part of the post. Thanks.

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  1. Pingback: A Selection of My Best Emails of 2020 - Part 2 - Wumi Olatunji

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