We now have a plethora of ways to get in touch with each other. That’s a double-edged sword, though, because it can sometimes make it harder – not easier – for people to get through to you, as this comic from xkcd.com shows:
Here are some guidelines to consider when deciding how to be contactable:
- Give them immediate and deferred options: Immediate communication is where you both absolutely must be there at the same time – e.g. phone, meeting, video conference. Deferred communication happens at each other’s convenience – e.g. e-mail, SMS, Facebook/LinkedIn message. Give people both types of communication, and let them decide what they need each time.
- Set their expectations: Even though e-mail and SMS should be treated as deferred communication, some people expect you to reply immediately. So be clear about what they can expect.
- Meet their expectations: If you say you’ll get back to them in 24 hours, do so. Otherwise, it forces them to keep checking constantly because they’re not sure of your reliability.
- Be careful about the signals you send: For example, if you reply to e-mail too fast, people will come to expect that, and it sets a standard you don’t necessarily want for yourself.
- Different rules for different people: Not everybody in your network is equal. High-value clients might get a faster response. Your partner and kids might get immediate access (e.g. a special ringtone on your phone that works even when it’s on silent for everybody else).
My key message is: Think about what you want. There’s no standard formula that works for everybody. But if you don’t think about what you need, you’ll forever be interrupted by other people’s priorities.
It’s your life, so set your rules.