Want quick answers? Ask questions well!

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In our modern day world, focus is paramount to getting things done. Every interruption introduces context switching, which makes productivity suffer. Thus, it can be good to embrace asynchronous communication and respect others' time.

Consider the following two situations...

Situation #1: Communication That Could Be Improved

Here's the situation:

situation-1

So what's wrong with it?

  • A greeting without saying what you need makes the other person switch contexts and wait on you
  • Not telling the other person what you know and have tried makes figuring it all out take much longer
  • Asking for a call means that the other person will have to drop whatever they are doing to join it
  • This way, even simple questions need more time, to get the details and start talking about the actual problem

And what if they're too busy to help you right now? Will you wait for an hour until their schedule frees up for that call? Once or twice a day may not be too bad, but what if there's lots of people with lots of problems?

Situation #2: Quicker And More Useful Communication

Here's the alternative:

situation-2

So how is it better?

  • Offering the details up front is an excellent way to get the other person up to speed
  • Being specific with what you're trying to do (links, method/class names, code snippets, error messages) eliminates lots of guesswork
  • If you've already tried some steps towards a solution, sharing those can also be very useful
  • You won't have to do as much back and forth or calls, the message alone might have enough details for them to help

Now, the other person doesn't need to feel frustrated, pausing their work, to wait for you to explain the situation. Furthermore, if they're out at the moment (or in a different time zone), they can just get back to you with the full answer later.

Summary

You can make communication more useful and less frustrating with relatively little effort. This could cut down on the amount of context switching that you or others need to do. Not every question needs a call, not every answer needs to be preceded by lots of back and forth. Of course, sometimes you do just need a meeting or a call and that is also okay. Better yet, write down information about how problems were solved in the past.

Good luck!

Further reading

Some of the nice people on HN suggested a few additional links that may be of use: