Annoying, isn’t it? And yet, if you are an attorney, there are dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of people who can make your phone ring any time they want to.

This is my favorite part of my answering machine message:

I return phone calls at 10 and 4 if I am in the office. If you need to reach me more quickly, please send me an e-mail.

I stick to that, for the most part. I usually answer the phone only if I am expecting a scheduled phone call, and sometimes if I happen to notice the call and I happen not to be doing anything else at that moment.

The telephone is, by its nature, an interruption. The recipient of a telephone call never gets to decide when a call will come in. Instead, the caller gets to make that decision without regard to—and without knowing—whether it is convenient for you to take a call.

When you give out your phone number, you are really giving out the right to interrupt you at any time.

Every time the phone rings, even if you do not answer, it pulls you away from what you were doing and redirects your focus, sapping your productivity. And really, was it so important that it just could not wait? Most of the time, probably not.

My answering machine message was inspired, in part, by Merlin Mann’s talk “Who Keeps Moving My Brain?: Revaluing Time & Attention.” It is well worth a viewing if you constantly find your attenting being diverted.

Try it some time. Turn off your phone. Have your secretary take messages instead of transferring your calls to you. Then return them when you want to, however you want to. It really is liberating.

Take back your time!


  1. Marc says:

    Excellent suggestion! I trained myself a while back to not jump up to answer the phone when it rings, but let voicemail take it. The message asks people to leave a detailed message (so you need lots of time per message, not the typical 30 seconds). Nobody got bothered, and communications happened much more effectively as I often had a recording of the original request.

  2. Ed Kohler says:

    I’m a big fan of training my contacts out of contacting me via phone. In fact, my voicemail asks people to SMS me if it’s quick & short or email me if it takes a longer explanation. I’m pro-phone, but only scheduled conversations.

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