By some estimates, there are about 3 billion phone calls made daily in the US1 and sometimes on a hectic day it can feel like they are all coming directly to you. But it’s important to remember, the phone can be a potent tool in office efficiency and organization. Here are some strategies to maximize work productivity using the phone.
- Answer calls immediately if possible.
It can be tempting to let a call go to voicemail. However, taking the call can often keep a small issue from become a large one. Someone who keeps calling and leaving messages to get information may eventually just give up and call the Director’s hotline instead.
Simple things (e.g. address changes, etc.) can be done immediately without resulting in an endless game of “phone tag” in which you and the caller leave each other messages.
Taking the call immediately helps cut down on the voicemails you receive and return at a later time.
- Set up and update your voice mail.
Many people realize when they leave a message it is helpful to provide items such as a case number or social security number. However, few people want to do so without knowing they are leaving the information with the proper person. Make sure your voice mail is set up with your name and office hours.
During times when you may be away for an extended period of time (e.g. vacations, sick leave, trainings, etc.) change your mailbox to include the date of your return and who should be contacted for emergency situations in your absence.
- Leave useful messages.
It’s frustrating to get a message about something important but have no clear idea of what to do or who to contact to follow-up on it. When you leave a message, be sure to include the following:
- Your name and job title (if appropriate)
- Your return phone number (or other contact information)
- The day and time you are calling
- The best times to contact you
- The reason you need to speak with them (if not confidential)
- Any deadline that may be involved (e.g. “Please call me by this Friday.”)
- Consider conversation before correspondence.
We live in a world of emails, texts, and instant messages (IMs). Sometimes we forget how much faster talking to someone directly can be. Utilize the telephone or Lync more often than written communication when you need guidance from your supervisor or another worker.
Conversations can quickly establish what’s needed and clarify any confusion or misunderstandings. Emails and IMs may require several written attempts back and forth before clear understanding occurs. A phone call can save you time and allow you to deal with the issue promptly and move on to your next task.
- Prepare for the call.
Phone calls can help you accomplish your work effectively or derail your day. One of the best ways to use them efficiently is to prepare and plan for the conversation.
Thoroughly review all available data before a phone interview, so you are aware of the things which may need to be addressed or come up. This helps keep the conversation on track and lessens instances of unexpected issues popping up and adding more time to your call.
Do your best to anticipate the necessary time to cover the topic of your call. Allocating 5 minutes for a 10 minute matter either means you will have to call back again or be late to your next appointment or task. Setting aside 20 minutes for a conversation that takes 5 to address the main point but uses 15 for simply small talk will constantly mean running behind. There’s certainly nothing wrong with building rapport and engaging in everyday pleasantries but that should be balanced with the need to complete your daily tasks.
1What do they know about you? An interview with NSA analyst William Binney