Next Time Just Send Smoke Signals

In today’s next installment of our time management series, we’ll be talking about managing your communications.  The fact is, communication is hard, and we are all a part of the problem.  Fortunately we can also all be a part of the solution.

The Two Commandments of Communications

  1.  Communications creates more communications.
    So go ahead and send that extra email.  Just prepare for it to return to you seven-fold.
  2. Don’t knock more than once.
    It’s not an emergency and you left a voicemail, but what if they didn’t get it?  I’ll just send an email too.  Oh, now that I’m online I see they are available on Skype…I’ll try them there.  NO!  See commandment #1!
  3. The more forms of communication you use (email, phone, messaging, etc.) the more chances for communications chains to be broken.  See commandment #1.

Phone vs. Email vs. Text Messages vs. Online Messaging

If you are like most people, you probably have a communication method you generally prefer (e.g. some people are just “phone people”).  However, in consideration of managing your time, and being considerate of the time management needs of others, it’s simply not that easy.


Research says that on average it takes a person 20 minutes to recover and “get back in the zone” when they are interrupted by a phone call.  For this reason, I personally limit the phone to urgent items, when emotion may be involved, or for lengthy conversation.  Some things to think of regarding your phone usage:

  •  Train others to answer.  If you find yourself answering the same question multiple times a day, create a simple fact sheet and share it with whoever answers your phone.  Empower them to give out the same info.
  • Train others to get detailed messages, and for callers to leave detailed messages.  Ever called someone back and realized the question they had required you to consult some document or person, and then you had to call them back again anyway?  Time wasted!
  • Give others the same courtesy.  If you are leaving a message- leave the details!  The quickest way to delay my return call to you?  Leave me a message that says, “Call me when you get a chance.”  I’ll call you back, but I’m assuming it’s not important so you will go to the bottom of the list.
  • Have a list of key points before calling to limit the time spent on the phone.
  • Have someone you KNOW will keep you on the phone forever?  Try for the answering machine.

Online and Text Messaging

  •  These forms of messaging are similar to the phone with regard to their interruption power.
  • Will not be as easy to refer back to later as an email, and for that reason…
  • Don’t use for important work conversation/tasks.  It’s way too easy to lose track of what was said.


  •  Have you heard people say, never check your email first thing in the morning?  WELL THEY ARE WRONG!  Sort-of.  The important thing is not check your email at your most productive time of day; that varies for everyone.
  • Close your in-box when not answering email.
  • Do not expect an immediate response.
  • And also- DO provide a response.  This is 2019.  Today, people expect an email response within 24-48 hours, unless you have your away messaging on.  If it’s something you cannot answer within that time frame do respond with an, “I received your email and I’m looking into it. I can respond by XYZ date if that’s ok.”  People are very understanding, if you communicate up front.
  •  Try to keep your emails less than 5 lines long.  2/3 of emails are read on phones.
  • Make emails actionable.  Want a sure-fire way to prevent others from responding?  Write a mini-dissertation, include no action items, and end with, “Thoughts?”.
  • SUBJECT LINES MATTER!  Help others by creating very descriptive subject lines that allow others to know whether or not the content is truly relevant to them.  This also helps them search for your email later.

Be Understanding

As fore-mentioned, we are all a part of the communication problem and we are all a part of the solution. In terms of your clients and colleagues, remember most of us have to hear something about 7 times before it sticks.  Before you question whether anyone is listening, ask yourself if you have communicated clearly and often enough for it to sink in.

I’ll see you back here next week as talk about how to save ourselves from time sucking meetings!


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