How we managed to get rid of email (I)

get rid of email!

We waste a lot of time with email. A study conducted in 2012 concluded that email accounted for 28% of our daily activities at work, as opposed to our role specific tasks. One might argue that communication may be part of our everyday work, but considering the amount of spam we receive daily, and some studies that affirm that approximately only 1/3 of the emails we receive every day are relevant to us, we have reached a point where email is no longer a proper communication channel, specially for a working environment. This situation is, according to the experts, not going to improve. On the contrary, the average number of emails we digest every day will only increase over the years. We really need to get rid of email.

We realized this right away when we just started working together. Initially, when we were building The Task Ninja, we relied on email a lot for our team communication, but it was a nightmare for us. Apart from the fact that email gets lost in your inbox and it’s difficult to track later, we were having a continuous back and forth flow of emails that was forcing us to spend a lot of time reading, writing and replying to email. We decided that we will build a tool that would allow us to get rid of email, completely.

We also tried chat tools like Slack, but they didn’t work for us either. Instead of helping us stay focused at work, Slack was the perfect excuse for chatting and embarking in long discussions that had nothing to do with work, and would ultimately become a source of distraction for us. Besides, after some time, we realized that chat conversation channels were not the best way for keeping track of our activities: we didn’t have a clear archive of actions and tasks, and we couldn’t easily relate our daily activity with concrete contacts or customers. We just had a list of messages. This was not the proper way for us to get rid of email. We decided to build our tool in such a way that would allow our team to communicate while being focused, avoiding any chat-like distraction traps and keeping a coherence in how we managed our tasks, customers and comments. This was the foundation for social comments.

Social comments

Social comments is our answer to email and chat tools. It works as a deliberately limited social network that encourages you to answer or comment on a task only when it’s really necessary, allowing you to focus on your work, instead of wasting your time with endless conversations. We have designed social comments to serve the function they were designed to: add relevant information or update the status of a task.

We gladly volunteered as our own guinea pigs for testing social comments, so we were able to tweak them and make sure they were a useful tool that we could use as a communication channel without loosing our productivity or being constantly interrupted. Besides, all comments for a task are stored alongside the task, so you can easily build a coherent archive of tasks and actions for a customer or a concrete project. We soon noticed that most of our emails were not really that important, and were taking a lot of our time every day. We also noticed how difficult it was for one of us to be up to date of all the different conversations that were happening before via email, specially when many of those emails were not delivered to all the members of our team.

RESULTS

After just some weeks of using social comments, it was clear that it was the perfect tool for the task: our email exchange reduced by 85%, and now was limited mostly to communication with our customers or contacts. We haven’t managed yet to completely get rid of email, but we are getting pretty close. We also found ourselves more focused at work, with less interruptions, and we kind of learned to be really up-front in our comments to save time and say just what we needed to say. We are really happy with the results, and will continue working to improve social comments.

What’s next

Once we had managed to reduce our inner email communications to almost zero, we considered how we might reduce the rest of the emails, those we were sending back and forth with our customers. Our answer to that problem is “Links”, a new feature that we are developing for The Task Ninja. We couldn’t be more excited about it, and we think that, alongside social comments, “links” are going to revolutionize the way companies and startups communicate, and help us all get rid of email for good. We’ll talk about this feature in a future post.

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