5 reasons I don’t pick up my phone (and neither should you!)

So my poor telephone is on its last legs, and I’m finally breaking down and getting a shiny new iPhone, for a wide variety of reasons. (It’s pretty! It does “smart” stuff that my StupidPhone Blackberry can’t! It can play music and take photos that don’t look totally terrible! Designing iPhone apps will be easier if I can actually see how things work!)

This probably means that I’ll be forced to finally change my voicemail message, which is faulted for featuring a lengthy pause between me speaking and the beep, among other things like being mumbly and unclear. Since I very rarely pick up the phone, and I never pick it up when I don’t recognize the number, I am thinking I’ll change the message to read: “Hi! This is Sarah. I’m not picking up because I’m busy working on your project. Send me an email instead!”

My hatred for the telephone, I think, is well-justified. (I sound a little like a monkey on meth while on the telephone as well, but that’s irrelevant. Mostly.) While some people seem to think it’s annoying that it’s so hard to get me on the telephone, I have my reasons, and I’m sticking by my guns.

1. I need to focus.

Every time you break from your work, it takes an average of twenty minutes to get back into whatever you were doing. Let’s say your phone rings four times a day—that’s at least an hour and a half of wasted time, most of which will likely be spent trying to coerce telemarketers to take me off your damn list, already. If I’m talking to you on the phone, I’m not working. The less time of my time is spent doing actual billable work, the higher my rates need to be. By not picking up my phone, I’m getting your project done faster and saving you money.

2. There’s no paper trail.

98% of all of my client communications take place via email. With email, it’s easy to search through conversations to find out details I may have missed or to make sure I’m on the right track. If there’s any confusion about details of a project, you can simply back-reference an old email. You can take notes during a telephone meeting, but they aren’t nearly as reliable a proof. This works to protect both parties: if I tell you something’s going to cost $300 and then bill you for $600 (please note that this doesn’t happen) you can just send me back my original email to explain why you’re not paying up. Again, saving you time and money!

My telephone is only marginally "smarter" than this one. At present, it keeps trying to voicedial, and then I yell at it to stop, which doesn't help. It also typically won't connect calls. At any rate, the whole "telephonics" thing seems to baffle it.

3. It’s better to think about what you’re saying.

A lot of the things that people call to talk about I can’t answer immediately. How much will this cost? (I don’t know. Give me five minutes to think about it, add up the numbers, and figure it out.) Can we implement this system? (I’m not sure. Let me look it up on the internet and see how it works.) The problem with the telephone is that it forces you to give immediate responses (five seconds of silence, while acceptable in person, feels like an eternity when you’re on the phone) that are likely to be less researched and well-thought-out than if you’d been given a moment to think.

4. It wastes everyone’s time.

Cordialities are nice and everything, but honestly, my clients aren’t paying for scintillating chats about the weather, and I’d rather be spending my time making them great stuff instead of hearing about their cat’s liver disease. I absolutely hate wasting time—none of us really has enough of it anyway—and we can get so much done, so much faster, with two emails than we can with twenty minutes on the phone. While, in theory, I’m sure it’d be possible to dispense with the pleasantaries and get right down to business, that sort of brusque behaviour tends to makes people feel dehumanized, which seems rather to defeat the purpose, no?

5. Email will get to me just as fast, anyway.

Most people in business get their email on their phone. Usually, my emails actually show up on my phone before they show up on my computer—either way, I am almost always accessing my email. My telephone, on the other hand, is less reliable—sometimes it’s downstairs while I’m working upstairs, and I can’t hear it ring. Sometimes it’s out of juice, or, like now, it’s just not working. Sometimes I’m in a meeting. There tends to be this idea that if something’s urgent, it’s better to phone, but this simply isn’t true. If I’m in a meeting or on the bus, I won’t be able to listen to your voicemail, but I sure can read your email. If it’s that urgent, I’d rather fix the issue and email you back in five minutes when it’s fixed, rather than dally around on the telephone for ten minutes, then fix it, then email you to let you know. See? Immediate results!

To sum up: the telephone, while it certainly serves a certain purpose, is generally an outmoded, inefficient vehicle for communication that hampers productivity. Got a problem? Don’t call meemail me.