The Hierarchy of Interruption

Last night I had a really interesting conversation with a friend regarding all the myriad ways that we can become interrupted electronically. While we both agreed that there are differing levels of importance, based on the delivery method of the interruption, we varied on how we prioritized them. It also led us to see how assuming that another person uses the same hierarchy that we do can create some awkward and sometimes uncomfortable situations. After all, if you’re expecting a timely response and the other person sees it as something that can wait, you’re going to be upset and the other party will think they did nothing wrong. (And in most cases, they truly haven’t.) Below is my hierarchy of urgency regarding electronic interruptions, from most urgent to least.

Phone call
No one seems to call anyone anymore, so if you’re calling me, it must be important.
Text message/iMessage
To me, a text message is someone looking for a pretty immediate response. Maybe not this second, but at least within a few minutes.
Instant Message (Facebook, Google Hangout, Skype, AIM (hey, it’s still around), etc.)
This is a tricky one. To me, if I’m signed in to an IM service, and I don’t have an away message or do not disturb option set, then that means that I’m available to talk. Apparently this is not the case for a lot of people, who just stay signed in all the time, and then get annoyed when you say hi because you think they’re free to chat.

Twitter DM
Less important than a text message, but still should be replied to in a timely manner.
Twitter @
It’s not unimportant, but if I don’t respond, no big deal.
Unless the sender indicates that it’s time-sensitive, I’ll address it when I have some free time.

What do you think? Did I miss anything? How does my list compare to your own?

2 thoughts on “The Hierarchy of Interruption

    • I think that it’s because of the amount of noise that’s inherent with email. People email about everything, from newsletters to FYIs to a Nigerian prince telling me about the money my great granduncle left me, it’s just not something that I can say that makes me jump every time I see that I have a message.

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