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Asynchronous communication cures response fatigue

Dinah Spritzer

July 21, 2021

4

min read

You urgently need to buy your mom flowers; it’s her birthday.

BUT

As you try to place the phone order, a Slack message pings: Dan in production dislikes your newsletter format.

THEN

Your email buzzes because the vice president of sales needs your client report in the next hour.

AT THE SAME TIME

Basecamp alerts you that Regina wants the numbers for the Efficiency Project. Where are those numbers?

SECONDS LATER

A fellow school parent Whatsapps you to ask if you will kick in $30 for teacher appreciation day. She wants an immediate response.

NOW!

You have a Zoom digital marketing team meeting in three minutes. Are you ready?

The problem with the above scenario, typical of most managers’ work days, is not the number of tasks. It’s the expectation, usually placed by us on ourselves, that we must respond to every demand immediately and simultaneously.  And we do.

We respond to Slack messages while writing case studies, hold several online conversations at once, and scroll through our social media during Zoom calls. We email while approving payroll budgets. We text during in-person meetings.

This is multitasking. And it destroys our brains, our well being, and our productivity.

Really?

Without quitting your job or your family, how can you respond adequately to simultaneous demands without constantly interrupting each of your tasks?

Asynchronous communication.

Asynchronous communication refers to chats that don’t happen in real time. Your response time might be minutes, hours or weeks.

Synchronous communication requires an immediate response, either electronically or in person. A meeting, video call, and a telephone conversation are purely synchronous forms of communication.

Asynchronous communication is the most overlooked productivity hack. It’s also the most powerful tool to reduce multitasking.

Asynchronous communication is only effective when you agree on the rules as a team. Lead by example. Increase your ratio of asynchronous communication to ensure agreement and cooperation with the new approach. Communication transformations turn sour if everyone is not on the same page. That’s why productivity should be always treated as a holistic issue and not as an individual struggle.

Here are five tips to master asynchronous communication that show its impact:

  1. Stop treating email as synchronous communication. Curb your response times.

Most people rapid-respond to email. One study showed the most common email response time was two minutes.

Action: Respond when it’s convenient for you and create a slot in your calendar for email replies. Most work emails can wait up to two days for a response. If the email seems urgent or is from someone who tends to be demanding, let them know a window within which you plan to respond so they don’t bug you.

Immediate email responses condition people to expect fast replies. That builds the expectation that you are always on, for everyone. Time to set new expectations.

Result:  You can focus more on deep work such as long-term strategy, project completion and most importantly, your customers.

  1. Stop the meeting madness.

Sixty-five percent of executives report that meetings keep them from doing real, productive work, according to Harvard Business Review.

Action: Decline invites. Encourage your direct reports to decline invites. Stop micromanaging and take a miss on meetings arranged by your direct reports.

Limit meeting participation.Did you know that more than seven people is too many attendees? Shave off five to 10 percent of your normally scheduled meeting time; transform your weekly hour-long meeting into a 50-minute meeting.

Finally, could that meeting be a written report or a video that people can read or watch at their convenience?

Result: By following the steps above at a 1,000-person company, you can save 34 hours, per employee. That’s an annual savings of 34,000 work hours.

  1. Block out time for no communication. And stick to it.

Action: Put two hours of focus time in your calendar at least twice a week. That’s time to strategize that cannot be interrupted with a response to anyone, not even your mom. Turn your phone on silent or off, shut your door, lock yourself in a conference room or wherever you know you will not be interrupted.

Result: The average employee is only productive for two hours and 53 minutes a day during an eight-hour day at work. You can’t become productive if you don’t have time for deep work. Scheduled focus time increases productivity and improves your well being.

  1. Lay off the Slack, Teams, and Workplace

Slack and other messaging systems too often turn into a free for all where people instantly respond, and expect an instant response. Each ping is an interruption tempting you to multitask.

Action: Put a set Slack time in your calendar, and don’t respond to messages outside of calendar time. Use the new Slack feature that schedules messages to avoid unnecessary exchanges.

Result: Our research shows that employees at large firms are sending on average 200 Slack per week.  By trying to reduce this number by at least half, your team  gains time for deeper collaboration.

  1. Get ready for some blowback

Action: Prioritize before the pings, alerts and demands start flowing in. Delete messenger apps from your phone. Know your temptations.

Reset your brain for mostly asynchronous responses.

How do you keep track of getting back to people? At the end of the week, put an hour in your calendar for response time. If you are a manager or executive and set yourself up as the enemy of multitasking, your colleagues and direct reports will follow your lead.  

Color-code your calendar so that you know what category of items are urgent, and what you can afford to save for later.

Result: Look at you! You deleted, declined and ditched IM notifications. You gained six hours of focus time, a gym workout, and a family bike ride.

But there’s a caveat.

There will always be those who resent the lack of an immediate response. Train them, respectfully, to value your time as much as they value their own. Part of fighting multitasking is setting boundaries. Just because your fellow school parent wants an answer “now” doesn’t mean you have to oblige.

And that’s perhaps the greatest challenge when moving towards more asynchronous communication; it works best for people who have the confidence to pursue productivity over people pleasing. Still, perhaps you should have ordered those flowers for a mom a bit earlier.😉


To slay the multitasking monster forever, find out how your team’s time is currently segmented. Are you spending too much time in meetings? On collaboration software? On email? We provide you with metrics on how teams spend their time, without sacrificing individual privacy. Get in touch today to boost your productivity and get your time back.

wRITTEN BY

Dinah Spritzer