It’s Okay to ... protect your time by not answering the phone Yes, it certainly is. I don’t mean indefinitely, although that might suit some of you, rather I mean not responding to the call right now. Respond in your own time, when you are ready.
Clearly there are times when you need to answer the phone, for example if it’s your child’s school or childcare and they are currently AT that school or childcare. That should be pretty self-evident!
Rather, I am referring to the times of your day or life when you are either feeling overwhelmed, stressed or emotional. Always your time is precious, and you can choose how you spend it, but even more so when you are feeling overwhelmed.
Let me explain.
There are a number of reasons why I don’t always answer my phone. Generally, it’s not because I don’t want to speak to the person calling (although I don’t love talking to people asking for donations as I feel bad if I have to decline their request). Sometimes, I don't answer because I am in ‘flow’ (such as when I am working on something or creating something) and I don’t want to be interrupted.
But more specifically, there are times in our lives when answering the telephone can increase our sense of distress, overwhelm or grief. Or can trigger these emotions in us.
Not Answering as a Coping Mechanism
In the days and weeks after our second son was stillborn, I didn’t answer the home phone at all, and screened the calls on my mobile phone.
This approach was less because I believed my time was precious, and more because I was not ready to speak to people. So in a way, I was protecting both my time and my emotional well-being. In hindsight, this was a coping strategy not just a simple avoidance. I realised that the person calling had worked up the courage to call and give their condolences, but I also knew that the same caller was probably greatly relieved when they got an answering machine or message bank. Condolence calls are tough for both parties.
Equally, the very nature of phone calls means that unless you have scheduled the time in advance, the recipient can be caught unprepared for the call. I learnt that I needed to return calls in my own way, and in my own time; when I had the inner strength and resolve to do so. Or, I would send a card or note, and not directly return their call at all. But that is a topic for another day.
Not Answering as a Preventative Measure
This ‘don’t answer’ approach can also apply when life is a little crazy! There are times of days as mums when we just KNOW that answering the ringing phone is not going to improve our day. Personally, those times are 8.30 AM until 9.15 AM, 2.55 PM until 3.15 PM, and anytime between 4.45 PM and 7.30 PM. Yes, major pressure points in my day. Getting kids out the door to school, picked up from school and then ‘happy hour’ when we are struggling with the whole get home, prepare dinner, get the kids fed, through the bath, and into bed thing. A phone call inserted into any of these times can tip our emotions from positive (read coping, sweet voiced mother) to negative (read messy, screeching mother). Not fun for anyone.
So, I don’t answer. It’s a preventative approach to ensure I stay being a pleasant, kind mother focussed on the tasks at hand. I choose at those times to be present with my children, even if I am hurrying them to get to school or complete a task, I am choosing to be in that moment with them.
You probably feel that this is just common sense, and you’d be right! But we all can use a reminder, me included.
I thank Oprah Winfrey for the reminder that prompted this blog post. In her book “What I know for Sure” (2014), she explains that Sunday is her day to not answer the phone. She uses Sunday as her ‘me-time’ day, but found she would answer the phone to friends, chat and agree to see them, and then later be upset that she had not had her ‘me-time’.
"Protect your time. It's your life to spend how and with whom you choose.” - Oprah Winfrey
That makes so much sense, right?! I figure if even the wonderful Oprah continues to struggle with boundaries around telephone answering and protecting her time, then the reminder is definitely required for the rest of us.
Tell me, what is your approach to phone calls? Do you have times of your day where you choose not to answer? How do you protect your time? I’d love to read about your experiences in the comments.