Work Smart: Taming Your Voicemail in Two Easy Steps

In an email age where text is king, voicemail feels like a big waste of time. First, there are those insufferable voice prompts you have to sit through in order to get your messages or leave one. Then you’re waiting for the person who left the message to get through the small talk and to their point, so you can jot down anything important with your free hand. Voicemail is a necessary evil for anyone with a cellphone. But there are two ways you can make leaving and receiving messages faster and easier.

First, stop listening to your voicemail and start reading it. Several services, both free and paid, will retrieve your voicemail for you, transcribe it into text, and email you the results. You read faster than callers can talk, so these services save you the time of checking for and listening to messages. While automatic voice-to-text transcripts won’t be word-for-word perfect, they get the gist of the message across. Google Voice, YouMail, Jott Voicemail, and CallWave are four online services that will email you transcripts of your voicemail messages for free or a small fee.


Second, know how to get right to the beep. You know the drill: You call someone, hear their voicemail greeting, and then you get this:

“Your call has been forwarded to an automated voice messaging system. At the tone, please record your message. To leave a call-back number, press five. When you’ve finished recording, you may hang up or press one for more options.”

That’s 10 seconds of your life you can never get back, multiplied by every voicemail you leave. While most systems offer a key to skip these superfluous instructions, it’s a different key depending on what service the person you’ve called uses. New York Times tech columnist David Pogue came up with a combination that covers all three major cell carriers in the US: One Star Pound.

The One key skips to the beep on Sprint and AT&T, the Star works on Verizon, and the Pound is for T-Mobile. Using the combination in that order–One Star Pound–will get you right to the beep on most cellphone voicemail systems.

You can even help your friends save a few seconds of their day. Make your voicemail greeting something like, “Hi it’s Gina. Press 1 to skip right to the beep.” (Remember, 1 for AT&T, * for Verizon, and # for T-Mobile.)

Leaving and retrieving voicemail the old-fashioned way is a waste of time. With voicemail transcripts and one star pound, you can reduce the amount of time you spend listening to robots and chit-chat.


Gina Trapani is the author of Upgrade Your Life and founding editor of Work Smart appears every week on

Last week: Do Your Worst Task First (Or, Eat a Live Frog Every Morning)

Image Via Flickr ( / CC BY-SA 2.0)