Wake-up Call: How to avoid taking distracting phone calls
People often want to talk to you but there are ways around it if you find it time-consuming
“If you’re precise in your request for information, you can accomplish almost all the objectives via email and the call may prove unnecessary”
On average, people receive more than 100 work emails per day, but it is now common wisdom that, at some point, you should just pick up the phone. But despite the merits of calling someone – notably, resolving issues in real time – I avoid almost all calls.
I am not alone. The number of voicemails left and retrieved has steadily declined recently, while major companies such as Coca-Cola are eliminating voicemail altogether and millennials seem to abhor phone calls.
I eschew most calls for two reasons. The first is productivity: it takes 23 minutes to recover from a distraction at work. Also, the minimum time slot for a call is usually 30 minutes, while even the most information-laden emails take just five to 10 minutes to compose.
By scheduling a call, you are often drawing out a process that could be completed in a third of the time.
The second reason is that it can be hard to make good decisions in the moment if a request surprises you on the phone. You may need time to reflect or get your wording right, and the pressure of being on the line with someone may hinder your efforts.
Here are three ways I minimise all but the most essential phone interactions:
Set aside blocks of time for calls: To minimise the disruption of phone calls, create back-to-back scheduling blocks, so you can bundle your calls together. Online scheduling tools such as ScheduleOnce and TimeTrade let you identify your blocks and send them to colleagues so they can book slots directly.
Postpone and delay: Some people may respond poorly if you decline a call. But you can minimise the pain, and perhaps avoid the obligation entirely, if you delay. Instead of immediately agreeing to a call, make a case for emailing some details in advance. If you’re precise in your request for information, you can accomplish almost all the objectives via email and the call may prove unnecessary.
Channel requests to your preferred platform: I’ll sometimes receive emails asking for my phone number, but I don’t give it out. Just because colleagues or potential clients want to call me doesn’t mean I need to respond to their preferences. Instead, I write back: “The fastest and best way to reach me is through email.” The same goes for my voicemail: in my recording I say the best way to contact me is via email and then I give my address.
– Copyright Harvard Business Review 2016
Dorie Clark teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business
Previously published in The Irish Times.
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