If you’ve ever dreaded an impending phone call or been secretly relieved when a scheduled call gets cancelled, then you and I may just be kindred spirits. You see, I’m a subscriber to the sorrynocalls.com philosophy: I believe email is vastly superior to phone calls, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
Phone calls eat away at my time, interrupt my workflow, and just generally cause me to experience existential overhead (more on this later…trust me, you’ll love it). I find email, on the other hand, to be far more flexible and thorough, and actually find they increase my productivity.
I also agree that sometimes phone calls are necessary…although not nearly as often as many people assume. For instance, I’m okay with hopping on a phone call pre-sale because I believe it improves conversion rate and helps to prove there’s a real person behind the email address.
But beyond that, I’m an email-only kind of guy. Here are 10 reasons why I believe phone calls are a waste of time, and why I’d prefer to keep it to email.
1. They demand immediate responses (which aren’t always the best responses).
“You make an interesting point. Do you mind if we sit in silence for 10 minutes so I can ponder that, gather my thoughts, perform research, and develop a thorough answer before I reply?” said no one on the phone, ever. Yet how much better, more thorough and more reasoned would our responses be if we could do that? If only there was a way we could take our time before responding to questions…
Oh wait! It’s called email!
Phone calls require that we think quickly and then respond off-the-cuff; and if you’re the type of person who likes to weigh options, consider outcomes and then respond accordingly, phone calls put you at a serious disadvantage.
2. You can’t go back and review phone calls later.
Have you ever gotten off a call and thought, “Now what did he say again?” Maybe it’s because you were distracted, or perhaps you just experienced sheer information overload. But in any case, there’s really no good way to review or reference past phone conversations.
Email, on the other hand, has the distinct advantage of being permanent, archivable and searchable, and allows prior conversations to be referenced and reviewed for accuracy or to refresh your memory. If you read an email last week and can’t remember the content of the email, you pull it up and re-read it. Boom. 10 seconds and you’re up to speed.
3. It’s far more difficult to batch phone calls.
Granted, you can set aside chunks of time where you return phone calls. But generally speaking, it’s far more difficult to batch phone calls than it is with emails. And if you subscribe to almost any productivity strategy (for instance, the Pomodoro Technique), you know the importance of setting time-based goals for your tasks.
Setting time-based goals for your phone calls, particularly for incoming calls? Not so easy. Setting time-based goals for your emails? Much easier. Set aside a certain amount of time to answer emails, and then take care of them when it’s convenient.
4. They’re an awkward dance of silence and interruptions.
Visual cues can help you predict changes in conversation and gauge the interest level of the person you’re talking to. For instance, someone’s gaze moving away could mean the conversation is nearing its end, or leaning forward could indicate interest in a particular topic.
With phone calls, you don’t have the advantage of non-verbal cues; and this often leads to awkward silences, interruptions and speaking out of turn. While non-verbal cues obviously aren’t communicated via email either, they’re not nearly as important because of their ‘turn-taking’ nature: with email, I can take my time to respond thoughtfully, knowing you can later do the same. No awkward silences, no interruptions.
5. They cause existential overhead.
Existential overhead is the mental cost in distraction and stress of uncompleted tasks. Unfinished work (or in this case, looming scheduled phone calls) can hang over your head, whether consciously or not. According to Jim Benson, genius behind the concept of existential overhead, looming tasks are never really “out of sight, out of mind”: “When you have a workload, you are always thinking about the individual elements of that workload. In the back of your mind, you know what you haven’t done.”
A phone call that’s scheduled for Tuesday at 3pm will be part of your workload until it’s over. Somewhere in the back of your mind, that appointment is part of your ‘to do’ list. With email, you do it when you have time, remove it from your workload, and instantly reduce your existential overhead.
6. They kill productivity and work flow.
According to research cited by The Wall Street Journal, frequent interruptions can have dire physical consequences among office workers, including 9% higher rates of exhaustion, and a 4% increase in migraines and backaches.
Think there’s no harm in just quickly answering a call? According to a study conducted by researchers at Michigan State University, workers participating in a series of tasks who experienced a 2.8 second interruption made twice as many errors following the interruption.
And lest you think, “At least I can jump right back into my task one the call’s done”, think again. According to Gloria Mark, professor in the Department of Informatics at The University of California, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task following an interruption. This is known as the ‘disruption cost’ of interruptions, and this cost shouldn’t be underestimated.
7. Can’t hear or understand the person speaking? Too bad.
There are only so many times you can say “Excuse me? Could you say that again?” without sounding like an idiot. Connection problems, unclear signals, and hard-to-understand accents can all impede your ability to communicate effectively on the phone.
Emails, on the other hand (assuming both parties have a decent grasp of grammar), aren’t hindered by poor connections or accents. Once you’ve received an email, it’s yours to read and re-read at your leisure, and isn’t at the mercy of signals or sound quality.
8. They don’t allow as much flexibility as email.
If you call me, I’m faced with the choice of either answering it now (and experiencing the consequences laid out in #6), or of letting it ring…and ring…and ring. Perhaps you’ll leave a voicemail, which means I need to listen to it, and thus become distracted from whatever I was working on, and then plan to return your call at some point, creating another task on my to-do list. Either way, my attention has been turned from the task at hand to the phone.
With email, however, if I’m busy with something else now, I can answer your email later. I’m also far more likely to read and respond to your email in my off hours than I am to call you. Even on the weekend, I’m more likely to quickly answer your email just to get it off my plate and to minimize existential overhead.
9. They necessitate small talk, the biggest time waster known to man.
Many times it’s difficult (and rude) to jump into a phone conversation without first covering the basics:
“How are the kids?”
“What’ve you been up to?”
We all know people who love to chat on the phone. They love small talk, and consider phone calls a way to help fulfill their social needs. These are also the people who book in 30 minutes for a conversation that would take 30 seconds via email. Which leads me to my final point….
10. They’re inefficient.
Apart from the fact that phone calls generally take up more time than emails, calls can lead to inefficiency in other ways. For instance, rather than reviewing materials beforehand, some people make a habit of waiting until the scheduled phone call preferring someone else to just explain the materials to them. When one or both parties show up to a phone call without being adequately prepared, the conversation can quickly become inefficient or redundant.
In my own business, I’ve found that nearly every phone call to review a client deliverable involves the clients asking questions that have already been answered in the deliverable itself. When we discuss the deliverable via email, addressing specific questions, I find it greatly increases the likelihood that clients read and actually implement the recommendations.
There you have it. 10 ways in which emails trump phone calls. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on phone calls versus email. Which do you prefer? Do you find phone calls a waste of your time?