June 27, 2019
Are Traasdahl

A Crusade Against Email

When my co-founder Dag Liodden and I started Crisp, the first thing we did was write down everything that didn’t work in our last company together. Our biggest frustration was the mountain of emails we received every day. I had 200 incoming emails per day, and they took up over 50% of my time. Compare this to now: I only receive several emails per day (and they are only from customers). Freeing your life from emails is absolutely life-changing.

An estimated 269 billion (!) emails are sent every day. To address this problem, we’ve taken it to the extreme. In our new company, we do not send any internal emails. None. This has fundamentally changed the way everyone collaborates.

In general, I believe lots of suboptimal company behavior is driven by a fear of missing out (“FOMO”). We looked back at our former companies and found that many emails and meetings were driven by employees who were afraid of falling out of the “information loop”. It was a kind of “reward” to be copied on an email – or a “punishment” not to be included.

I will soon tell you what we do instead, but first let me tell you why I’m on a crusade against email:

Why stop all emails internally?

  1. Email is an interruption machine: Humans need a long stretch of uninterrupted time. Fragmentation makes us react to others to “keep up”. Protecting time and space for tasks that require deeper concentration has become nearly impossible.
  2. Email creates stress: It never stops. I send one and I get two back. You feel like you will never get to the bottom of the current chain, or the huge amount of unread emails already crowding your inbox. It’s a game of Whack-a-Mole.
  3. Email is addictive: When you receive an email, dopamine is released in your brain. Like a lab rat, that little blinking light tells your brain there might be a treat, a threat, or a social connection if you just open that one last email…
  4. Emails drive organizational silos: With email, important information is buried and organizational silos form. This pushes decisions up to management because they get cc’d on everything “to be kept in the loop”. It creates unnecessary hierarchies.

In summary, emails create a fake sense of productivity and, in the process, smart people become reactive human routers of information that get buried deeper and deeper in the organization.

How to replace email:
So, what do we use instead? First, we do use all the normal forms of synchronous communication: Slack, video conferences, phone calls, and in-person meetings.

But our biggest breakthrough is using a shared collaborative set of documents in the cloud. We use a tool called Dropbox Paper (it was the result of an acquisition so it’s completely different from the normal Dropbox.) We use Dropbox Paper for 80% of our communication. This is the lifeblood of the company, and it allows us to communicate organically over a low threshold.

Most topics are discussed and decided asynchronously through comments and collaboration via the same document in Paper. Themes that need concurrent discussion end up on the meeting agenda for short video conferencing. We collect and develop all the essential information for the company: all discussions, all action points, all decisions, and all minutes of meetings. And, they’re open to everyone.

Dropbox Paper is just an empty canvas (and I bet you can use Google Docs, Microsoft SharePoint, or other tools to achieve the same result).

The details:
Ultimately the tool is not what’s most important. The company-wide commitment to NOT use email is what matters. This is how we do it:

We have five main types of ‘documents’ in Dropbox Paper:

TEAM NOTES: Every team has one document that we refer to as a Team Note. This serves as a dynamic agenda and discussion forum for all topics for that group of people. Prior to meeting, topics for discussion must be spelled out in the living meeting agenda in the team‘s notepad. If the agenda is empty, the meeting is cancelled. In the document, there are three sections. Asynchronous topics are topics we want to resolve in writing before the meeting. Topics for next meeting are themes we were not able to resolve and are up for discussion verbally. About 80% of topics get resolved before we need to address them verbally. The last section is called One BIG topic. This is typically a stretch goal for us, something that is harder to achieve and requires multiple meetings. The topics typically “waterfall” through these three sections.MEETING NOTES: This is simply open meeting notes from all internal and external meetings. One great aspect of Dropbox Paper’s homepage is that it’s integrated with our calendars, so for all meetings scheduled, we are prompted to easily create an agenda and add notes in a template – complete with action points and a meeting summary section ready for us to write in. We write directly into Dropbox Paper when we hold meetings, with multiple people taking notes. This allows us to create, store, and keep tabs on notes from all meetings, both internal and external. Since we are a remote first company, most meetings are via video, and we have an automatic transcription and a video recording of the entire meeting, open for everyone to see 99% of the time.

TASKS: This is a collection of action points. They are open so everyone can see everyone’s tasks, giving the ability for all to weigh in if there’s something that can be assisted with. I can assign tasks to others and they can assign to me. When a task is completed, we tick the box (so there will be no more communication back and forth asking about the status of a task).

DIGEST: This is our ‘local newspaper’. We can all be journalists and write about lighter topics, big technical breakthroughs, and customer wins.

IDEAS, OPPORTUNITIES, PRODUCTS. We want the entire company to generate product and go-to-market ideas. The bar to create an idea in Paper is very low and accessible for anyone in the company. We prioritize ideas together.
We still use email for external communication, but at least that is an email from a customer and therefore much more enjoyable to receive.

The Results:
The benefits are greater than I could have imagined – I have the ability to return to previous meetings to check details, or get updates on meetings I couldn’t attend. And, our “no email” commitment eliminates unnecessary attendance at meetings. Most meetings notes are available to everyone, which means that the pressure to attend meetings to be in the “loop” no longer exists. It provides great time savings for all team members every week.

I now have entire weeks where I have 2-3 meetings. In a day, I can have 3-4 hours of uninterrupted time. Dag, my co-founder, is so excited about an email- and meeting-free day that he can’t sleep the night before (so now I need to put in a few placeholder meetings that I remove in the morning for him).

Both my personal life and my company life are significantly less stressful, and I feel I get three times as much done every week. It’s good to break away from the email tyranny that once controlled my life.

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