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More Fight The Flab!

More Fight The Flab!

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.

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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:

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  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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