I go out of my way not to use the phone, especially at work, and I have found this to be a very effective way to stay on task. If someone calls and leaves a voice mail, I’ll send a text message or e-mail in return summarizing what was said in the voice mail and give my response. There is no record of communication with the phone. You don’t have anything to reference later and you can’t run a search on words used during the conversation. Decisions or instructions can be quickly forgotten. Phones are good for relaying sensitive information to people who aren’t physically close to you (like when a coworker in another division leaves for a new job) but bad for transmitting facts and data points.
Since most of us spend time at work dealing with facts and data, the phone should be taking a backseat to other forms of communication. That being said, it’s impossible to avoid the phone in the workplace. And there are times when picking up the phone is the best way to handle a situation. The following are suggestions for how to use the phone in an organized way during those times when you need to rely on it:
- Create talking points. Before you make a call, jot down notes about what you need to cover in your discussion. This is especially important before conference calls. Like with meetings, you should never make a call without knowing how you want the conversation to end. If you can’t construct a purpose statement before dialing, don’t dial.
- Set a timer. Whenever you call someone, you’re interrupting whatever it was the person was doing before you called. Be respectful of this and make the call as brief as possible. When someone calls you, be up front about how much time you have to be on the phone. Most phone calls should begin as follows: You: “Hello, this is NAME.” Caller: “Hello, this is NAME. How are you?” You: “I’m great. I’ve got X minutes to talk, what can I help you with?” If the person on the other end of the line needs to talk to you for more than the number of minutes you said, then he or she can schedule a block of time to talk with you in the future. You: “Hey, can we talk this afternoon at three? I don’t have any afternoon appointments scheduled.”
- Use a headset if you’re on the phone for more than half an hour a day. From an ergonomic perspective, your neck shouldn’t be cramped for extended periods of time. Plus, your hands will be free to do mindless tasks while you’re on your call — filing papers, putting paper clips away in your drawer, etc. If you’re going to be making a lot of noise, though, be sure to hit the mute button so that you don’t disrupt the other people on the call.
- Don’t call people and ask whether they received your e-mail. If you are worried someone didn’t receive your initial e-mail, just resend it with a note and the whole content of your previous message. Ask for a confirmation of receipt if you’re afraid the e-mails aren’t arriving. Not everyone checks their e-mail on your schedule, so don’t disrupt them further by calling.
- Use the do-not-disturb button. Just because you’re sitting at your desk doesn’t mean that you have to answer the phone. If you need to concentrate intently on work, hit the do-not-disturb button and let all calls go to voicemail for that period of time. You shouldn’t leave the button on all the time, because this practice will reflect poorly on you in the workplace. However, doing it from time to time can significantly improve your productivity.
- Designate a time to return calls. I like to return phone calls from twelve thirty to one in the afternoon, after lunch, when my energy level is low. I get a boost from the people I’m talking to, and it’s a time when most everyone across the U.S. is at work (twelve thirty PM East Coast time is nine thirty AM on the West Coast).