Jochen Krebs of the Agile NYC community, and host of Agile.FM, asked me to participate…
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.