I hate phone calls. My preferred communications methods are in person, text, or Slack (and not necessarily in that order).
Of course, phone calls are unavoidable, and according to Pew Research the average adult cell phone owner makes and receives around five voice calls a day. Despite a growing dislike for phone calls, recent data found that the primary activity of smartphones users is actually still for making actual phone calls.
As a sometime remote worker, calls are a significant component of my daily work life. But earlier last month, my own iPhone unexpectedly just stopped working. In a state of urgent need, I ended up having to use an old desk-based landline for an impending work call.
It had been years since I’d held a plastic receiver, and initially it all felt very clumsy and awkward. But the call, which I had anticipated as being a slightly difficult conversation, went much more smoothly and productively than I could have hoped for.
I’d recently been reading about the slow tech movement–which is a philosophy promoting a more deliberate and intentional use of tech and looking to create more opportunities for real connections.
Convinced that my landline use led to such a positive call, I set myself a four-week challenge of only using this landline for all my work and personal calls. The only exception was that I would answer a call on my smartphone if it was related to the direct needs and well-being of my three kids.
It’s been an interesting month. I discovered that a return to full landline use is not sustainable. But these 30 days showed me how a few small nudges in my regular phone routine can actually make me both happier and more productive.
I booked fewer calls and was more intentional about those I took
Since I was required to actually be at my desk to take a call, the number instantly shrank down dramatically.
The result was that I was really intentional about where I put my time versus just accepting invites as they came to me. I began politely asking whether a call was the right necessary next step and if so, what we were hoping to achieve from that time.
Going forward I’m going to actively continue to try and limit my commitments to between three to five calls per day. I’m going to continue making sure that the pre-call exchange sets us up for the most effective use of the time invested.
I had better personal connections on the landline
We are all trying to get more done, faster. Often, that means multitasking.
For me, that meant taking conference calls while walking the dog, doing team catch-ups while unloading a dishwasher, and making family calls while cooking. It didn’t feel stressful or unfocused while I was doing it, it felt efficient.
But contrary to what we feel at the time, our multitasking efforts are actually having the reverse effect. There is a growing body of evidence to show that multitasking is bad for productivity, accuracy, and efficiency.
Using the landline this last month meant the multitasking had to stop. In order to respect the spirit and not just the letter of my landline experiment, during calls I would close my laptop and put it and my smartphone in a drawer.
Initially, it was very hard to just sit and listen.
But the impact was immediate and palpable. On each catch-up call with friends, check-in with my Mom, weekly update call with my team, and client call, sitting at my desk on the landline meant that I focused fully on the person who was talking to me. Not surprisingly it really improved the quality of personal connection and call outcomes.
Going forward I’m making my phone dates real dates. Taking a view that a phone call is the chance to really connect with the person, I’m going to make a real effort to book important relationship calls where I can get the chance to have the quiet and focus that the other person deserves.
I was more present and that made me happier
The practical limitations of only doing calls on a deskbound landline had a positive ripple effect on the rest of my life. For example, since I wasn’t talking on the phone while walking the dog, I could listen to music, a podcast, or just look around the city. It was great.
Similarly, since I was no longer talking and cooking or talking and doing chores when I actually did do those things, I focused on them in a different way. I was in the ordinariness of my life in a way that multitasking had eroded. That was (to my surprise) massively soothing and fulfilling.
The data increasingly shows that by paying extra attention to seemingly mundane tasks, you strengthen your ability to live mindfully in the moment. This, in turn, resets our minds and emotions and leads to greater productivity when we do return to work, as well as a greater sense of fulfillment about our day.
Going forward I am going to do my best to prevent calls from encroaching into the rest of my life. Instead, I’ll draw firmer boundaries between tasks and moments so I can continue this enjoyable feeling of leaning into each granular bit of what is actually happening.
I doodled again and it felt good
I went to university and law school in the days when notes were taken by hand. This meant I literally spent years of my life listening to lectures, making notes, and doodling. Much like kids, the pages of my notebooks were covered with patterns, sketches, and notes to self.
Fast-forward a couple of decades and the combo of technology and multitasking meant that I couldn’t doodle any longer. I never had the opportunity.
But this month, while using a landline, I could once again pick up a pen and draw while I listened, with no one to see what I was doing. And it felt great.
Recent research shows that doodling stimulates the prefrontal cortex by increasing blood flow to that part of the brain. It has the same emotional and psychological effect as when we laugh or eat chocolate. We are happier, more relaxed, and creative.
Going forward I’m keeping the landline in rotation so I can keep giving myself the opportunity to tap back into these simple techniques for optimizing and having more fun in my daily life.