How to Deal With Unnecessary Phone Calls as a Work from Home Freelancer
These work from home boundaries give me hours of my life back.
Just hearing your phone buzz hurts your productivity. — The Harvard Business Review
Ugh, I think as my cell phone vibrates itself off the couch. My toddler clings to my leg, so I ignore it. This is a typical Monday.
Phone calls require a quiet place and time, two necessities this freelancing mama lacks, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about engaging via cell, not all phone calls are equal.
Legitimate calls include interviews, potential issues, and explanations about complicated topics.
Unnecessary freelancer calls include clients rambling about project specs for hours and previous interviewees, calling to catch up for the heck of it.
Hear me out.
These well-meaning individuals don’t understand that phone calls eat up time. . . HOURS of time.
Plus, chatting on the phone while your toddler freaks out over a broken granola bar, stresses me out.
Let me be clear. I understand the necessity of many freelancing phone calls. For example, I have one understanding client with whom I check in regularly about how to run a full-fledged magazine.
He’s accustomed to hearing kids in the background, and we know and respect one another.
Talking to him is comfortable and positive. But that took time to build.
On the other end, some collaborators call me up with one question, or worst, stir up drama. A few previous interviewees call me multiple times asking when their article will air (even though I’ve already told them twice I have no idea).
Some of these people even call to invite me out. (I cover how I react to those awkward moments later.)
I’m not trying to be cold, but as a full-time work at home mom with two kids, my freelancing time is gold — literally.
If I answered every phone call from past interviewees, coworkers, and clients who have nothing essential to talk about, I wouldn’t accomplish anything else.
How do I deal with unnecessary freelancing phone calls?
I screen my calls.
I’ll say it and pardon my asterisk: Some business associates just want to shoot the sh*t.
I’m flattered, but I have a hard enough time finding minutes for such conversations with friends I’ve known since middle school.
I know most of the offenders, and if I see their name, I let it ring. If they leave a message, I listen. Then, if I can quickly answer it by email, I do.
If they don’t leave a message, well, I guess it wasn’t that important, was it?
For the client’s adamant about scheduling an UNPAID conference call, I tell them my hourly fee.
Because as most freelancers know, sometimes clients need a little perspective.
Client: “So, I want to schedule a conference call about our next project.”
Me: “Sure, my hourly fee is _____.
Client: “I’ll email you the specs.”
Better yet, I now integrate this into the contract.
If they still try to force the issue without forking up a dime, I ask them to leave a WhatsApp audio recording.
Sounds funny, but I first did this after one client rambled on for two hours about… honestly I still don’t know.
So, for the next project, I told him that he could leave me a WhatsApp audio recording. He did and spoke for three minutes.
He provided all the answers I needed for the task at hand, for which I received a raving review and gained almost two hours of my life back.
Sidenote: I adore that guy, but not his conference calls.
I schedule a day for mandatory phone calls (when I am not around children).
I understand some phone calls are necessary. For example, I need to call the people I interview when I am working on their story.
But conducting a phone interview when your two-year-old is yelling “I pooped” is not my idea of a good time.
So I schedule all interviews on the weekends.
My husband takes the kids, and I physically leave the house to go to work — Whether in my car, at grandma’s, or outside at a local coffee shop.
As a work from home freelancer, I have a lot of calls I need to make, but I get them done then.
I give the caller a time limit.
If someone doesn’t leave a message but keeps calling my phone over and over during the week, eventually, I will pick it up while my littles entertain themselves.
(Playing with cars, blocks, or watching Elmo make 10-minute phone calls possible.)
But as soon as I answer the phone, I say, “Hey, I am on the run with kids and only have around 10 minutes. How can I help you?”
This sets the tone from the get-go and reminds the caller
a) I have children to tend to.
b) My time is not limitless.
c) Please get to the point.
The callers usually respect this, but in some cases, when they still want to ramble, I kindly remind them I have to go because my toddler is now throwing peanut butter at the wall.
This leads me to my next point.
I am transparent with callers.
When the pandemic hit, and we took our boys out of daycare, I knew I would have to clarify boundaries at work.
I love writing, but family comes first, and in an unprecedented situation like the pandemic, I was scratching my head on how I was going to get my work done and adequately watch my children.
I then brainstormed unnecessary things I could cut out of my freelancing life.
The number one thing on my list: Time-wasting phone calls.
In other words — The phone calls I could answer in one word or did not result in any job progress.
So, I sent out an email to my collaborators and let them know I now had kids at home . . . all of the time, so getting to the phone was not going to be as easy as it once was.
I encouraged them to leave a message for important matters and emphasized I would return the call when I could. I also recommended sending emails for quick questions and non-pending issues.
Let me tell you, this to the point transparent email resulted in approximately 4 hours of time back per week. That’s 16 hours a month!
I set boundaries and clear expectations.
I’m also transparent with previous interviewees who, no offense, tend to hound me with questions like when will my article come out? In addition to the odd questions I’ve received like can you get me a job, or, when are you coming to dinner?
Seriously, that last one happens a lot, and although I am flattered and grateful for my previous sources, I also have multiple CURRENT interviews I am working on (and two energetic boys who keep me on my toes.)
To prevent unnecessary phone calls with usually well-intentioned previous sources, I set clear guidelines from the get-go.
I call current interviewees for a story and outline the expectations and my availability, and then I send them a detailed email with all of the information in writing.
This usually cuts down a lot of phone calls. But after completing the article then thanking and reminding them they have my email, I screen their calls and let them go to voicemail.
Depending on the message, I respond to them via email or call them back when I can.
Side note: As a youngish, female writer, I do not socialize with past interviewees after writing an article.
I am not saying this is wrong or right, but that’s something beyond MY comfort level for my own set of reasons, which I could list in another article.
But for now, I’ll state that after an article is done, I will respond to your emails, but phone calls are no longer necessary.
I’ve got to cut the time somewhere.
As a freelance writer, phone calls are necessary. I get it, and I spend hours on calls each week. But as a work from home mother trying to stay above water during a pandemic, my time really is money.
Taking proactive steps to eliminate unnecessary freelancer phone calls keeps me sane.
The above strategies allow me to tend to the most important aspects of my work without wasting valuable time.
Most importantly, these limits enable me to be there for my children more.
Agree or agree to disagree, but my clients keep returning, my stories keep on selling, I’m still engaging with my kids, and my sanity stays in place.
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