Voicemail purgatory



I'm not much on New Year's resolutions. Don't like making promises I'm not likely to keep. But my dilemma was weighing on me and it had been for years. That seemingly never depleted list of calls to be returned. It's a perpetual game of phone tag, where at least one party, if not both, quickly and sometimes repeatedly ends up in a kind of voicemail purgatory. And, thanks to that blinking red light on my office phone, inescapable.

I wish I didn't care. And many may argue that taking calls from people with whom I may have no current business isn't a good use of my time. But it irritates me when someone doesn't return my call.

So, applying the "golden rule" concept, calls must be returned. But the list of calls to be returned can grow at a staggering rate and since there is never "enough" time to get everything done, return calls often ended up on the back burner. The whole situation was a bane. No matter what time of day I set aside to return calls, it inevitably turned into just another volley of voicemails.

So what to do? How to overcome this perpetual issue and make peace with my phone? Although my business degree did not afford me much more than the basic concept of process reengineering, I called upon bits and pieces learned from a bunch of six sigma engineers I interviewed several years ago who explained, as only engineers can, the whole reengineering process. They insisted that the answer becomes obvious. The "process mapping" went something like this: Somebody calls. I'm busy doing whatever and don't want to break my concentration, so they go to voicemail. Sometime later, I listen to the voicemail, take down the relevant information, and find time to call back. When I do call back, I usually end up leaving a message...they probably don't want to break their concentration either...I understand. But you can surely see the problem and I suspect you, too, have endured your own voicemail purgatory.

But those engineers had promised an obvious answer and, EUREKA, there it was! Just take the call when it comes in! Deal with the caller's issue or schedule a later time to deal with it. Kind of like mother making me eat broccoli, I knew I wasn't going to like it. It was much too simple an answer. It won't work. It just seemed too easy and a real waste of technology but, I thought, I must at least give it a try.

Well, it's now September. And while I must confess that I didn't expect much from this process change, I've actually been quite pleased with the results. Now, when someone calls, even someone I don't know and have not left a message for myself, I take the call if at all possible. So I talk to them. I answer their question if I can or, for those returning my call, usually ask them a few. But either way, we both know what comes next. Perhaps another call, scheduled with adequate time to discuss our matter, or maybe nothing. Questions answered. Move on.

Now, my list of call backs is very short and easily managed. Most importantly, I've been freed from the torment of voicemail purgatory and I rarely face that blinking red light on my phone. Talk about a stress reducer!

Next, the e-mail Inbox. Ughh!

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