Getting Less Interruptions and More Time By Not Answering the Phone

I have a problem with interruptions as distractions. I spend a lot of time concentrating on writing and researching and concentration breaks are the worst thing for me. I rarely recover when it happens.

My primary source of interruptions was phone calls. I used to have many phone calls asking for assistance, advice and input until I realised I wasn’t doing real work. In fact, I spent most of my time doing someone elses work. Then I would spend more of my time doing my work. That’s wasn’t fair to me or my family.

My solution to this problem was simple but it took sometime to work it out. It’s really simple and anyone can do it but it takes learning a new skill.

Don’t answer the phone.

That’s it. No one expects you to answer the phone – it’s quite acceptable that you don’t. After all, you are busy and you might be on the phone to someone else or in a meeting. Pretty sure they will call back later if it’s important.

Now, disable your voice mail. If you can’t disable your voice mail, then stop listening to it. I’ve talked about this before – it’s an old technology that is no longer relevant. It’s the communication equivalent of an “internal memo” or a “fax”.

You can replace voice mail with email. Really – the word mail gives it away.  Or a text message or messaging tool like MS Communicator or Apple Messages.

More importantly, people who leave voice mails will often transfer actions to your agenda without asking permission or getting your acceptance. It doesn’t take long for  people know/learn/comprehend that you are hard to get hold of. And voice mails don’t seem to get a response. They will guess you are super-busy (people tend to think the best of you).

Now, here is the “trick” that makes this work. Answer your email and text messages. Be absolutely devoted to responding clearly, somewhat promptly. Take time to write longish emails if you must. Allocate fifteen minutes in every hour to email if you can work like that – that’s about the same time as you used spend on phone calls.

If you must talk, set times to do so – treat it like a meeting. By email, tell them you will “call at 2:00 today to discuss”. Take control of your time and make it deliberate. Set an agenda for the call.

Time is precious.

When the phone rings, just ignore it. Turn the volume to zero so you won’t hear.That will reduce the temptation. Break the habit of interrupting yourself. Don’t let other people steal your time.

Try it for two weeks and watch what happens to your productivity. Remember, people want to think the best of you and as long as you are delivering results, answering the phone is not important. Communication is what’s really important. You can do that on email, or text, or by scheduling a voice meeting (a phone call).

I’ve been using this technique for about four years and it’s been a wonderful thing. I can assure that I’m getting a lot more done, with a lot less stress.

And that’s what it’s all about. Take control of your time.

One final thing.

When I’m talking face to face with you and your mobile phone rings ? Don’t answer it. It’s mind bogglingly rude to just ignore the person in front of you to pay attention to someone else. That another case where you should not answer the phone.


  • Steve Frank

    I call that “putting my phone into productivity mode.” :-)

  • Mark

    I do this all the time, people around my desk think I’m crazy for not answering my phone, I also delete voicemails all the time because they are not important. If something is urgent enough I will get the appropriate emails and/or someone will physically walk to my desk (wish there was a way to ignore that like voicemail).

    I like using these sayings when people ask me for help with something they or their team should be capable of doing, it’s a bit facetious but gets my point across:
    1) I will do that for you, can you let Customer x know that their deliverable I’m work on will be delayed for a few days?2) Sure, I’ll work on that, can you send someone over from your team to help finish the Networking project I’m in the middle of?
    3) Sure, but I will need you to work on this with me, and I won’t have time to start on this till 6pm, you can stay late and help with that right?

    • Etherealmind

      Share the pain. It’s only fair. :)

    • Mike Crowe

      I have a manager at my new job who likes to remind our team of his favorite adage:

      “There are 10 different ways to tell someone no, and 9 of them start with ‘Yes'” :-)

  • Mrs. Y.

    I never answer a phone call if I’m in the middle of a conversation or in the middle of doing something important. Other people find it more disconcerting than I do. Additionally, unless I need it, I don’t take anything electronic to a meeting. I use pen and paper. It ensures that I will be engaged with the carbon units across the table. It also means the meeting might be shorter. There’s nothing worse than sitting in a meeting with people who are completely distracted by their electronic devices. I also request agendas, project plans and requirements documents prior to meetings, because that’s an indication that someone takes my time as seriously as I do.

  • Will Hogan

    I wish I could concentrate that hard!

    On the other hand, answering a few IMs(or phone call for those god awful slow typers) while you’re working increases the productivity of the other people significantly on a rising scale based on your skill set.
    – one example — someone just asked me what the command was to check the SFP type on a SIP in a 7600. It’s tough to find in documentation but easy to get from someone who uses it all the time.

    I do not consider that doing their work for them. The IT group is a team.

    I try to respond to work related IMs ASAP because they’re typically quick questions that the guy probably wants in real time and will save him tens of minutes to hours but only takes me a few seconds to minute to reply.

    One trend I notice within my company is that the older IT guys are the more they hate using IM. The younger the IT guys are the more likely they are to respond quickly to an IM. This doesn’t include managers and PMs, of any age, who love IM.