Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Your Time, My Time

About three years ago, my days had become so full that by day's end there'd be twenty-to-thirty voicemail messages waiting for me. Sometime after midnight, I'd sit down at my desk and begin slogging through them, listening carefully to each, taking notes and at times playing them over to see if I could make out unintelligible words and phrases. Some messages were quick and to the point, some droned endlessly never really getting to a point. At 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, calling back was rarely an option, so I'd prepare a list of calls to be made the next day.

As the numbers and lengths of messages increased, I found myself spending more and more time listening, taking notes and responding. The more responsive I was, the greater the volume of messages became.  I decided it was time to do something about it. I changed my voicemail greeting to indicate that I would listen to only the first fifteen seconds of any message.

Some message-leavers picked up on the idea and got to the point in the first ten seconds;  others didn't. Some started breaking up large messages into sequences of small ones. Regardless, I began to spend less and less time listening to voice mail.

About two years ago I decided that I was still spending too much time in voicemail purgatory, so I changed my voicemail greeting again, this time to indicate that I would only check voice mail every few days and that callers who wanted me to respond sooner should text or email me.  This had a significant impact on the time I spent daily with voicemail and messages in general. First, the number of voicemails dropped precipitously. Second, because people typically speak much more quickly and easily than they text, the messages got tighter, clearer and more quickly to the point.

There was also an unanticipated benefit; I stopped hearing the phrase, "I left you a voicemail about it."

About a year ago, I stopped listening to voicemail altogether. Through the process, I've managed to rescue almost two hours from my day and I don't feel like I'm missing anything. It's been great.

About a year ago, as I began reaping the benefits of my changes to personal voicemail protocol, I decided to do the same with email. Email is often better composed than voicemail.  People type more slowly than they speak and tend to be more thoughtful when typing. People can review and edit messages before sending them. However, there are cases where people use (or abuse) email in a way that makes their lives easier and yours harder.

First, there are those who receive information that they think might be important, but aren't sure about, so they forward it to you with a preamble that reads something like, "I thought this might be important", or, "FYI".

I don't read those.

Second, there are those who forward a long thread of emails where the actionable details are scattered across the thread. The open the message with something like, "Would you please take care of this?"

I don't read those.

Third, there are those who forward either of the above or other types of email in messages with copy-to lists with ten or more people.

I don't read those.

And of course, there are those who never get to the point.

I tend not to ready anything from those senders.

What does this mean to me? Another hour or two per day reclaimed. Further, the people whose messages I read tend to write really good messages.

In the end, I think it comes down to being aware of time, and more importantly the impositions we place on the time of others. The tricky part about messages is that we don't really get to see or experience the weight of the imposition. Further, time imposed is inversely proportional to the time spent imposing.

How much time do you spend facilitating poor messaging? How much poor messaging do you impose?

Happy Tuesday,

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