When Sly Calls

Don’t touch that phone – don’t touch that phone!!!


My phone is ringing. But because I don’t recognize the number, I’m not going to touch that phone. Instead, I’m hearing that jazzy Michael Franks tune from the 80s, which ironically, is the title of this article.

Here’s the reason. Whether it’s my desktop phone or my cell, I’ve noticed more and more numbers on call display that I just don’t recognize, either because they originate from area codes I’m not familiar with (so I’m suspicious) or they’re international calls with very long call display numbers (so I’m really suspicious).

When I’ve answered these mystery callers in the past, they’ve either been financial consultants trying to persuade me to move my RRSPs over to them. Or they’re calling from Hong Kong or Mumbai to ask me if I’m going to buy a made-to-measure suit when the tailor is in Vancouver next week. Or they’re robo-calls from somebody who offers me West Jet flights for free. Sometimes the robo-caller is speaking Chinese and I haven’t got a clue what they’re trying to sell me. But they’re trying to sell me something.

Occasionally, the robo-caller identifies herself as my personal “Google Rep.” I didn’t know I had a Google Rep. If she were human, I’d ask her to do a Google search and explain why I need a Google Rep when my name and firm regularly show up in the top three unpaid hits for “Vancouver Franchise Lawyer” on Google. I hang up the phone as she urges me not to hang up the phone.

You see, there’s way too much “phone-spam” these days and I hate phone-spam. The “Do Not Call List” works about as well as the Skytrain escalators at Burrard Station (they don’t work either). I’m not one of Pavlov’s dogs that has to answer the phone simply because it rings. If it’s important, then the caller will leave a message. If it’s a telemarketer or a robotic phone spammer, then they won’t leave a message and my problem is solved. If they’re existing clients, I’ll know the number and I’ll probably pick up. But if I’m in the middle of something else or on a deadline, they’ll leave a message and I’ll call them back.

There was a recent article in The Economist that said receiving emails and phone calls at work reduces a worker’s IQ by about 10 points relative to working without interruption. So in addition to avoiding phone-spam, maybe we’d all be a lot smarter if we made more of an effort not to answer the phone or respond to emails during a defined “window” in the day so we can get the important work done without interruption. Again, we aren’t Pavlov’s dogs. If something is truly important and requires immediate action, then we may need to deal with it right away, like “triage” in hospitals. If something is less important, then maybe it can wait. If it works for emergency room doctors, it should work for us too.

As for emails, we should really try to avoid answering every email the millisecond it lands in our inbox. Many legal problems do not lend themselves to simple and immediate answers, and dealing with this morning’s email madness prevents us from completing the larger and potentially more complicated projects we took on last week. If the email is important, tell the client you need some time to consider the request before responding substantively. My guess is that we’d be distracted less and make fewer mistakes.

Joyless meetings are the other great productivity killer. To misquote Karl Marx, all meetings repeat themselves; first as tragedy and then as farce. In an article called “Death by Meeting,” Deborah Wheatman creates a fictional play with a cast of characters like the “Meeting Host” whose job it is to convince attendees that the meeting is important and a good use of everyone’s time. There’s the “Spotlight Hog” who talks endlessly without really saying anything. Then there’s the “Remote Participant” who delays the meeting because of incessant connection problems. Every meeting has a “Dissenter,” who disagrees with everything without offering viable alternatives. And finally, there’s the “Chorus” of other attendees who express their views by deep sighs, eye rolling and checking their phones.

So the next time you’re asked to go to a meeting, listen to your inner Marie Kondo and ask yourself this: will it spark joy?

Speaking of which, my phone is ringing. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message at the beep.

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