Asynchronous Communication: How to Rescue Your Time and Avoid the Chaos of “Always On”

Written By Claire Emerson

We all have a myriad of interruptions throughout our day.

And what’s worse is that research has shown that 44% of those interruptions are self-inflicted. So not only do you have to manage the interruptions from others, but you also have to tame the relentless intrusions from your own distraction-prone mind.

Managing your attention, maintaining focus, making tangible progress — despite the pull of urgency and daily diversions — are crucial for avoiding the chaos that an “always-on” mentality can create.

So today, we’re going to highlight a method of communication that can help you establish a calmer collaboration style in your business. And build some necessary structure into how you (and your team) can manage your attention throughout the day.

Asynchronous Communication: Managing attention with intention

Async is the freedom to collaborate on our own timelines, not everyone else’s. It’s the power to protect our best hours for focus and flow. It’s the peace of unplugging, knowing we can pick up where we left off.

— CEO of Doist, Amir Salihefendic

In short, asynchronous is any form of communication where you aren’t expecting a reply or action in real-time.

And in most cases, the emphasis is on “writing it up” rather than “talking it out.”

It creates an alternative means for making decisions and moving forward with your business goals — without wasting significant hours of your day on distractions that might be relevant, even important, but are not where you need to focus.

Async is communication with a clear purpose that doesn’t corrupt your daily objectives.

Chaotic communication can dilute your desired result

And in most cases, creates more work.

There is no doubt that when people feel overwhelmed or overloaded with information — priorities get lost in the noise.

And if you work with a team, clients, or contractors, it becomes impossible to manage their expectations and promote higher output if you (or they) are unorganized, distracted, or fail to communicate the desired result effectively.

This is where the benefits of asynchronous communication shine through.

For one thing, by prioritizing internal communication based on long-form writing, instead of real-time chat, 1:1 meetings, and video conferences — you develop a living document of your most significant discussions.

Plus, you gain invaluable control over your day. And create alternative (and often more effective) options for planning, problem-solving, and collaborating on project work.

All of which no longer rely on everyone involved being present at the same time.

Newsflash! You’re already an asynchronous adopter

Email, Slack-chat, shared Google docs — are all forms of asynchronous communication.

Unfortunately, where many people go wrong is treating them as synchronous. Like expecting immediate replies to your latest email. Or using Slack to ping someone in a completely different timezone (and secretly seething because they haven’t responded yet).

But you can combat this.

Writing solidifies, chat dissolves. Substantial decisions start and end with an exchange of complete thoughts, not one-line-at-a-time jousts. If it’s important, critical, or fundamental, write it up, don’t chat it down.

— Jason Fried

By adding intentional structure and setting realistic expectations (upfront) about how and when you want to communicate, you can urge behavior change and begin to break the addiction to “ASAP.”

And by killing the inclination toward “always-on”, instead — you promote a culture of calm, well-reasoned, and thoughtful communication (where boundaries are protected, deep work takes focus, and real progress gets made).

Not convinced? No problem.

Here are some of the key benefits we’ve found from avoiding the “always-on” mentality.

15 Blissful Benefits of Adopting Asynchronous Communication

  1. Relieve the pressure of responding immediately. Rushing and demanding immediate responses in real-time can lead to poor decision-making. But with an asynchronous-first approach — you allow time for critical thinking and avoid snap judgments.

  2. Fewer interruptions = More meaningful work done. Not making progress can create a crushing sense of personal failure. And often, the relentless interruptions that synchronous communication promotes can split people’s attention and make deep work (high-value, cognitively-demanding activities) impossible to engage in.

  3. Gain more control over the workday. When encouraged to work in a way that works for our specific situation, that sense of empowerment helps people take ownership of their day. Adopting asynchronous practices helps your team members align communication and collaboration with their unique internal operating systems. And that sense of control contributes to the satisfaction and fulfillment they gain from their work.

  4. Creates a living document that leads to process improvements. A written record helps everyone, not just those “in the room,” stay in the know and on track. It’s independent of schedule and more direct.

  5. More accessible communication and collaboration across time zones. Async works superbly for remote teams who benefit from the overlap of hours rather than being online simultaneously. And, of course, communicating with partners, sponsors, and other important people you correspond with makes timezones a non-issue.

  6. Polished planning. The best plans aren’t hashed from on-the-spot thinking. Sure, real-time talk can lead to some epic brainstorming sessions. But sharpening those immediate thoughts with a more structured approach (i.e., the write-up) will yield higher-quality ideas and execution.

  7. A slower pace leads to more thoughtful ideas and answers. A favorite quote of mine from Jason Fried is, “‘Now’ is often the wrong time to say what just popped into your head. It’s better to let it filter it through the sieve of time. What’s left is the part worth saying.” Async leads to less miscommunication and fewer off-the-cuff outbursts that may be better left unsaid!

  8. Async = introvert-friendly. As an introvert, I prefer to listen (and occasionally ask questions) on live calls. And I often find that I don’t have much to contribute during that real-time connection. But post-call is a whole other ball game. After a good amount of time to clarify my thinking — I almost always have something to say!

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  9. People can address problems at their optimal time. Not everyone is in problem-solving mode at the same time. We all have optimal hours for certain types of work. Including analytical thinking and decision-making. Async allows everyone to contribute when it best suits them.

  10. Less context switching. Dropping everything to respond instantly leads to flip-flopping between tasks and losing focus. Fragmenting your time and energy because of poor communication practices wreaks havoc on productivity.

  11. Async can pave the way to remote-first. Working async is a helpful prerequisite for testing the waters of working remotely. Adopting more asynchronous practices gives you a taste of what managing a distributed team involves. And as you may already know — going fully remote has some incredible benefits. That said…

  12. Async is not just for remote workers. If your business is in an industry where being onsite is necessary, you can still adopt async strategies that help alleviate unnecessary distractions, meetings, and interruptions to your day.

  13. You get better at managing people who can manage themselves. With async, you create a culture of good communication, reasonable expectations, trust, and empowerment. This will help you attract the right talent and becomes a selling point for new recruits.

  14. Proactive > Reactive. Synchronous communication increases reactivity. And leads to emotional responses based on “how we feel in the moment.” Asynchronous allows us to take a more proactive approach when addressing problems and engaging in discussions. We become more deliberate and less driven by feelings, circumstances, and the conditions of the moment.

  15. Streamline necessary synchronous communication. The added structure that async provides (with better documentation and operational processes) increases effectiveness when it actually is required to sync up. You train yourself and your team to better document work and present information in a more concise and consumable way.

Not only does async minimize the urgency of other people’s requests, but you build the habit of focus for yourself too.

And by implementing some key strategies (which we’ll cover next), you can feel confident that any communication and collaboration within your company — can be handled with ease (and on your timeline).

8 Strategies for Implementing Asynchronous Communication in Your Company

#1 Craft a constructive async document

The best use of asynchronous communication is in the long-form write-up.

If you think about many of your most important meetings, the goal is often to solve a problem or shape a new project.

But in some cases (okay, most cases), you can replace these meetings with a well-structured, written document that allows contributors to be more thoughtful with their responses and engagement.

Here is a simple guideline you can use for creating an asynchronous document that will help you spotlight a problem, form a solution, and address any issues with putting it into practice.

The next steps are to share it with the people who need to see it. Ask them for feedback and thoughts, and give them a deadline for their response.

Of course, your process can evolve. But having a simple starting point is super-helpful.

#2 Run a successful async meeting

Asynchronous meetings are discussions about a specific topic not held in real-time. You replace the need to meet in person with tools that help you and your meeting attendees collaborate without “syncing up.”

But before we get into how to run an async meeting, it’s worth taking stock of your current meeting habits. And where you might be able to make improvements.

A few questions to consider here:

When you’re ready to make the switch to an asynchronous meeting style — consider this advice from Justin Mitchell (Founder of Yac.com):

Start small: You don’t need to cancel every meeting. Pick one recurring meeting (for example, a Friday check-in or morning stand-up) to make async first. This will give you a small way to get used to async communication before going in head-first.

This article also shares his team’s six-step process for making Async meetings work for you. Here is the gist of it:

  1. Encourage contribution by making responses mandatory. Something interesting here is that if you find someone who doesn’t have anything to contribute — consider if the meeting makes sense for them to be a part of. Keeping this in mind can help shave down meeting participants to only the most relevant attendees.
  2. Use voice messaging. Your team can listen to discussions on their own time and still get a clear message that won’t be misinterpreted.
  3. Create an async agenda. No different from an in-person meeting, well-defined goals and objectives provide context and clarity. And allow people to prepare accordingly.
  4. Build a system to track discussions, actions, and decisions. Creating your single source of truth (using your preferred selection of tools) will keep everything organized and on track.
  5. Set deadlines for meeting responses. You want the discussion to remain timely. Async shouldn’t hinder progress; it should simply accommodate a wider time frame than a real-time meeting can provide.
  6. Document the results. The goal is to keep the conversation all in one place and have something easy to use and searchable for future activity.

#3 Beat Inbox Overload: Establish email best practices

As you know, email is one of the most popular forms of asynchronous communication.

And yet, many people still either treat it as synchronous or feel so overwhelmed by their inbox that they stall progress and choke their priorities.

Take a look at this epic post on inbox zero — to help establish some email best practices for yourself and your team. And discover some new strategies for keeping (the often false) urgency of email at bay.

#4 Show vs. Describe: Onboarding, training, and demonstrations

One of the biggest drains on time for many founders is onboarding new staff, training, and demonstrating new processes or systems.

And making these meetings in person, in real-time, is not your best course of action.

If it benefits your business in the future, then record or automate the process to free up that time.

Of course, you can still have 1:1 interactions around these critical operations. But you don’t need to waste time repeating yourself when describing how the business operates, what a job entails, or how to use specific tools and systems.

As an asynchronous alternative, make it a priority to share video demonstrations where you narrate the experience, record walkthroughs and training sessions, and include write-ups of key operating systems and processes.

A tool like ZipMessage makes this seamless to execute.

Another option here is taking advantage of email autoresponders. Which, as you know, are excellent for customer engagement and retention. But they can also work exceptionally well for letting new employees see the lay of the land.

Nathan Barry at Convertkit swears by their automated onboarding.

And notes you can use it to “explain how you work, where to find important things, share fun facts about team members, explain inside jokes, & more. It’s all automated so you can curate their first 30+ days at the company.

Bonus tip: Don’t forget to take the opportunity to ask for feedback.

Address the gaps before they widen with time.

#5 Create a Single Source of Truth (SSOT)

A drawback of asynchronous communication is that people need to manage themselves efficiently and remain accountable with little direction.

To empower your team to be independent, you need to have the systems that support that work. The most vital of which is to create a single source of truth for your organization.

By using a tool like Notion, Asana, or Basecamp you can house everything that relates to your business — tasks, projects, SOP’s — under one roof.

Essentially, you want everything available to everyone at all times. In other words, don’t “lock up” the important stuff.

A central place for files, discussions, to-do lists and calendars keeps workflow ticking. And with today’s technology, you have no excuse for materials and instructions to be out of reach.

#6 Set up a shared calendar

Simple but effective.

When you lack the security of seeing your team at work simultaneously — a shared calendar can help combat that fear of losing control.

Use it to highlight important dates, acknowledge when team members will be on leave, and yes, even schedule synchronous meetings!

(You can break up large companies with “team calendars” to avoid overload.)

A quick and easy option here is to use Google Calendar.

You’ll need:

Set up a calendar

#7 Provide a place for “non-work connection.”

An uninterrupted day is excellent for productivity.

But a lack of connection with other people can make you feel isolated and discouraged.

If you’re working with a team, give opportunities for them to “sync up” on their terms. You provide the space but empower your team to control their social interaction.

A #watercooler channel in your chat or messaging app is a great place to start.

Or you could try introducing a prompt to share something “Fun of Fridays” to help everyone relax into the weekend.

You can also consider replacing some of your meetings with co-working sessions. Focused work can still get done with the added value of built-in accountability and community connection.

#8 Create an internal blog or podcast

An internal blog enables your company to have a sense of community by facilitating internal communication.

You can also consider a podcast where you interview your team members about their life stories, and the whole team can listen in on their own time. Using a tool like Transistor.fm can make hosting and publishing your episodes a breeze.

With an informal tool like a blog or podcast, employees can communicate and start building personally and professionally beneficial relationships.

Real-time sometimes, asynchronous most of the time

What’s important to remember is that there is still a place for synchronous communication.

Face-to-face introductions, performance reviews, crisis management conversations, and relationship-building meetings are all a good use of a real-time connection.

But where you can begin to move in the direction of a more asynchronous approach are opportunities like:

No work arrangement is without trade-offs

There are many benefits to using more asynchronous communication in your company. However, it can have its drawbacks too.

Keeping everyone in the loop and on track is essential (especially if you’re the one running the company). So make it your priority to check in (asynchronously) at least once a week.

An idea from 37signals is to have a weekly discussion thread with the subject “What have you been working on?”

Not only is progress more fun when you can share it with your coworkers, but you get to keep track of output and ensure they’re meeting key objectives in the process.

Tried and tested tools to take your company collaboration (and culture) to the next level

Before we leave you to start shoring up your operating systems with some of the asynchronous strategies we’ve shared today, here are some tools you can consider to make them easier to implement:

Choose your communication wisely

Solely relying on synchronous communication can lead to broken boundaries, employee burnout, and a noticeable lack of progress on your most significant projects.

But as you now know, there is another way!

Adopting asynchronous communication means that you and your employees no longer need to break focus to answer unimportant or tedious requests. It relieves the pressure of reacting immediately for non-urgent items, removes distractions, and contributes to better focus and less stress.

From solo founders to Fortune 500 companies — leveraging the power of asynchronous communication can help you rescue your time and empower yourself and your team to make more meaningful progress (with fewer meetings, hooray!)