Cristian Rennella is really good at email. He responds to my messages within minutes, an especially quick turnaround for a CEO. (Rennella co-founded the South American travel comparison site, El Mejor Trato.)
His secret: He banned email at his company. Without clutter and requests from colleagues, he gets less than five emails per day. With so little to do in there, it doesn’t take him long to get to my communiques.
Rennella eliminated email for the same reasons that so many people resent their inboxes. Email is a stress-inducing distraction. The 144 billion emails sent per day are piling up into a giant to-do list that’s siphoning the productivity out of our days.
“We want to change from push methodology to pull methodology,” Rennella explained to me. By “push” he means the way notifications force us into doing tasks. When someone asks for “one quick thing” or “can you take a look at this?” we feel compelled to act right away. Distractions–even short ones–lead to more mistakes, research has found. It also takes a full 23 minutes to get back to the original task after an email interruption.
Rennella, like every CEO, wants his workers to get more done in less time. Email sucks up 30% of our time each workday, according to McKinsey. Everyone at the Argentine based El Mejor Trato works eight-hour days and a four-day work week. (Yeah, I know: dream company!) At this point, reader, you might be wondering how anyone at the organization accomplishes anything without email.
Engineers by training, Rennella and his co-founder built a custom project management platform that works a bit like a trimmed down version of the communication tool Asana. It’s essentially a list of projects that every single individual and team is working on. Each task shows what needs to get done, what has already been completed, and how many hours it should take. It also shows what everyone is working on at a given time. If someone needs something, he just creates a new project.
Most importantly, the site has no notifications. To see an update or a new project, employees have to login. That’s the “pull” Rennella was talking about. Employees select their day’s work, and are not motivated by an urge to click a blinking icon.
With the custom-made tool, El Mejor Trato engineers don’t need email, and Rennella doesn’t allow it. When he first instituted the mandate three years ago, people didn’t want to comply. But after a three-month trial period, his employees didn’t want to go back. “There is no way we are going to go back to email,” he said. “We have efficiency.”
There are some catches to Rennella’s email-free zone. First, it only applies to intra-company communiques. Any contact with outside parties still happens in the inbox. Second, it might only work for small-medium-sized companies. El Mejor Trato has 34 employees. When Rennella implemented the policy, he only had 20 employees. The earlier a company goes email-less, the better. For some of us, unfortunately, there might be no turning back.