When I was at American Apparel, every Tuesday morning began with the famous “retail conference call.” Over the years, there’s been a lot of media speculation about it, but it’s actually super boring. It was mostly a bunch of trivial, anecdotal discussions mixed with the sporadic mania on a call that often stretched on for hours.
The worst part was that you were stuck at your desk with everyone listening on speaker phone and there was just enough talking going on that it was really hard to concentrate. After an embarrassingly long time of putting up with this, one day, I finally asked myself, “Why?”
The next week, I went to the gym down the street and dialed in on the treadmill. From then on, I used that hour to 90 minutes of dead time, to exercise–either on a stationary bike or on the treadmill or walked around the track. Dead time became alive time. Sometimes I would do as much as 25 miles on the bike or walk 3-4 miles while I watched TV (running was hard on the phone). Whatever exercise I was doing, maybe once did I have to stop to jump in and say something to the people on the line.
I haven’t had to do the American Apparel call in a long time but like most people, scheduled phone calls are still a complete pain. Kickoff calls, get to know you calls, weekly calls, pitching calls, interviews, paid consulting calls, “Sorry, I’m confused can we hop on the phone to get this worked out” calls…
Unless you’re a lonely person or trying to avoid doing your work, calls are distraction. It interrupts the day. You can’t do anything else. Yet there’s never any urgency to address the real reason you’re chatting. Like I said, classic dead time.
But I have a little trick that makes this much more productive: If I am on the phone, I’m walking.
My house is adjacent to three interconnected parks, which means specifically, every call is a long walk in the park. When I was in New Orleans, I’d stroll through the Garden District. In New York, I’d just schedule when I had to go somewhere and then just walk instead of taking a cab or the subway. Sometimes I walk as much as two hours a day.
I don’t mind it. Who would? It’s beautiful. It’s relaxing. It’s two birds with one stone.
A little low intensity exercise.
It’s the best.
And the practical concerns are easily addressed:
-Tell people upfront that you’re outside and there may be a little noise–but that you’ll mute the line when you’re not talking
-Always say no to Skype if it traps you at a computer
-Use a headset or headphones so you don’t have to hold the phone
-Insist on being the one who calls them (so you’re never stuck waiting)
-Walk at a slow but steady pace. It’s not a race and its not cardio.
-Try a handful of different routes so you can roughly approximate what a 15 minute, 30 minute and hour call’s course should be (but having extra time/distance is just a bonus, right?)
Look, I know this probably seems simple and obvious, but sometimes it’s these tricks that make the biggest difference. They can have huge impacts on quality of life and productivity and free you up to do things you didn’t think possible before. The advice to Never buy in-flight Wifi was one of these for me–suddenly, I am explosively productive and happy while traveling.
Turn a burden into an excuse to get outside.