Unreachable Time and a Rant Against Voicemail

I’ve been at my employer for over 3 years now.1 The entire time I’ve been here my voicemail message has said the following:

“Hello, you’ve reached Chris Koerner. I’m often away from my desk and don’t respond quickly to voice mail. The best way to contact me is to send me an email at me@work.net or if it’s urgent call me on my cell at 314-555-2456. Thanks!”

So, don’t leave me a VM, try my cell or email. I’ll answer my cell from a work-prefix number when I’m at work.2 I respond to email in a few hours at most.

My wife finds it amazing that I’m able to do this. That my boss doesn’t prevent this or that I haven’t gotten in trouble yet. Here’s my secret. I never asked my boss how I should make myself accessible and spend my attention. I decided that. He trusts me. I said, for me, the best way to get my attention is via email or cell call. Voicemail sucks.

Short of that. I’m unreachable. I think that’s important. Even with all the responsibilities I have and all the various ways to get in touch with me, sometimes I will not be available. I might be busy with a big project and a deadline. I might be in a meeting.3

I’m still accessible – even faster than voicemail! – and I’m polite about it. The important thing for me is making sure that the time I have allotted to get work done is as productive as possible. I use the tools I have – email, phone, IM – in the best way possible. To me, being accessible via voicemail is the same as being accessible via fax. Ancient, cumbersome, and a pain for all parties involved.

Voicemail is slow. Like most folks I read much faster that someone can talk. If I’m familiar with a topic I can quickly read an email and respond.

Voicemail also introduces ambiguity. Did they say ‘Six five seven two” or “Six five six two”? I’d have to play back the message if I missed a number, address, etc. 4

The tools we use should make us more productive and efficient. We should delight clients and co-workers with our responsiveness. Clunky, outmoded tools like voicemail don’t help us. I encourage you to look at how you’re using things like voicemail and see if there isn’t a better, more productive and friendly way to manage your attention and time.

Leave me a voicemail comment with your own ideas.

  1. The following was true at my previous employer as well.

  2. Working from home counts. Weekends, nope.

  3. I really dislike people who check and respond (!) to email in a meeting. Turn that junk off or don’t bother with the meeting.

  4. Mail…kimp?

One thought on “Unreachable Time and a Rant Against Voicemail”

  1. > Voicemail also introduces ambiguity. Did they say ‘Six five seven two” or “Six five six two”? I’d have to play back the message if I missed a number, address, etc.

    This! I would even elaborate a little on the ambiguity. Most of the voicemail messages I receive are not exactly well-planned and tend to ramble on and on. This tends to make the message much murkier than it would have been via any text-based form of communication.

    Also, whoever decided that phone numbers should be left at the end of a message has caused billions of people to spew profanity at their answering machines.

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