My Experiment in using the Telephone instead of E-Mail

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Red Telephone HandsetIf you e-mailed me last week, then chances are that instead of an e-mail in response you received a ‘phone call from me instead.

That’s because last week I tried experimenting with using the telephone instead of e-mail wherever appropriate.

I say “experimenting”, because it was my belief, as it’s probably your belief, that e-mail is a quick and effective method of communication. Picking up the telephone and calling somebody takes time, and much of the time we don’t have time – we just want to get things done and move onto the next thing. E-Mail is supposed to help us do that.

Is E-Mail effective?

But over the past few years I’ve come to challenge just how effective e-mail is.

As a Freelancer working with multiple clients, I have to respond to e-mails in a timely fashion.

I don’t receive a huge amount of e-mail anymore – probably 20-30 legitimate e-mails per day. This is mainly because I’ve implemented techniques in how to manage e-mail overload – filtered the spam, unsubscribed from newsletters, turned off un-necessary notifications, and so on.

However 20-30 e-mails per day at 3-4 minutes reading and responding per e-mail typically means I spend an hour to two hours each day responding to e-mails, usually in two blocks of time (once in the morning, once in the afternoon) per day so I’m not continually checking e-mail. But for every e-mail I respond to, another e-mail typically appears. E-Mail begets e-mail.

I noticed a trend. It’s not unusual for me respond to e-mails because I think it’ll shift the responsibility off my plate and onto someone else’s. But then if that person is sat in front of their e-mail, they’ll have the same idea and by the time I’ve responded to all of my current e-mails – I refresh my inbox and have as many (if not more) e-mails than I started with! E-Mail ping pong!

It’s good to talk

So last week I focused on looking for opportunities to pick up the telephone instead of using e-mail.

  • When I received an e-mail asking me a question, I picked up the ‘phone and answered that question.
  • When I received an e-mail inviting me to an event, I picked up the ‘phone and graciously accepted the invitation and finalised details of the event, or politely declined stating the reason I couldn’t attend.
  • When I received an e-mail from somebody who I couldn’t remember actually speaking to inside the last quarter (or more), I picked up the ‘phone and caught up with them.

The results

So how did my experiment pan out?

  • Firstly, whenever I picked up the telephone and spoke with someone – I felt a lot happier and typically came off the ‘phone with more energy. Some people seemed surprised to hear from me, but it was a pleasant surprise that I’d “gone to the trouble” of calling them. We chatted, we caught up. It was an enjoyable conversation!
  • Secondly, my levels of incoming e-mails fell. E-Mail ping pong was noticeably reduced.
  • Thirdly, the amount of time I’ve spent on responding to e-mail is about the same. So my conclusion is that typing a response to an e-mail and then getting the inevitable e-mail response back is no quicker than simply picking up the ‘phone and speaking to somebody. And with less of the benefits.

Conclusion

This is hardly a scientific experiment, and some might say it’s a lesson in stating the obvious – but how many of us respond to an e-mail when we know picking up the ‘phone would be easier?

How many of us have exchanged numerous e-mails with somebody, but not actually spoken to that person in months and months?

Don’t get me wrong – there are many cases when e-mail is a better fit than a ‘phone call. When you’re relaying detailed facts, dealing with people in different time zones, or simply working with someone who just doesn’t answer the ‘phone. But often, picking up the telephone is quicker and easier than typing out a response.

In the modern world of e-mail, SMS, Facebook messages, Twitter, Google+ and more – it’s not that we don’t have multiple options for staying in touch with people, it’s that often we don’t choose the most appropriate option – and typically that’s the good old fashioned telephone.

You might disagree, but for me – the experiment was a success because it reminded me of this fact.

What’s more, I’m going to work to keep this habit going – using the telephone instead of e-mail where appropriate.

So if you do e-mail me, don’t be surprised if you get a call in response!

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