“Always Available” is Not Fashionable, It is Unproductive, and Self Defeating

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Providence - Rhode Island - US

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - March 4, 2014 - PRLog -- I attended a referral chapter last week where a woman described her services (in this case, legal) and explained that what makes her firm different is that she and her partners all live next to their cell phones because that is what their customers want.  She said that it is their policy to answer their phones anytime, anywhere.

Is this type of availability really necessary?  Unless you are an on-call physician or a criminal defense attorney, it’s really not.  Here is the problem with being available 24/7.  You train people to treat you the way you want to be treated.  Taking phone calls from clients who don’t recognize professional boundary lines only trains them to continue to cross the line and interrupt you in the shower, during your Friday evening cocktails and your child’s Sunday morning soccer game.  Besides all of that, there is very few emergencies that can happen after hours that can actually be solved right then and there.  How many of us rely on banks, courts, other professional offices during business hours to resolve issues that come up in the evening?  Even if my furnace breaks in the evening or the weekend, I can expect to pay an “emergency/after-hours surcharge” for calling in the problem after 5pm.

If you are one of those professionals who is “Always On” I suggest a few tips to try to reclaim your personal time.

   1. Do NOT take unscheduled phone calls even during business hours.  Allow your voicemail to be your secretary.  Let your message state that you return calls at 2 points throughout the day (ex. 11am and 4pm)

   2. If you do take a call, immediately greet the caller with: “I only have 2 minutes because I am about to go into a meeting” You’ll be surprised how much you can resolve in under 2 minutes.

   3. Turn off alerts on your phone from Twitter, email, Facebook, etc.  Schedule 2 or 3 times per day where you will respond to email.  This way you batch your activity and do not multitask with poor attention throughout the day which is counterproductive.

   4. Do NOT respond to email right away – especially if the content of the message is upsetting to you in some way.  24-48 hours is a totally acceptable amount of time to respond.

   5. If you must take a client call after hours, it is acceptable to tell them “I appreciate your concerns, however I have already left the office for the day.  Please call me at 10am tomorrow so we can resolve your issue.”

   6. If you receive requests for business on social networks or via text message and you prefer not to conduct business that way, create a polite response that you can copy/paste to say “Thank you for contacting me.  Please utilize my business email for all business related correspondence” or “In an effort to provide excellent service, I do not conduct business via text message.  Please call my office or use my business email for all business related matters”

You will find that implementing a new communication policy with your clients will improve your overall attention to work, productivity, energy and enthusiasm.  In recent months, I adopted the “No unscheduled phone calls” policy.  In the past week, I made two outbound phone calls for business and both times, the person answered the phone and greeted me with “I saw your name pop up and I figured I better take your call right now!”  What just happened is that I trained people that my time is important and I’m not accessible 24/7.  When I’m asked to meet with someone to “network” I tell them I only have those types of meetings in my office for 30 minutes on a specific day of the week.  This measures whether the person really wants to meet with me and because I limit their access to me, they come to the meeting prepared.

Be vigilant about protecting your non-work time.  If you are working all day, you’re doing it wrong.  It is essential to take a break from work to avoid burnout.  If you don’t look out for you, no one else will.

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