If you want to achieve more in your life, both personally and professionally, it is absolutely critical that you focus on using your time in the most productive way possible.
On Feb 11th, I wrote a post titled Learn to Control Interruptions. In my world, controlling interruptions is imperative, as interruptions divert my attention and prevent me from getting my responsibilities completed in the time I have allocated. This is why I seldom answer unscheduled calls.
As a result of some of the suggestions readers shared with me in response to the “controlling interruptions” post, I started to pay closer attention to the number of unscheduled calls I receive in a day. What I was most interested in learning was the percentage of non-urgent unscheduled calls I receive.
What did I learn? One hundred percent of the unscheduled calls I received were non-urgent. (I love my life.)
I also started to pay attention to the number of times I interrupted people and reduced their productivity with my non-urgent calls. The sad truth is that almost all the calls I made were non-urgent calls that could have been previously scheduled and in most cases, I ended up being sent to their voicemail.
This all left me thinking. When you take three minutes to type a quick email to schedule a call with someone, you’re showing your respect for his or her time, while at the same time increasing your own productivity.
Now, I understand there are times when unscheduled calls are appropriate, but there are many times, especially in the business world, when scheduling your calls via email will save everyone time and allow everyone to be mentally prepared for the call.
Here are my suggestions:
1. Use Email, NOT Text—You don’t want to schedule non-urgent calls via text, because if you send text messages, you will be interrupting people with your text messages, and then, in turn, they will be interrupting you with their replies. As I pointed out in Preferred Methods of Communication, only 3% of business professionals prefer texting to other forms of communication.
2. Keep the Email Short—If you want your email read without being skipped over, get to the point.
3. Be Friendly—I always begin my emails with their name, such as “Hi, Pam” and something friendly, such as “I hope you enjoyed your weekend.” It takes just an extra few seconds to show an interest in people by addressing them by name and adding a personal comment.
4. Always Explain the Purpose of the Call—Describe the reason for the call request. This allows them to determine where they can fit your call in their calendar based on their other priorities. It also helps them be mentally prepared for the call. It could be as simple as “I want to chat briefly about the color of the widgets.”
5. Tell Them How Much Time You Need—Tell them how much time you need and don’t underestimate it by saying, “This will only take five minutes.” Whatever amount of time you are requesting, you need to respect this time and conclude your call within that time period. By letting them know how much time you need, they can plan their schedule accordingly.
6. Let Them Know Your Availability—Since you want to schedule the call during the windows of time you are available, be sure to include those times in your email. To save time and to give the person some flexibility, always offer a couple of different windows of time when you will be available.
Here is an example, “I would like to schedule a 10-minute call to discuss the color of the widgets. Can you please let me know if you are available for a brief call Tuesday between 1:00-5:00 PM EST or Wednesday between 2:30-6:00 PM EST?
7. Use Their Time Zone—When scheduling calls with people in different time zones, make it easy for them and use their time zone. Be sure to include the PST, MST, CST, or EST after the times, as shown above.
8. Be Clear On Who is Initiating the Call—When you receive their reply, always respond and confirm the time and let them know you will be initiating the call. Tell them the number you will be calling, unless they tell you otherwise. I believe it is proper protocol for the person requesting a call to initiate the call.
If you are proficient in using email, this entire email exchange should not require more than three to five minutes of your time, and it can be done during the blocks of time you have allocated to returning emails.
You will also find that if you schedule your calls through email, then the people you communicate with frequently will likely schedule their calls with you the same way and reduce the number of unscheduled calls you receive.
Bonus Tip: If you receive voicemails from people who want to talk with you about non-urgent subjects, you can either call them back when you are available or you can send them a short email with your availability to schedule a call. If you respond by email, most people will quickly get the point that you prefer to schedule your calls via email.
I want to reinforce that this suggestion is for those of you in the business world who want to increase your productivity. Personal calls are obviously different.
Scheduling your calls in advance will make you more productive and show others you respect their time.