If you know me personally then you may have noticed that over the years it has become increasingly harder to get me to answer the phone.
It’s not that I’m busier, and I’m not necessarily unavailable. I’ve just decided that picking up the phone is a waste of time.
The Phone Call Audit
At some point, I took a little time and I thought of all the phone calls I had received for the last few years and I noticed something.
- 80% of all of the calls were from people who wanted something
- 20% were people who had something to give
It was the good old Pareto Principle in full effect. The strange little equation that seems to be true in almost every aspect of life.
The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. wikipedia
Here’s how the calls broke down:
The 80%’ers wanted something. Normally one of these things:
- To hang out
- To borrow money
- To ask me for advice
The results of the 80% calls were normally that I invested time, energy or money and got nothing in return.
- The callers who wanted to hang out became time vacuums.
- The callers who borrowed money never paid it back.
- The callers who asked for my advice never used it.
So, being that nothing was being accomplished on 80% of the phone calls – I decided to stop answering the phone completely.
So what about the 20% of the people I actually wanted to talk to? Easy, I just return their calls later if and when I have the time.
It might take an hour, several hours, a day or even several days to get back to them, but I get back to them. And as long as there’s no emergency, it’s really no big deal.
The funny thing is that the 20% people normally understand that if they leave a message I will call them back as soon as I have time, even if that means the next day. They don’t freak out.
But the good ol’ 80%’ers want answers immediately and will leave multiple messages and or send several text messages constantly asking me to respond right away to solve their problem.
And they wonder why I never pick up the phone.
How To Escape Your Phone
Is your phone killing your productivity? Let me ask you a few questions:
- Is your phone with you at all times?
- Do you sleep with it?
- Do you take it to the bathroom with you?
- Is it within arms reach of you right now?
If you answered yes to the questions above you’ve probably got a problem and you’re it. Which is good news… because you are the only you can change…
So there is hope.
You may not be able to stop people from calling, but you can reduce the friction their calls create by changing the amount of time you spend near your phone.
Here are a few things I recommend:
- Turn The Ringer Off and Leave It In Another Room. If you really need a break turn the ringer off and put the phone in another room. That way, even if it buzzes or dings you won’t be able to hear it. (ala @dr_ngo)
- Change your voicemail. Change your message to something like “Hi, my phone stays off between the hours of 9am and 11am. Leave a message and I’ll call you back after that time”. This let’s them know that you’re busy and won’t be calling back right away. It may also stop the multiple calls and text messages asking you if you got their call.
- If All Else Fails, Turn It Off and Hide It In A Drawer. Out of sight, out of mind. One of the biggest problems is that if you see the phone, you’ll check it. And if you read one text message you could end up losing the next 10-20 minutes on Facebook, email and Instagram. Hide the damn thing in a sock drawer, seal it up tight and go to work. Hopefully you’ll forget it’s there and have a few hours of distraction-free time.
That’s what works for me. If you need to, you can give it a try.
It wasn’t long ago that people were mailing letters. You’d write your thoughts down on paper, put it in the mail and 2-5 days later the person would receive your message and reply.
So if someone asks you why you didn’t call them back right away. Just say: “I swear I’m not being a jerk, I’m just reliving the good old days.”