You’re in a meeting and, once again, you feel the all-too-familiar :: buzz-buzz :: of your phone in your pocket. You’re not really paying attention to whomever is speaking, and it’s not entirely due to the fact that the presenter is as dry as last month’s bread.
You leave said meeting and look down at your phone: 8 new calls and voicemails, 11 text messages. That’s all not to mention new incoming e-mails.
You take a deep breath. It just never seems to end. And to make it worse, as you look down your list of new voicemails, you see that three of them are from people who are notorious for saying things during conversations like “So, anyway, to make a long story short…” after what should only have taken one minute to say has already taken twenty. One actually left a message that went too long, then called back to continue the message, starting in with, “Sorry, I got cut off there, but as I was saying …,” apparently oblivious to the fact that your phone’s recording limit per message is a full five minutes.
:: buzz-buzz ::
Make that 12 new text messages. It’s the guy who just left the two long voice messages, texting to make sure you got the messages and reminding you to call him back, because “it’s urgent.” It always is with him.
You check your e-mail. One is from a new client: “Give me a ring. I want to talk about possibly getting [insert some miniscule number] of your products and I’m just too busy to check your website: (555) 123-4567.” There goes another hour of your time, which may or may not end in a sale that, at best, will turn a profit of a few bucks.
Our very own Ryan Bonaparte posted earlier this week on “Creative Time Management,” and his point about “capturing lost time” got me thinking about the amount of time that many of us can wind up spending inefficiently (i.e., wasting) on phone calls alone. In fact, my Comment on Ryan’s thoughts is what led to the idea for this post. (Thanks, Ryan.)
When cell phones first came out, I was dead set against getting one. I was just fine with people not being able to reach me any time they wished. I didn’t mind stopping at a payphone to call someone on the rare occasion that I might be running late. And when I got home at night, I’d allocate time – either that night, if it were still early, or the next morning – to return calls in one sitting.
Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. I enjoy all of the features of my mobile phone. And I wouldn’t want to go back to payphones being the only option. But technology can often wind up being more of a prison than a freedom, unless we are intentional about reining things in.Technology can wind up being more of a prison than a freedom, unless we rein things in. Click To Tweet
Below are some suggestions that will save you time – and aggravation – without being any less productive. In fact, they’ll help make you more effective and efficient. And they all have to do with managing phone time.
Turn Off Your Phone
First, keep people at the center. Try turning your phone OFF when you are spending time with family or out to dinner with a friend. Leave it in another room. Remember what it is like to sustain eye contact with the person across from you. Let yourself clunk through the awkwardness of filling 45 minutes with real conversation, uninterrupted by checking texts and incoming social media messages, or excusing yourself to take calls.Keep people at the center. Click To Tweet
This also applies for other times of the day. If you can’t answer the calls or texts as they are coming in (e.g., during a meeting or an appointment with a client), there is no need for you to be distracted by the vibrations alerting you to the stream of incoming communication. You will see all of that later, when you can actually do something about it.
Tip: If you need your phone on for the clock, calendar, notes app, etc., just put your phone into Airplane Mode. It will keep you from getting calls, texts and emails, while still allowing you to use all features that don’t require WiFi or a carrier connection.
You’ll find that turning the phone off for periods of time will be uncomfortable for you at first. Even without the :: buzz-buzz :: you’ll find yourself distracted, wondering if new messages are coming in. But this should only serve to prove to you the addictive nature of constant digital connection. Be determined to be bigger than the bubbles. It will improve your relationships, and help you be more effective by allowing you to focus fully on the tasks at hand, thereby accomplishing more during those time periods.Be determined to be bigger than the bubbles. Click To Tweet
Use Commute Time
One of the biggest time savers I’ve found is using some (not necessarily all) driving time to return calls and texts. Now, hear me out. First, I live in a state where talking on the phone while driving is legal. Second, I do not text with my fingers while driving; I have an iPhone and ask Siri to read my messages to me and to dictate my return messages. But using this otherwise “dead time” as phone time allows even smaller chunks of time to be used efficiently. If you carpool or take the train, all the better. But again, not all commute time needs to be used for calls. If your commute home is 50 minutes, determine to use only, say, 30 minutes of that time as phone time. And enjoy your walk to and from lunch to just be quiet and refocus.
Don’t Pick Up
I also don’t always pick up a phone call, if it comes in at a time when my attentions are otherwise focused, even if I’m alone. If it’s important, people will leave a message, and I can schedule the call back. Otherwise, I wind up diverting attention and energy from, say, writing, which breaks the flow and costs me time trying to get back into it (e.g., rereading what I’d written to that point, getting my focus off of whatever the call was about, etc.). Then, during a later block set aside as phone time, I apply the following strategy.
Set Time Limits
When making or returning calls (whether driving or not), I always consider the person I’m calling. If they tend to be the “talker,” I set limits right from the outset: “Hi, Joe, I had 10 minutes while I drive here and thought I’d give you a ring back.” Even if I will not be arriving at my destination in 10 minutes, I will have planned the number of calls I’m aiming to return during the drive; so letting people know “I have 10 minutes” is also honest (i.e., 10 minutes before I need to make my next call to stay on track). In this way, I treat phone calls like appointments – and that means that my phone time per person is not left open-ended. If you learn to word this correctly and use a positive tone, it helps people feel that you’ve made them a priority during your limited free time (which you have), and yet still sets boundaries to the length of each call. This simple strategy can significantly cut down on your phone time – leaving you more time for other things.
Screen Through E-Mail First
When people ask if they can refer someone to me by giving them my number, I almost always ask them to pass along my e-mail address for first contact instead, after which, if it’s appropriate, I’ll pass along my number directly (via e-mail. My stated (and real) reason for this is that I can answer e-mails during downtime or in batches, which saves time and doesn’t interrupt my workflow on other things; and, again, it allows me to contain potentially open-ended phone call situation. New referrals or clients will often feel the need to explain everything about everything on a phone call, whereas they tend to trim it down to the basics if they have to write it out. I can read an e-mail quickly, address most needs, and even set up a first live appointment all by e-mail. After that, I pass along my number and follow up with a call (probably during a drive). This way, I can have the personal touch that a call allows, but usually find that most everything’s already been addressed in the e-mail exchange by then.
By the way, even if you are in sales, you really can make e-mail your first line of defense and save a ton of time. Some time back, I handled all customer service and sales operations (among other things) for a sole proprietorship that made about a quarter-million dollars a year selling leather good for promotional use. Everyone wanted to talk by phone. They were the type who would send the aforementioned email saying “Call me. I’m busy. I hate e-mail.” But unless I truly felt their problems couldn’t be solved via e-mail, I stuck to my guns. I was in charge of the web site, as well, and I didn’t even include the phone number on the site. Instead, under the FAQ and Contact pages, I explained that connecting through e-mail, “like major companies such as Amazon and eBay,” allowed a level of efficiency that saved time, and therefore saved them money. I worded this in a positive way and then saved that email snippet in my Drafts folder to copy/paste as needed with customers who vied for phone time. While a few blustered over the years, we never lost a customer over being stingy with the phone number, and people got used to the routine. Oh – and we had a five-star customer-service rating. The only times when I resorted to phone calls were for high-volume orders that had already been placed; on the rare occasion that an order might be delayed in arrival; or if a RUSH order were only going to happen by cutting out any lag time between e-mails (and in such cases, the customer is also not going to be chatty, because they are focused on the clock, as well).
If not kept in check, phone calls can rapidly eat up limited resources. Making the choice to set boundaries on phone time will save you an enormous amount of time and energy, which you can then invest in more productive ways.