Phone call or email? I ask myself this question a few dozen times a day now – not because I don’t know which one I prefer, but I’m starting to think that maybe I don’t know which one is the correct way to respond.
Just asking this question puts me in the old-man fuddy-duddy category because if you are younger than 35-years-old, you always email and probably don’t even stop to wonder whether you should call somebody. For the record, I do a lot of both of these things but there is definitely a trend towards emailing over the last year, and I was silently conversing to myself, wondering if the current pandemic is playing a role in this thought process or not. Once you become somewhat isolated, it’s a short step to exacerbating that situation by removing the opportunities to engage with others and simply resort to digital communication for all your communication.
Human beings have evolved their hearing over 400 million years and we are built for verbal communication – using emojis and sending texts and emails is an extremely new phenomenon and quite honestly, we haven’t really worked through the nuances that allow us to convey tone, mood, and temperament nearly as well as having a simple conversation. I am seeing more and more emails sent to me that would have been better off as a quick conversation, but I have become so busy that I am losing my grip on if one is better than the other … mostly because I don’t have time for 30 mini-conversations a day … Lepruchan conversations be dammed.
I thought I would show you a screengrab from my Outlook Inbox from this last Thursday, February 25th. I have all sorts of rules set up in my Inbox that automatically sorts project-specific emails into particular folders – something that I both love AND hate, so I am actually going back through those rules and eliminating them because I am now warehousing an unreasonable amount of emails that never needed to be sent and have absolutely no value. After I deleted all the nonsense, eliminated the unnecessary, filed away the important in the appropriate project folder, I was still sitting on 32 emails … all from just one single day.
During the workday, respondents reported spending an average of 209 minutes checking their work email and 143 minutes checking their personal email, for a total of 352 minutes (about five hours and 52 minutes) each day.
The figure represents a modest decrease in time spent checking email from when Adobe started conducting the survey in 2015. Workers spent an average of 465 minutes checking email in 2016, 352 minutes in 2017 and 360 minutes in 2018.
~ Adobe Annual Email Usage Study
The information above came from the 2019 survey, but since we’ve ben in a pandemic and face-to-face conversations have become limited, you can safely assume that things are worse now.
As bad as this is, my Gmail account is a lot worse.
My Gmail account is the email that I set up when I started Life of an Architect, and it is dedicated entirely to all things related to blogging and podcasting. If you were to contact me through the website, this is where that message is going to be delivered. I do have a 3rd yahoo mail account, but that is dedicated to spammy accounts – the sort of places that ask for an email address but I don’t really want to give them my proper address.
This Gmail account is currently sitting at 17,823 emails and these are all the emails that I have already determined were worth keeping. This is an obscene amount and I have to believe that at a certain point, the entire system starts to break down since I can’t really sort through this many even with keyword searches. For example, and to entertain myself, here are some sample keyword searches and the total emails that were returned:
- Shutters: 159 emails
- “I know you are busy but …“: 347 emails
- Brick: 499 emails
- portfolio: 980 emails
- Foundation: 987 emails
- “help me“: 551 emails
- resume: 465 emails
- “quick question“: 1,291 emails
- “Doug“: 328
- banana: 62
Seriously … and I don’t even like bananas. Or people named Doug. (sorry, bananas)
Did you know that there are names for people based on their email behavior? People generally fall into one of two groups – you are either an “Email Hoarder”, someone who keeps every email they were ever sent, or a “Zero Inbox” type of person – the person who manically tries to clears out all of their emails. Me? I don’t really fall into either category because I try to do both at the same time.
You: That doesn’t even make sense.
Someone Else: That’s impossible, you clearly can’t be both.
Me: Don’t tell me what I can’t do.
So what can we do about this? I have a couple of internal rules that I attempt to follow that help me determine when I should call and when I should email. These should work for most people but before you email me and tell me that I’m wrong, just spend a minute and think if you are that special circumstance and that you are so unique that the rules generally don’t apply to you.
Call or Email?
If you are asking a question and anticipate some back and forth you should call.
A dialog is frequently at the root of the creative process and rather than turn one conversation into twenty 1-sentence emails, just pick up the phone. I think we can all agree that sending single thought emails back and forth is a poor use of time.
If you are asking a single question, you should email.
Frequently my emails are all about getting some level of clarity, like “did you want the red or the blue?”
If you need a record of the answers, you should email.
This is probably standard operating procedure for most people but sometimes the process can be complicated since the answers you are recording is a part of the first item in this list – part of a back-and-forth conversation. This just means that you should be sending out meeting minutes with a record of the action items or at least an email that clarifies the action required and decisions made.
If there is emotion involved – particularly excitement – you should call.
This goes back to the way humans have evolved to pick up on very nuanced vocal cues to help the listener understand the behavior behind the comment.
Do you really need to “reply all” for every group email?!?
Who are the people out there that feel the need to respond to the entire group when the entire group does not need to know your answer? I don’t care what your lunch order is and I really don’t need to read your response of “Thanks!” when someone answered a question. Just email that person directly and leave the rest of us out of it.
I wrote a slightly different email post title “You’ve Got Mail” back in 2015 where I only had 9,123 emails in my Gmail account (since Day one, a period of 2,089 days). What’s bonkers about that is it took 5 years and 9 months to exceed 9,000 emails (2,089 days / 9,123 email = 4.4 keepers per day), and in the 5 years and 5 months since that number has grown to 17,823 (1,977 days / 8,823 emails = 4.6 keepers per day) so my pace of receiving and dealing emails has actually become worse. I have no idea how many emails over that course of time I’ve deleted but I probably average 35 “real” emails a day for work and another 50+ a day relating to Life of an Architect. As much as I think my situation is extreme – it’s not even close. Whenever I steal a glance at the Inbox of my friend and partner in my office, Andrew Bennett, his work email list is way worse than my own. I can’t even complain about this in my own house because my wife’s daily Inbox count is in the hundreds!!
Regardless of how you feel – whether you are an emailer or a phone caller, things are only going to get worse. Now that programs like Microsoft Teams is allowing instant messaging and you can video chat with people at the drop of a hat, we are all becoming hyper-connected. I will admit that I am guilty of IM’ing members of my team only to say “Do you have a minute?” and then hitting them up with a video chat – and I do this several times every single day. That would be emailing AND calling for those of you keeping track.
I don’t think they love it.