Prioritizing Messaging – Or Why I Loathe Facebook These Days

technology.pngThere’s a very, very simple reason why I loathe the mixing of messages and chat on Facebook – which leads directly into how rare it is to get a response from me there.

There’s a kind of priority that goes with the mode of communication.  Think about the expected response times here:

  • Phone call – Instant
  • IM/Chat – Near-instant ( < 5min)
  • SMS (text message) – Quick (5min – 1 hour)
  • Email/private message – A While (1day – 1 week)
  • Snail Mail – Slow (1 week – 1 month)

Obviously, your expectations may differ;  these seem to be some general guidelines that don’t steer you too far wrong.  For someone as overscheduled as me (and probably you, too), those delay times are a vital part of scheduling our day.

Think about the GTD “2 minute rule”.  I can whip off a quick response to most messages in about two minutes.  No problem.

It suddenly becomes a huge scheduling problem when that person instantly replies “Oh, I’ve got another question.”  Suddenly that two minute block has become five minutes, twenty minutes, a half-hour. In my experience, no chat lasts less than a half-hour timeblock, and usually more.1

During that time, I cannot engage in other work.  Most of what I do is linguistic – words.  I have a very hard time processing two linguistic streams at once (and you do too, unless you’re Bob Milne) – and the time demands of chat/IM are fast enough that it’s hard to have enough time to refocus.  (Multi-tasking is a myth, people.)

It’s not that I don’t want to talk to the other person. Or that I mind chatting – I’m a fast enough typist that it’s not the mode of communication that’s the problem. It’s that I’m usually doing a quick run through my inbox on Facebook and trying to address as much of it as possible (via a modified GTD process).

Thanks to Facebook’s process of making chat and IM essentially the same thing, I’ve had to reprioritize all Facebook “communication” to “Do I have the time to engage in a half-hour chat with this person?”

Unfortunately, the answer for that is almost always “no”.

1 The same effect happens with e-mail sometimes when one person keeps responding right away.