4 Tricks for More Efficient Phone Calls

Last Updated Sep 30, 2011 9:45 AM EDT

I love talking to people on the phone. Actually getting folks on the phone, however, is an entirely different matter.
As a journalist, I need to schedule a lot of phone calls with sources for my articles. Even a simple 800 word story can require 5 phone interviews, which can require 10-plus emails to coordinate, and roughly 2 schedule changes from people who had stuff come up. And so I am constantly looking for ways to make the process more efficient. I've come up with a few techniques over the years:

1. Protect your most productive time for focused work. I know I write best from about 8-10:30 in the morning. So I rarely suggest or choose those times for phone calls unless that's all the other person can do. I prefer to write until I run out of steam, then use a phone interview as a nice change of pace.

2. Don't schedule long calls. Just because your calendar comes in 30- and 60-minute blocks doesn't mean your phone calls need to. I usually ask for 15 or 20 minutes. That's much more manageable in a schedule than an hour. The shorter length imposes discipline. I have to think through what I mean to ask and say. Also, if I ask for 20 minutes and I have everything I need after 10, I feel like I can politely get off the phone. On the other hand, since I know most people's time is blocked out in 30-minute increments, if we have to go longer than 20 minutes, it's usually not a big deal.

3. Suggest limited time windows. Rather than asking for 20 minutes sometime in the next 2 weeks -- thinking I'm being accommodating -- I ask for 20 minutes either Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning (after 10:30!). Leaving too large a window is overwhelming. Scheduling phone calls too far ahead of time also increases the chance that one party will have something come up. Shorter time frames make phone calls happen.

4. Aim to be the one dialing. That is, if you're a punctual person. Waiting from 1:00 to 1:06 for your phone to ring is just dead time. Yes, you can find stuff to fill it (see 22 Things To Do During That Boring Conference Call) but better to be the one keeping track of numbers and time and hence minimizing those delays.

How do you schedule phone calls and meetings efficiently?


Photo courtesy flickr user clemson