Productivity Lie #5: You need to always answer your phone

Research shows that we are interrupted 7 times every hour. That’s 56 times every average workday. No wonder productivity levels have dropped!


I’m writing this sat in a crowded airport lounge. Ahead of me there is a group huddled around three wall-mounted TV screens showing different shots of the New Zealand vs. South Africa ICC Cricket World Cup. It’s a biggie.

To my right there is a dude chatting loudly on his cell, telling whomever about how he got up three times last night to go to the loo. Seriously? And why do you think I need to know this? Slightly more discreetly, there is a guy sat diagonally across from me engrossed in his phone too and one walking down the stairs right next to me, also chatting on his phone as if he was alone (he wasn’t). And I haven’t even mentioned the bloke helping himself to some more breakfast with his phone cradled between the crook of his neck and his ear. Oh, it’s only 08h56 and while I observe this, my phone still on silent and inside the inner pocket of my handbag, I’m wondering what is so pressing that we absolutely can’t switch off? And if we did, what so disastrously devastating could result as the consequence?

For the record, as a mom of a tween and a fully-fledged teenager I’m well aware of the crisis of their generation: immediate gratification. Barring my kids, everyone else mentioned in this piece so far is an adult, pegged at between 30 and 50. Different generation: same addiction. How did we get sucked in to living our lives like an emergency?

What productivity lies are you telling yourself?

PRODUCTIVITY LIE #5: You need to always answer your phone

Casting my mind back as a young adult, (still living at home at the time), I remember having a similar conversation with my Dad. Though he is now retired, back then he was a fully committed estate agent. His Nokia brick was firmly cradled in its leatherette pouch, strapped in place to his waist belt, never left his side. It was on when we went to the movies when I begged him to turn it to silent, it was on when he played a round of golf, his team mates begged him to turn it to silent and shameful as it is, it was on (albeit only once) when we went to our synagogue on a Friday night. His argument was that in his industry he couldn’t afford to miss a call. If he didn’t answer, someone else would.

The same could be said for a girlfriend whose boss called her on a Saturday night as we were coming out of an 8pm movie; the same friend who had invited us round for dinner and took a call, (while still seated mind you), sometime between the main and the dessert.

So if you too have fallen prey to the “I absolutely can’t let my phone ring without answering it” school of thought, then I want you to edge a little closer as I have some news to share:

The 3 things you can do right now

Forget vibrate – just hit silent

Research shows that we are interrupted 7 times every hour. That’s 56 times every average workday. Whilst it might feel that most of these interruptions aren’t even worth recording, the fact is that they pull your focus away from the task at hand and often, you’ll struggle to bring yourself back. A phone on vibrate (though ‘silent’), is counter-productive to say the least. Left on the boardroom table while you discuss the latest strategic plan, when it rings (and it will ring), the vibration has almost as much magnetic pull as a fully fledged, top volume ringtone. You are curious, your colleagues (on either side and opposite you) are irritated and the facilitator is now distracted. In honour of your sterling reputation, forget vibrate, turn your phone upside-down or remove from view altogether and just hit silent. Please.

Include your other contact details in your voicemail message

Right now my husband’s cell phone sports the most irritating of messages. It says “Please do not leave a message”… Why? His answer “I never listen to them.” While I respect the honesty in this message, I am not totally convinced that it’s the right type of message to be putting out there. While granted, not everyone actually listens to the voice message instruction (people still leave an actual message on Doug’s phone), having a succinct and meaningful one increases your chances of a favourable response and might even save you that deal. In my experience, in most instances, people just want to know where they stand. If you communicate your intentions with them and have the authenticity to follow them through, you should be just fine … even if it is your boss calling.Try: “Sorry I’m not available, in the case of an emergency, please call XYZ on 123” or “I’m unable to take calls at the moment, please send a text or leave a message and I’ll be in touch when I’m back in the office on Monday.”

Note: If you choose phrasing in your message such as “…..in case of emergency….” be sure to define what ‘emergency’ actually means to you.

Hand your phone to a friend

Okay, this might work better for some of you than others but why not rotate who looks after your phone if you can’t miss a call but also can’t answer it. Think about a duty roster or your PA, your son’s girlfriend or your niece. Whomever you choose to safeguard your phone while you are incapacitated, just make sure that they are equipped with the appropriate information.

Side note 1: There was a time that my husband used to answer my phone out of office hours. If this was a recognisable number, no problem; in many cases though he’d answer the phone outside of office hours and (a) pass me the phone to deal with a client wanting to book a coaching session for next Friday or (b) take a message and forget to pass it on. A fail, on both counts.

Side note 2: I returned a call from a CEO of a small company. The receptionist answered and said “She’s just in the bathroom, can I ask her to call you back?” Equal fail.

It must be said that if you still believe you actually have to answer every single call; if the cost of not answering is more detrimental than the consequence of answering, then go ahead, be my guest and get the phone. But do it quietly, away from others and absolutely, definitely not at the dinner table.

PS: Just in case you were wondering, New Zealand won the cricket.

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