When I started my business in 2003, I knew jack sh-- about running a business. But I was eager and loved what I did for a living (still do). Unfortunately in those very early days I picked up what I now consider to be a bad habit: picking up the phone whenever it would ring. In fact, I was told by another, older female entrepreneur that I should always answer my phone. Granted, she was someone who always complained about being tired, not to mention complaining about some of her clients. I was too green and naive to make the connection.
One day this person (who used to be close to me, by the way) was with me when I got a call on my cell phone from a number I didn’t recognize. It was a Sunday. I didn’t answer. She suggested, “You should answer it, it could be a client.” I simply responded, “If it’s that important, they’ll leave a voicemail.”
They never did leave a message.
For many years after that I simply answered the phone during work hours. To be fair, I didn’t get a ton of calls, but they’d still interrupt my work day. As time went on and the busier I got with client work, the more the calls came in and became interruptions. And let’s not forget the rise of the annoying telemarketer, robocalls, and spam calls.
It finally got to a point where I couldn’t take much more. So several years go I pulled my phone number off my website and email signature and signed up for Calendly (though these days I use SavvyCal). As of that moment I stopped taking unscheduled work calls.
It has been a game changer and a bit of a life saver.
Protecting my time
By not taking unscheduled phone calls, I protect my time.
Time is the one thing we all have but nobody truly knows how much. We already spend a major portion of our lives working, and I don’t know about you, but I like doing good work. But doing good work means I have to protect my time.1
I protect my time by time blocking. As I wrote back in September, time blocking can make a big difference in productivity. By setting specific chunks or blocks of time to focus on only one task or project, your energy is better spent and you actually get more done. If I allowed a call to interrupt that time, even if it’s a supposed 10-minute call, after those 10+ minutes2 I will have lost my rhythm and focus, forgotten the detail I was on, or worse, overlooked something critical to the task or project.
If you’re not protecting your time you are no longer in control. Instead, you’re at the mercy of whomever calls you. Letting anyone besides you be in control of your time isn’t exactly a good idea.
Protecting my flow
By protecting my time, I’m protecting my flow state – “that sense of fluidity between your body and mind, where you are totally absorbed by and deeply focused on something, beyond the point of distraction.”
Chances are you’ve experienced the flow state. Sometimes it’s called it being “in the zone”. Whatever you call it, it’s pretty amazing. I’ve experienced being in such a deep flow state that when I finally look up I realize hours have passed and I’ve done more than I thought I would.
Doing good work requires flow, especially in a creative and problem solving focused discipline like web design and development. Interruptions like unscheduled phone calls completely break the flow. And that leads to lower quality work often done slower.
Protecting and improving productivity
By protecting my flow, I’m protecting my productivity and more often than not, improving it even if only by small margins. What some people miss in all this productivity talk that seems to be all the rage these days is that improving productivity can literally translate into increased profit margins.
While a task may take a total of an hour, that hour is incredibly different when has multiple interruptions compared to a solid uninterrupted hour. The interrupted hour can easily become 2 hours once you add up the time for the interruptions themselves and how long it takes you to get back to the original task. That’s an extra hour of time that you maybe didn’t plan on, that has slowed your work down, and that could cause you to work late.3 And that extra hour isn’t billable but may still get counted in the project’s budget. An hour doesn’t seem like much but if this happens multiple times a week, you’re going to be leaking profit.
The more I can get done (and done well) in less time, the better it is for my mental health, my physical health, and my relationships, among other things. But there’s also more to it than that: the scheduled phone calls themselves become more productive! When it’s scheduled you have a chance to prepare for the call versus just winging it.
Serving my clients better
By protecting and improving my productivity, I’m serving my clients better.
If I’m able to dedicate big blocks of time to a client’s project, the more I’ll be able to pay attention to details and get things done somewhat faster. That leads to improved timelines (ideally) or simply being able to stick to the original project timeline which no one ever got upset about.
Beyond the actual work, a call with a client requires my full attention. If I’m pulled away from a project to take a random call, it’s nearly impossible to give my full attention: I have to “snap out of it” for one and for another, chances are I want to end the conversation as quickly as possible to get back to what I was doing. It’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to whatever project I was working on (even if it was theirs). Scheduled phone calls, on the other hand, allow me to give my clients the full and undivided attention they deserve.
And here’s a bonus: barring an emergency, scheduling a call guarantees that my client will get a response from me. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve had clients tell me that their designer or developer become unresponsive or simply wouldn’t take the time to get on the phone with them. That means they’re happy and there’s a smaller chance of things falling through the cracks.
It’s about doing and being better
On the surface it may seem that not taking unscheduled phone calls is selfish and plain dumb. But it’s not. On the contrary, it’s one of the smartest decisions I’ve made in my business. It’s not just about doing what’s right for me, though that plays a role. It’s about whether or not it helps me do good work, keep me sane, and serve my clients better. If you’ve read this far you know the answer: it does.
- I just want to note that I protect my time outside of work too, but since this is a post about work time, well, I’m focusing on that here. ⏎
- Spoiler alert: 10-minute calls are never just 10 minutes. ⏎
- I don’t care what those hustle culture guys say – working late all the time like it’s a badge of honor is ridiculous, unsustainable, and you’ll eventually pay for it with your physical and mental health and relationships. ⏎