Why I Won’t Take Your Call

It seems not a day goes by without people asking me if they can call me over Skype or phone. I always politely decline.

Sorry, I don't do calls.

I prefer email, SMS, Twitter DM’s, LinkedIn or Facebook messages, and any other kind of asynchronous communication. Some people find this hard to understand. After all, “isn’t a phone call more efficient?”

Yes. But I aim for happiness, not efficiency.

Please allow me to explain.

I Need Flow, Not Interruptions

My main activities are writing, reading, speaking, training, socializing, and traveling. None of these activities are easily combined with making phone or Skype calls. In fact, calls are interruptions. They are a pain for a person like me who needs focus and flow to do his job. Keeping a phone as an ongoing distractor would be terrible for the quality of my work. It is my hope that people hire me because I am improving my skills as a writer and speaker, not as a conversationalist.

I Need Awareness, Not Stress

Of course, a call can be scheduled. But that means I will be committed to a time slot, and everything else must flow around it. But I cannot predict my engagement during a conference, the duration of dinner with organizers, socialization after a course, the delays while traveling, or the size of my jetlag. Basically, agreeing to time slots for calls means adding stress to my work day, and deterioration of my awareness. (And I already find it difficult enough to be aware of my surroundings!) When you interact with me face-to-face you have a right to get my full attention. I should not be worrying about other people’s calls.

I Need Documentation, Not Synchronization

I have a bad memory. At the same time I have interacted with 6000+ people in the last 5 years, according to Google Contacts. You can imagine the challenge of managing dozens of scheduled speeches, courses, articles, and other work items, in collaboration with people all over the world. Therefore, what I need is documentation of conversations. I don’t care that it’s faster to use a phone call to agree on a topic for a speech. What I need is finding the answer to the question, “What did we agree on three months ago?” And I need that answer within seconds from Google. Not from memory.

I Need Convenience, Not Hassle

I have noticed a heavy correlation between organizational competence and the ability to communicate with messages. The best business partners I have worked with take care of everything, and they need only three sentences in an email to do it. They arrange hotel rooms, airport pickups, equipment that actually works, and anything else I might need. While the ones who prefer talking over messaging are more often than not also the ones who forget everything, including payments. In a sense, my requirement for asynchronous communication can be considered a qualification test for organizers. Those who can’t handle messages, probably can’t handle logistics either.

Beware, I Am Not You

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect you to organize your job in the same way as I do. I don’t do complex stuff, such as coaching and consultancy. Almost all communication around my work involves simple questions, such as “Shall we book your flight ticket?” (No, I do that myself), “Do you have a photo and bio?” (Yes, they are here), “Can you give us exclusivity?” (Yes, but I won’t) and “Are you a vegetarian?” (Yes, but only with drinks, not with food). Being a non-consultant I have it easy. I am not expected to save companies from bankruptcy with a couple of hectic long-distance calls. My work is actually perfect for messaging.

But I'm sure there are some other things that you need for your happiness. Maybe you only feel good wearing black. Maybe you hate Monday mornings. Maybe the company coffee makes you sick. Maybe you need yoga exercises in your office chair. Whatever it is, if these things are necessary for you to stay sane you don't let people take them away. You don't compromise on happiness.

I’m Keeping the Job I Love

When you have a job you love (as I do) you must organize your work life according to your needs. Certainly, phone calls are an efficient form of communication. But it is a good example of local optimization. I aim to optimize my entire work life, not just individual conversations. To keep enjoying and improving my work, I need flow, awareness, documentation, and convenience.

I apologize to those who would prefer an easy Skype call. I feel privileged that I have a great job. But I would stop doing this awesome work if I was required to handle a dozen calls a day. That’s why I won’t do it, and I prefer no exceptions. By switching to messages, you allow me to keep loving my job, stay happy, and keep improving.

Thank you!

I wrote this post at a Starbucks in Tokyo. I didn’t need to silence my phone, because I knew nobody would be calling me. When I finished I just realized almost 2 hours had gone by. Without interruptions.

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  • Erwin van der Koogh

    I am slowly coming around to this. I used to be in the “face to face is always better” camp, but I am seeing the shades of grey.
    My question now is it about the outcome or the relationship. The former is best done by messages, the latter done face to face. Works well for me so far.
    Oh and the best thing I have done in this regard is to set my email client to not auto-fetch new messages. What a time-saver that was.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/zproxywordpresscom Zproxy.wordpress.com

    I am looking for a time when my android phone can transcribe and record my calls for me. This way all conversations on the phone would be self documenting. And its not just calls, also meetings. Like in a court room where what all you say is written down.

  • http://www.methodsandtools.com/ Franco Martinig

    I agree with your part on “the ability to communicate with messages”. As an editor, I always wonder when some authors say that they would need a phone call, because I think that being an author should reflect your ability to put your thoughts in words.

  • alma

    Lovely post Jurgen! I do (only every time I can!) exactly the same.
    But, “… not as a conversationalist” sounds a bit “closed to dialogue”, don’t you think?
    But, I guess you were always referring to a “phone conversation” and not also any other form of “spoken or written conversation”, right?

  • http://www.automaton.be Toon

    @Erwin, I’d never consider a phone call ‘face to face’. I think actually meeting someone is still the best way, generally, to achieve a decision. Which is also why I think Skype video is superior to a regular phone call. I hate phone calls and The general assumption that they are somehow more authentic than asynchronous communication.

  • http://www.jbrains.ca J. B. Rainsberger

    I restrict real-time communication (phone calls/Skype) to situations where I’m helping individual people with something. I know that in these situations I need to ask a lot of questions, and I’ve never found doing that over email works for me. I remember my days on the mailing lists, when I’d make all kinds of assumptions about people in order to be able to write a more complete answer to a question, only to find out that 100 words in, I’d already got it wrong. Communicating in real time helps me ask many small questions to get the information I need to decide what advice might help that person at that time.
    That said, I almost never receive phone calls. The ones I do, I rarely take in real time. I strongly dislike interruptions, as you do, Jurgen.
    For everything else, there’s email.

  • Scot Johnson

    My God, I envy you.

  • http://Bit.ly/AASlides Angel Medinilla

    I’ve observed that the conversion rate of clients asking for phone calls or pre-sales meetings are WAY lower than those who can handle a simple proposal through a couple of e-mails. I’m talking order of magnitude here. 90% of my sales depend on first mail (references, price, date availability) and second mail (full proposal once they’ve agreed on the main terms and explained their situation and expectations on less than three paragraphs). There are always exceptions, but 90% of the people asking for a meeting or a phone call are jus trying to fill their fake job trying to look busy… Or, as you say, they are too inefficient to handle a simple and fast proposal.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Good point. Same with my apartment on AirBNB. The people who ask to call me about it are the ones who never book it.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Indeed. I’d say writers should be very good at written conversation. 🙂

  • http://www.hanoulle.be yveshanoulle

    I have been telling my bank the same for years.
    I don’t care that during the day we can solve an issue in 10 minutes. I don’t have these 10 minutes during the day.
    I prefer 3 days in a row handling stuff over e-mail, at night or business hours, when I don’t have to think about a client and yes then I have a trace of the conversation.
    The same with my accountant. I rather have him answer my questions over e-mail, so I can find them back in a year when I encounter the same problem…

  • http://www.cygnismedia.com/ Facebook Application Development Australia

    I agree with you that written is better than spoken.

  • http://www.ihupani.nl Rick

    In my experiences the alleged efficiency of a phone call is somewhat of a paradox: interestingly it seems that the people who insist on calling you rather than sending you an email, are the ones who make it less efficient, because of their tendency to elaborate on meaningless details or to keep rambling on about their personal life. Come to think of it, most people I know just aren’t capable of making an efficient phone call.

  • http://ca.linkedin.com/in/lapsha Seva Lapsha

    What I would advise you is just schedule your calls to times which are convenient for you, not deny them just because they are real time.
    I use to reserve an hour or two of my weekly time to calls and do them once a day at certain hour.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/travelmemo Travel_memo

    Nice post!
    It’s nice to see that even a pro takes two hours to come up with this type of article.
    As a (travel) blogger myself, I’m always shocked how long I take to compile a reasonably enticing blog post. Or even a comment for that matter…

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Thanks. It’s probably more work than most people think. 🙂

  • http://profile.typepad.com/ewokbbq Ewok_BBQ

    Thought provoking post. Great stuff Jurgen.

  • http://thinkba.co.uk Arran Hartgroves

    Tim Ferris’s 4 hour working week has some great recommendations around this area.

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