The ring of a telephone is one of the most annoying of intrusions at work.
Productive work requires extended periods of concentration. Incoming calls impair your efficiency by breaking your concentration, especially during your productive work-hours. Additionally, a ringing telephone can easily interrupt a conversation, even if you do not intend to answer the ring. If you have a visitor, he or she may let you pickup a ringing telephone, out of courtesy: “Do you want to pickup the phone?” “No. Let’s continue.”
Here are two practices to avoid telephone interruptions.
- Turn-off your telephone during your productive work-hours or when you are meeting somebody at your desk. Instead, use a voicemail system. The voicemail system allows you to pick the moments at which you pay attention to incoming telephone calls. Check voicemail once or twice a day and return telephone calls promptly. For example, at work, I unplug the telephone cable at my desk until 11:00am and check voicemails after lunch.
- A large fraction of your unscheduled incoming calls are likely to be from specific people: a project manager calling you to inform you of customer specifications, off-site colleagues requesting help, or, family members updating you of some information. These conversations are probably not on pressing matters that require your immediate attention. Inform the people most likely to call you of times when you are not available to take their calls and request them not to call during these periods. People will respect your request if you inform them of your reason, viz., your desire to be productive during those times, and promptly follow-up on voicemails they may leave. For example, I request people not to call me in the mornings and encourage them to send email.
Your efficiency at work depends directly on how productively you use your work-time. Avoiding telephone interruptions thus provides a greater control over how you organize your time.