Time Guzzlers … The Telephone!

Time Management CourseThere are a number of time guzzlers that tend to trap even the most organized people. Some of these are caused by issues in your department and organization and some may be outside of your immediate environment. How much time do you think you spend on the telephone, dealing with drive-by visitors, paperwork, meetings, business travel or commuting and daily crises? Let’s develop some techniques to manage these time guzzlers.

A good place to start is to become more perceptive in analyzing time problems. Initially, we may believe that we are the unwitting victims of those that guzzle our time. We may have allowed unwritten contracts to be formed with the parties. Let’s examine telephone issues.

The telephone can be time saver for busy managers or a time guzzler. Research has shown that the average manager receives an average of 31 phone calls per day. With the rise and proliferation of cell phones, car phones, voice mail and pagers, many of us have been inundated with phone calls. Telephone calls are almost always an interruption. However there are some techniques that will help you manage the telephone. If you implement some of these techniques, the time guzzling can be minimized.

Time your calls – If you need just a quick answer or a quick piece of information, call just before lunch or just before the close of business. At these times, neither party wants to stay on the phone too long. On the other hand, if the purpose of your call is to build a relationship or to discuss a problem, call in the middle of the morning or the middle of the afternoon, when people tend to be more willing to spend time on the phone.

Minimize socializing – Avoid mixing pleasure with business during a phone call. One way to do this is to avoid offering an invitation to socialize.

Set the call length early – Limit the call’s length by beginning with brevity, such as “Jim, I have a quick question to ask.” You can also receive a call with brevity by letting the caller know that you don’t have much time or that you will return the call later to properly address the issue more completely.

List the points to be covered – Make a list of the points you want to cover so you can check off as you talk. If you need supporting materials you can be prepared in advance.

To answer or not to answer – Decide whether you should answer your phone at all. Some managers do not answer incoming calls. An assistant or receptionist has been trained to screen calls and take accurate messages, as well as to place routine calls, such as informing people about a meeting or notifying them about a change in schedules. It is also a smart use of resources to have an assistant call before you leave the office for an appointment or meeting to confirm the date, time, agenda, and so on. You may able to screen calls with voice mail at certain times, such as during a quiet hour. Use your discretion here to decide if that is appropriate.

Group outgoing calls – Set aside a time each day, preferably just before lunch or closing time, to make your calls. The people you call won’t linger at such times. Ask the people you call regularly for the best times to reach them. Record this information. Decide how long you plan to spend on each phone call. In a polite way, convey the attitude that your time is limited and you know that theirs is too.

Eliminate telephone tag – Always leave a message indicating why you are calling, if the other person even needs to return the call, and when you may be reached. Let the other person know that you will be expecting their call on your voice mail. Tell them how, when and where they can reach you. Do everything you can to avoid phone tag.

Leave complete messages – Also be sure to let associates know what your expectations are about a call back, where you can be reached, and even if the other person needs to call you at all. Remember, the goal is to reduce the number of calls you make and the number of calls you take.

Shortcuts – In your phone book, smart phone or computer system, note when the other person is available, or prefers that you call an assistant. Note the names and extensions of assistants or co-workers who would be able to help you.

It’s quiet time – Designate a quiet hour, if it is appropriate for your position, early in the morning, when you do not take calls. Instead, use this time for your number 1 priorities, for the most important projects that require your full concentration. Many effective time managers have learned that one uninterrupted hour, early in the day, yields the results of several fragmented hours later in the day.

Take notes immediately – Make brief but complete notes as soon as you end the call. Don’t depend on your memory. Make notes on reference documents or a telephone log, with the date and the details of the call. Good documentation about phone calls often proves to be invaluable.

Bye, Bye – Learn to say goodbye and terminate phone calls in a friendly but firm way. Learn to foreshadow endings by saying, “Before we hang up, John, we will … ” If the caller is socializing beyond your time limit, say, “OK, I won’t take up any more of your time.”

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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