How To Lose the Useless Items that Weigh Down Your Day (Part 2)

I promised that this second installment would deal with cellphone calls. Cellphones are useful, but they can also be extremely distracting. You don’t want to stop genuinely useful calls reaching you. You do want to exclude calls that will waste your time.

It’s important to bear this central principle in mind: accept what you cannot change (your boss calling you, for example), but never do anything that will make the problem worse. That means three things:

  • Filtering as many calls as possible, so you get to choose which ones you answer immediately.
  • Working to “train” likely callers to leave messages. This means always calling back. No one will leave a message they think you’ll simply ignore. It also helps to include something in your answering message to let them know when your return call will come. If you make a practice of returning all calls before the end of the business day, say so.
  • Trying not to waste time when you either take a call or return one from earlier. Be prepared before you call and stick to the topic.

The single most important way to save time with cellphones is to organize to receive calls on your schedule as much as possible. When people call you, they expect an immediate response, so you have to try to prevent them reaching you directly whenever you can.

  • Filter all calls, exactly as you should with any other telephone. Because a cellphone suggests urgency by its nature, even people who rigorously filter their land-line calls will answer anyone who calls their cellphone. This is a bad mistake. It’s just another phone, people. Treat it as such.
  • Keep your cellphone switched off as much as possible, sending calls to that answering service. Check it regularly (always on your schedule) and prioritize returning calls in the same way as e-mails.
  • If the phone is on, try to get a service that includes Caller ID. Look to see who’s calling and don’t answer if you don’t have to. If you’re anxious about what the message might be, check with the answering service immediately. If it isn’t urgent (and at least 95% won’t be), leave it alone and get on with what you are doing.
  • If you have to answer, listen carefully to the request and decide if it’s urgent enough to interrupt what you’re doing. If it isn’t, say you’re tied up right now and will get back to the caller later. You can give a time, if you like. “I’m tied up now, but I’ll call you back around 2:30 p.m.”
  • If the caller says it will only take a moment, don’t give in. Repeat that you’re busy and will call back. Never give in to someone else’s impatience without an overwhelming reason.
  • Never give your cellphone number on your main phone answering message, even if you say it’s for emergencies only. Make sure you restrict knowledge of your cellphone number as much as you can, preferably just to those people who might genuinely need to have it for an emergency, and don’t give it to anyone else. Make them wait.

It’s going to feel hard at first. People will complain. They’re used to the immediate gratification of getting you to stop what you’re doing to attend to their needs. But, in time, they’ll get the message. Remember that 95% or more of what they want can wait, with no harm done.

One final point. If you want people to take your attempts to deal professionally with cellphone communication, always practice what you preach. Don’t interrupt others unless it’s essential. Leave clear, helpful messages. And don’t use your business cellphone for the subject that fills most of our airwaves: gossip.

P.S. Our survey over on Slow Leadership is still open. Please give us your thoughts, if you haven’t done so already. Here’s the link. If we can get a large enough sample, we’ll be able to persuade the wider media to take notice of the movement to make work more civilized. Thanks.

Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his serious thoughts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership; and his crazier ones at The Coyote Within.

Love this article? Share it with your friends on Facebook