I'm Ryan Waggoner. I build things. I blog about how to work harder and smarter to build the life you want. You should subscribe.

Why I Don’t Answer My Phone

Posted in Misc, Personal by

If you call my phone right now, I probably won’t answer unless:

  1. We have a call scheduled for right now (and I try to avoid those)
  2. You’re my wife, immediate family, or cofounder
  3. You’re in my address book (which is family, friends, and a few clients)

If #1 or #2 applies, I try to pick up 100% of the time. If #3 applies, it’s more like 25%. If it’s not one of the above, the chance is about 0%.

I know what you’re thinking: “How rude! Who is he to decide that he’s just not going to take my call?”

I know it’s frustrating to call someone and have them not pick up. That’s why I’m writing this post, actually…maybe it will shed some light on why I think this rude, antisocial behavior is actually polite.

I spend most of my day writing. It might be sales copy, a blog post, emails, or code, but it’s all hard. Maybe not for some people, but it’s hard for me. So hard that I have to get into a particular mental state to be able to do it with any degree of quality. And that mental state is ever so delicate (read Paul Graham’s Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule for more). The cost of a 15-minute call that comes in the middle of that time and derails my mental state isn’t 15 minutes, it’s hours, maybe the whole day.

Everyone wants to be the only and most important thing in the world, but they can’t all be. We all have to shuffle and prioritize and decide who we’re going to take care of right now. Trying to please everyone all the time is a recipe for failure. Trying to pick up your phone for every call is a recipe for never getting anything done.

However, I do understand that there are emergencies, so I try to always check my voicemail, email, and text messages within a few minutes after a missed call, to ensure that I’m not dropping the ball. Typically it’s something that can wait, so I wait until I’ve gotten to a good stopping point, and deal with it then.

So while it might seem rude that I don’t answer my phone, it’s actually my best attempt to be respectful. I want to deliver the best I can for my readers, my clients, and my customers. And when we do get on the phone, I want to be able to give you my full attention, instead of being distracted and frustrated by the interruption.

So if you need to talk to me and I don’t pick up my phone, you can leave a voicemail, send me an SMS, or send an email. Just don’t call back later, because I probably won’t pick up then either.

You’re welcome :)

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12 Responses to “Why I Don’t Answer My Phone”

  1. I wholeheartedly love your method. This turned nuts my students last semester, as they came in ringing the office bell and would be disappointed I wasn't available when they wanted. They did not understood that I have something else to do: research, and that even a 5 minute interruption can break the workflow and turn my ultra-productive morning into random web surfing. Great focus is very sensible to this kind of perturbations, and luckily they learnt that unless we had a meeting, they would get a better chance of hearing from me by email.



    • ryanwaggoner says:

      It's definitely a rough adjustment, but I have noticed that as I've begun respecting my time more, others pick up on it and they're more respectful of my time as well. I hope it doesn't cause resentment, but it definitely hasn't cost me any business with clients; I'm completely swamped with work :)

  2. Hey really, really nice post. I totally agree. A simple call can cut your morning in two. Getting in the ‘mental state’ to do somethings is pretty hard, and going away from it is a waste. Some people actually have two phones: the first one to meet your #1 and #2 and the other for #3. He even has a message in the second phone that goes something like “I am in the middle of some concentration know, I’ll get back to you when I finish”….

  3. Catch This says:

    I’ve been doing that for years … but never foolishly publicized it like you did. I am almost a 100% certain that most people that call you do the same too …

    Off to delete you from my bookmarks …

  4. Lee says:

    Kudos and thanks for taking my calls. I feel more important now. I actually quit answering my phone a few years ago. You might remember a long drawn out vm message that gave my office number and stated "someone on my team would be more than happy to help you."

    At my office everyone knows to say "Lee is busy at the moment, is there something I can help you with?" I'm usually not the one who ends up helping customers or doing updates, so this practice speeds things up a bit. Plus it's completely factual as I am always busy.

    I actually know a few people who only check vm's twice a day and only make call backs once a day. I think this is a good practice.

    Keep us updated on how this works out.

  5. Pete says:

    I don't answer anyone. If you WANT me to answer, you better TXT or email first.

  6. Chuck Rylant says:

    I'm with you brother. This is good advice and I do the same thing. I wrote about this and other time management tips at my blog. I hope leaving links is cool, cause I really am trying to add to the conversation, not spam: http://www.chuckrylant.com/2011/12/27/the-definit

  7. Adam Hommey says:


    My list of who I'll answer for is identical to yours. As if, I had written it myself. Great minds think alike!

    All my voicemails get e-mailed as MP3s to my business manager. She or her assistant will do one or more of the following: a) Transcribe and summarize it for me, b) Contact the person to schedule time with me, c) Respond for me otherwise if they know the answer, d) Disregard it if it's a salesperson we don't know, or if it's someone on my short list of people who I do not wish to speak with at all.

    I spend as much time on keeping this process working as I do on marketing in general. My bank account thanks me every day.

  8. Great article dude. My productivity has shot through the roof since I stopped taking calls – if it's 800 or unlisted, they don't stand a chance of getting through. Heck, even family doesn't get picked up every time- if I"m in the zone, calls can wait.

    Studies show that any distraction actually takes 20 minutes to recover from. So…. voicemail away!

  9. […] job-job? Are you willing to take vacation less and work on holidays more and tell your friends you can’t ever answer the phone before 6pm, even if they just broke up with their horrible DB of a boyfriend and they are very […]

  10. robyn says:

    Hmmm. Are people really giving you a hard time about not answering your phone? This reads like a rationalization for your behavior, which by the way is perfectly reasonable. If you are in fact barraged with calls why not say something in your outgoing message like I'm usually writing between 10am and 9pm and will try to return all phone calls within 24 hours. -There "problem" solved.

    Something I read awhile ago on a writer's blog that has stuck with me:

  11. Lisa bld says:

    I love the candidness of this blog. It's really none of people's business why you don't answer, but nice of you to give an explanation!

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