16 Reasons Why I Don’t Pick Up My Phone

If you read that, odds are, I either sent you the article directly in response to a call request to meet, or you were proactively searching for a reason not to pick up the phone receiving another invite.

Back when I decided to no longer pick up my phone in 2014 or so, I was considered nuts by everyone around me.

Nowadays, more and more of my colleagues and partners have adopted this practice, thanks to the endless number of sales calls (and even worse: robocalls).

According to a TNS report (quoted on Forbes), Americans receive over 200 million unwanted robocalls every single day. This madness has caused a major distress in the telecom industry.

Even worse, legitimate phone calls are now missed frequently. I’ve missed at least a couple of dentist appointments simply because they called from a random phone at the time.

In addition to random calls, there are endless meeting requests, ad-hoc syncs, last minute blockers, and a myriad of reasons pushing back focus time, roadmap planning, sprint development, or high-impact activities on an executive’s priority list.

So here are some of the main reasons why I haven’t been picking up calls (hint: even some calls from people I know.)

Disclaimer: Call Requests Are Unmanageable

Here’s the tl;dr of why I reject 96% of all meeting requests:

I spent the vast majority of my time in meetings, syncs, within meeting rooms, with family, or outside of business hours (including working nights and weekends).

Rejecting dozens of call requests a week.

Most of them could have been an email – or a direct sync.

If you want to connect, you’re more than welcome to email or DM with additional context and what I can do for you. If it’s within my realm, I’ll try to assist in the coming days – or delegate internally. Otherwise, it’s probably not a good fit.

But switching to an intro call is the wrong way to approach that unless we’re working together.

1. Most Phone Calls Are Spam

I’ve been using a service called Sync.me that aggregates a database of phone numbers and reports if an unknown number is already registered with them.

As a result, I can identify about 40% of the incoming phone calls. 90% of them are marked as:

  • Robocall services
  • Telecoms offering upsells
  • Cable TV
  • Random surveys
  • Stock options
  • Accounting services
  • Fax (yes)
  • Magazine subscriptions

The odds of picking up the phone for a legitimate reason are nearly 1 out of 10. The time it takes to figure this out, along with the distraction, is adding up quickly.

2. Calling During a Meeting

Oftentimes, I’m in a meeting while an unknown number is trying to reach out.

Effectively, I have to put a client on hold or leave a meeting with 10 colleagues discussing something important (and profitable) for the opportunity to speak with a call center offering services.

Even if you’re not an executive, plenty of folks are tasked to attend meetings for various reasons. Interrupting people in the middle of their workday is intrusive.

3. Calling While At The Office

How likely are you to pick up the phone at the office (assuming you’re sitting in a room with other people)?

I love my mom and my wife, but I don’t necessarily want to giggle on a family store while my colleagues are trying to work.

So in order to pick up, I have to quickly leave the room, interrupting or surprising my peers, to find a quiet space where I can take a call.

And it doesn’t account for the fact that I’m actually supposed to be working — generating billable hours for myself or my manager/employer.

4. Interrupting Complex Work

Here’s a portion of the common activities I have to deal with on a weekly basis:

  1. Running financial reports for expenses or revenue
  2. Gathering data for a sales call
  3. Doing R&D for a complex client case
  4. Debugging a challenging tech problem
  5. Reviewing multiple applicants for a job
  6. Reading contracts before passing on to the legal team
  7. Reviewing emergency requests that came in from partners or vendors
  8. Sorting out invoices and bank transfers

None of those activities will get any more productive if I suddenly leave somewhere in the middle.

Interruption science is a real science that aims to maximize efficiency at the workplace. I’ve been constantly testing and applying productivity tips in order to work more effectively.

And phone calls are not helping.

5. Phone Calls Can Be Texts/Emails

As a firm supporter of asynchronous work (whenever possible), I’d say that the vast majority of work-related calls can be emails or texts.

Had the dentist sent a text instead, I would have gathered that my appointment is rescheduled or I have to text back to confirm.

A three-question sales call can be an email.

Sure, there are legitimate reasons to jump on a call for 10 minutes and clear something out. And touching base with family is great. But in so many cases, a phone call is one of the worst options.

Note that a call is not even on the list!

(Though I admit I’m active on LinkedIn and can’t relate with #105).

6. Phone Calls Take Time

With the right agenda, a phone call can be truly effective.

(Especially when you call a colleague on a vacation who has messed something up and has to help!)

But just like meetings, calls may take a lot longer than an email.

It’s customary to engage in small talk when initiating a conversation. Which would be a short paragraph otherwise (if at all).

The essence of the problem may take some back and forth to finally sort out instead of thinking of a problem in your spare time and come up with the corresponding answer.

You may even be pressed to respond with the wrong answer if you lack important details of the conversation. Sometimes, context is lost between different parties interacting in a case. Or you may not be qualified to answer at this exact time.

7. Calls Don’t Bring Memories

Imagine you hop on a call and negotiate terms over a sales deal for 30+ minutes.

You’ll make some compromises. So will your customer.

Chances are, you’ll have doubts about some of the arguments you agreed on. Did you discount with 10%? Was it for a 3-month contract or 6 months?

Even worse, there’s no paper trail that would prove you right (or wrong). A follow-up conversation a few weeks later may get you back to square zero.

None of your team is up to speed, too. Unless you send a follow-up email and require a direct response, which is adding on top of the overhead for conducting the call in the first place.

8. Calls In Loud Places

I often find myself in a loud place where a call would be inappropriate.

Think of the subway, a restaurant, the line at Starbucks, out walking on the sidewalk adjacent to a boulevard.

Especially when other people are involved (public crowded spaces), a call would negatively impact:

  • Myself
  • The person on the other end of the line
  • The people around me

I will have a trouble hearing and this may result in me screaming at the phone, too. The loud noise around me will be hard to grasp on the other end too.

But hey, not a problem if you don’t expect an immediate answer or touch base via Slack/IM/email, right?

9. Calling Late In The Evening

I get a few calls past 10-11pm at least 3 times a week (mostly from our NY office). Since I’m in Europe most of the time, the time zone difference is inevitable (yet another reason why emails are beneficial).

Half the time, my daughter is asleep — or even worse, screaming as she’s sleepy but not yet ready to fall asleep. So I’ll either wake her up or annoy her even further, jumping on a call with a kid that’s not being paid attention to.

Or I may already be in bed and barely functional (because it’s very late in the evening).

Or I just had a 13-hour workday and don’t feel adequate enough to conduct a proper conversation.

Even if it’s a bit earlier (late afternoon/early evening), I may be outside (loud area) or attending a conference, after party, back from a training session or an interview with a recruit.

10. Phone Calls Early AM

Usually courtesy of my bank or telecom provider (among others).

Since most of my heavy lifting is later in the day/evening, I’m making the most out of my morning anytime I can. The assumption that I’ll be ready to talk financial details at 9:10 is flawed, and this has been the case for 15 years now (including my time as an employee and a freelancer).

Hardly any decent time for calls, aye?

11. Limited Cell Coverage

Limited Cell Coverage for phone calls

OK so here’s a fun story for you.

My personal executive room at the office is right across a cell tower. We’re talking 30 feet near.

And yet, my cell coverage there is horrible. Like a possible diffraction of sound waves that make any call sound as if you’re driving in a tunnel.

I used to have a few “dead spots” in my previous apartment, the elevator is fully offline (not surprisingly), and I can enumerate at least 5 places in the area where coverage isn’t great.

While office Wi-Fi may have its moments, odds are my 3G or 4G network would handle a call with fewer interruptions than my telecom itself.

12. Audio Problems During Calls

My family has a long-standing tradition of pointing fingers when a call gets rejected (nearly half the time).

  • A smartphone’s app will interfere along the way
  • Someone would click the “hold” button by mistake
  • General telecom problems
  • Standard smartphone problems (because calling apparently is so complicated nowadays)
  • A Bluetooth device would get in the way of sound, trying to put this in order (i.e. disconnecting car speakers, a smartwatch, your bathroom’s Bluetooth speaker).

And don’t get me started on international calls causing delays over a second between both parties. If you’ve never had a call overseas, try it out just for the experience. It’s NOT worth repeating but you got to understand how ridiculous it is.

13. Other Parties May Need To Intervene

Everyone has received a call that start with: “Can I speak with…” or “Is there anyone in your organization who would be suitable for the next call“.

But even if you’re the actual target of this conversation, are you necessarily the right point of contact?

  • My sales team can’t answer technical questions on the fly.
  • My tech guys may need some assistance from our adops or marketing team.
  • They would need creative to justify specific decisions regarding the color scheme of a print brochure or whatever be it.
  • Design would sometimes need to hear back from legal on trademark matters.

Even in terms of personal matters, I wouldn’t know if a “family plan” would be compatible with whatever service my wife is using. This requires consideration and comes off as presumptions (yes, almost every time).

TNS report

14. Calling While Driving

OK, so I know some people who are well-prepared and capable of conducting conversations effectively over the phone while driving.

I am not one of those people. Why?

My Bluetooth pairing system doesn’t always work properly. It’s acting funny when a call comes in but I’m listening to a CD and the call requires tuning in to a certain station frequency. Or only media comes through but not the phone.

Handsfree devices require additional maintenance (charging) and I’ve already got eleven devices to take care of daily (or every other day).

There are legal restrictions with driving without a handsfree.

And I can’t just plug my headset there. It’s legitimately dangerous as I’ve got no control over the environment and unable to hear while on the phone.

It’s easier on the highway (less traffic) but the coverage may get funny out of town.

15. Lack Of Privacy

There are certain security issues when it comes to calling but I won’t get to them.

Some people consider phone calls “safer” due to the lack of paper trail discussed above. In fact, every phone supports “phone recording” by design or through an app. Most service providers will notify you but many consumers won’t.

More importantly, you can’t trust that a phone call is completely private.

Have you overheard conversations on the bus? At the mall? In a restaurant? While waiting for a coffee?

And when was the last time you read through a Messenger log or an email that a stranger nearby received?

16. Calls Require Undivided Attention

Can you multitask while talking on the phone?

Not the easiest type of exercise.

In the meantime, while conducting a chat or writing an email, you receive a ton of pop-up notifications, can actually pick up an “emergency” call (if needed), are available for team members to touch base with you quickly, and can even sit in a meeting (unless you’re actively participating).

Several years ago, I was conducting multiple interviews simultaneously over chat while helping my team out on-site. It probably saved me hours in scheduling and missed/delayed appointments otherwise.

Think Twice When You Pick Up The Phone

Why I don't pick up my phone

Slack has become a controversial tool over the past 2 years. Launching as the replacement of email, the constant availability expected in the workplace combined with the inefficient push notifications can turn the work cycle into a monitoring nightmare.

Phone calls aren’t any better. Just a few situations exist when it’s considered okay to just jump on the phone and call somebody unannounced. Unless they are close family or really close friends (or you are indeed dealing with an emergency), or you’re actually calling a support desk, of course.

Think twice next time before you decide to save a moment of yours and get someone on the phone without a legitimate reason. Schedule the call ahead of time if possible.

I try to make a mental note of everyone’s preferred communication channel for that reason. Many of my professional contacts (or even friends) I only interact with over the Internet. I likely don’t have their number either (or haven’t added it to my address book).

Asynchronous communication is so much better. Should everyone stick to this protocol by design, real phone calls will finally go through and important announcements or meeting requests would no longer be missed by mistake.

6 thoughts on “16 Reasons Why I Don’t Pick Up My Phone”

  1. Nick Stamoulis says: November 26, 2019 at 10:54 pm

    When it comes to business strategy and marketing, relying on the phone could cause problems. Most people don’t pick up the phone nowadays unless they’re certain of what’s on the other end.

  2. Mario says: November 28, 2019 at 3:39 pm

    Yep absolutely, Nick. We’ve got spam filters for emails but it’s still more reliable than a cold call.

  3. Harald Peki says: December 9, 2019 at 1:07 pm

    Hey Mario!
    Thanks for taking the time to Yeah, I get your reason #1 – that´s an incredible percentage / amount of spam calls. Used to drive me nuts, but GDPR changed that. In fact it effectively stopped that kind of nonsense (true, at a high price)

    A lot of the other points (2, 3, 4, 6 (so does writing stuff), 8, 9, 10) are more of the category “WHEN I don´t pick up my phone”

    11, 12, 14 are just tech problems, that need to get fixed; works just fine with the right tools.
    … and that´s what my phone is: a tool, which CAN be used efficiently… more efficient in SOME use cases than any other method … for me anyway.

    finally: phones USP? hearing the tone of someones voice can tell you things, the written word cannot.

  4. Mario says: December 9, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    Thanks Harald!

    Yeah, phones should not be neglected 100%. But they are currently overused (and abused by bots and spammers) which leads to a large portion of the population just ignoring calls 9 out of 10 times.

    A more effective process and a clear agenda for calls could be super helpful in a business context.

Your thoughts?