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Why I Don’t Check Voicemail or Set Away Messages in Email

Submitted by on February 13, 2013 – 12:29 pmOne Comment

With the rise of email and mobile telephony we have come to accept a state of permanent and immediate connection.   Norms in business have implicitly shifted where response times to incoming email or telephone calls are not measured in days or hours but in minutes.  Presence systems  (indicators of your current status such as “busy”, “away” or “in a meeting”) within companies are visible to colleagues based on your shared online calendar system or  the keystrokes on your computer (they can telegraph whether a colleague is busy or away for example).  As a consequence of all this colleagues of mine now set away messages when they are in meetings that will last more than two hours.

Time is the only finite commodity we work with in business and we are asked to give more of it every day.  As you get busier you have limited options to deal with the problem.  You can:

  • Work more hours
  • Become more productive (do more in the same amount of time)
  • Delegate or remove requests that take time

Working more is the lazy person’s approach to the problem.  Personally I have hit the maximum number of hours I can possibly work and still maintain a quality of life so I am left with strategies for productivity and removing work that takes time.   The interrupt driven nature of modern communications – beeping email alerts, incoming texts, ringing phone – can quickly destroy your productivity.   In an attempt to (1) reclaim my time and focus and if I am honest, (2) to rebel against the business norm of permanent visibility and immediate response I have changed a few of my behaviors.

  1. I don’t set away messages in email unless I am on holiday.  I don’t believe that I owe anyone an explanation for not replying within an hour or even two.  Emergencies can be escalated to phone switchboards or text messages.
  2. I don’t check voicemail.  Period.   Part of this is due to living in Europe where my options for visual voicemail and transcription services (google voice etc.) are a bit more limited.   What has surprised me about people’s response is that many ignore my voicemail message which clearly says, “don’t leave a message… use text or email since I do not check voicemail”  My voicemails pile up nevertheless… and I have no idea where they go.     I have not checked VM for six months.  The world continues, my projects are all roughly on track, there have been no deaths (unless I was notified via voicemail of course).

I have no idea if this approach is backward or forward leaning; if I am on or off-trend.   I only know that it is a personal survival tactic.

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One Comment »

  • Ted Herman says:

    A tragedy in business life is valuing presence/attention over results.  Too often, the worker much valued is the one who is always there, compared say to one that is infrequently around but delivers good solutions.  Similarly, someone who is at your beck and call, responding in near real-time to your texts, calls and emails, becomes your valued amanuensis or teammate, dependable and true, even if the net result isn't particularly helpful.  Think about it, you're standing in line at the post office, not feeling happy with waiting, waiting.  When you get to the head of the queue and the postal clerk starts working on your case, perhaps leaving and going into some back room, you feel happy, because someone is working for you, acceding to your request, even though you are still waiting.  I doubt this is what is meant by the “attention economy”, though related.

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