Phone calls undermine time management. Many are unnecessary or take longer than necessary. Reduce the calls you take and the time they take from you.
Keep a phone log for a week: Note the time, the caller’s name, the purpose of the call, and the duration. Then, evaluate your log. Which calls were absolutely necessary? Could you have delegated any? How can you reduce your time on each call?
Screen your calls: At least during your “veggie time,” screen your calls if it’s not necessary for you to answer every call. If you have an assistant, first thing in the morning provide and explain your schedule so he or she knows how to prioritize callers. If you don’t have an assistant, use voice mail.
Assess the call quickly: If you answer a call, ask, “What can I do for you?” Encourage the caller to get to the point quickly. Ask questions until you determine the purpose of the call.
Then, decide how the call relates to your priorities. Is it worth interrupting your current task to handle immediately? Can you call the person back at a time that fits your schedule and is appropriate to the priority of the call?
Delegate the call to the right person: If someone else could handle the call better, either because it’s low priority or because you don’t have the information, provide the name and number of the person who can help or offer to forward the call to that person.
Use voice mail more effectively:
- Change your greeting daily or at least weekly, to give your schedule for that day or that week.
- Ask callers to please leave their name, number, reason for the call, and the best time to call back. (Explain that doing so will enable you to call back sooner with the desired help or information.)
- Provide options: another phone number or a pager number for reaching you, the name and number of another person to call, and voice mail.
Three suggestions for managing incoming calls:
Let people know the best time to reach you: Let people know the best times and the times to avoid if they need to reach you by phone. Also, provide the names and numbers of any coworkers whom they can call instead.
When you leave voice mail for others: Try to leave a detailed voice mail in the same way you’re asking them to do for you. This is why I plan my call before I pick up the phone. Give them a deadline by which to respond if possible (not ASAP). Be sure to speak slowly, especially when leaving your phone number, so they can write it down!
Leave your phone number twice in the message: Once at the beginning and once at the end of the message. Don’t leave messages longer than thirty seconds, if possible.
“On the average, one out of every two business calls is not about business. The telephone is an interruption. You stop your work when it rings . . . , so you have to learn how to manage it.”