Why I Did Not Answer Your Call

6 March 2011 | talking about Random Thoughts

Growing up there were really only 2 forms of non-face-to-face communication: land lines (phones), or snail mail (letters in the mail). You used either one of these forms of communication based on your particular needs. Dialogue that was time sensitive or required a lot of back and forth was done over the phone. Dialogue that was less time sensitive was done via snail mail. Both of these forms of communication, for the most part, were very controlled by the recipient. If I received a letter I controlled when I’d open it, and when I’d respond. There is nothing interrupting about a letter. On another note, in the days before cell phones, a phone call only interrupted a person who was near the telephone device. Back then, if you were at work all day you were not home to answer your phone. Likewise once you left work, your work phone would not be distracting to you.

Fast forward to today. The majority of communication is instant. An email shows up in my inbox instantly. A tweet, Facebook message, or IM all reach me instantly, and could reach me 24 hours a day. While all of these are instant in nature, one form of communication really stands out as distracting: The phone ringing in my pocket. All other forms of communication, I can choose to ignore until I am ready to respond, just like the snail mail letter. When it comes to the phone call, however, if I do not respond right then, the caller may leave a message, and I might call back at a time that is not good for that person, starting a loop, a “phone tag”.

The Distraction Called “The Cell Phone”

Let’s say I am sitting at my computer writing a blog post, like I am doing right this very second. I am deep in thought organizing all my thoughts and all of a sudden my phone rings. That switch in context from writing to saying “Hi how are you....” can be very expensive. Once I am done with my phone call it will take time to get back to were I was, sometimes never getting back into the groove I was in.

The gang at 37signals often talks about office interruptions, how in a traditional office your work day is just filled with 10 - 30 minute blocks of focus. In a traditional office, people are constantly distracting each other with the “tap on the shoulder”. With this model employees have to work late or very early in the morning to get any focus. Real work is often not done during the work day. The phone plays that part of “tap on the shoulder” for me. If I paid any attention to it ringing in my pocket I would be distracted breaking my day into blocks of focus instead of continued focus.

I have a habit of managing my time is the most productive and rewarding way I know how and answering the phone is not part of the equation.

Respect Who You Are Communicating With

Anyone that knows me knows I have zero time in my day to talk on the phone. There are 3 things I do with my day: work, hangout with people (my wife being a big part of that), or “Spicer time”. When I am working I need to be as focused as possible. When hanging out with people I typically do not like to answer my phone because it is just rude to the people I am around. “Spicer time” might be snowboarding, reading, watching TV, or tinkering with some new technology, but it is typically a time when I want to be left to myself.

In 2010 I had over 1500 voice mails in my inbox. Let’s say I answered all those calls, meaning I stopped whatever I was doing and took the call. Let’s say I spoke an average of 10 minutes per call. That works out to 10 days of time spent taking on the phone. 10 days of my life in 2010 could have been dictated by someone else’s schedule. That is just crazy.

Ok fine, I know you are all going to say a good number of those voice mails were people calling back a second time, so if I just handled it when they first called I would not have wasted as much time. Sure. However, the point is: its still a lot of time.

Although I do not have one right answer to this time-wasting dilemma, I risk to affirm that knowing your counterpart’s preferred way of communication and understanding your own are good steps towards successfully saving time.

tags: phone, 37signals, productivity

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