Not just another business expense, a second phone might be the best money you’ll spend, and may possibly save your family life.
For years, I owned a single cellphone. Since I used it for both personal and work-related calls, I would end up taking work calls in the evenings, on weekends, and even on vacation (which, for me for more than a decade, was just a long weekend). I’d talk to clients and employees, listen to messages, or check texts during what should have been off-duty time, and because these would often be about a perceived problem on a job or an upset customer, I would too often end up lying in bed worrying about the problem instead of sleeping. But the reality was that no matter what that problem might have been, I usually handled it the next day, and it was rarely as serious as I might have thought the night before.
Worried that operating this way was causing too much stress, I decided that I needed two phones – one for work, and one for personal use, with rules for each. I did this by adding a second phone and giving its number out only to friends and family or non-work related contacts; my existing phone became my “work” phone, reserved exclusively for business-related contacts. To make it easier to figure out if an incoming call was personal or work-related, each phone had different ringtones. I also decided to leave the work phone in the truck when the workday was over, and not look at it until the next morning (I adopted the same approach for emails). I also informed my clients and employees that I would only reliably be available by phone or text during traditional work hours, not 24/7. Early mornings were the only exception, since I typically was going to be in my truck anyway and available to take calls.
If that sounds unrealistic, remember that this is how businesses used to operate prior to the invention of cellular technology. Back in the day, customers were accustomed to calling during normal office hours. If their call went to voicemail, the expectation was that they would receive a return call during those same business hours, either later that day or the following day, but not that evening.
Will today’s customers accept this old-school approach? Many contractors will argue that they have to be available whenever a customer calls, regardless of the time, but I discovered that clients easily understand the need to separate business and personal life. This simple adjustment made it possible for me to recharge my batteries for the next day, and to conduct a more normal family life. Sure, you can run at full throttle for a while, but in the long run, it will take an unnecessary toll on you.
By the way, I didn’t give out my personal phone number to my employees either, for a couple of reasons. For one, they would have likely used it to call me if they couldn’t reach me on the work phone. Also, it’s likely that the personal phone number would have been shared with clients, either intentionally or by accident. If a true work emergency happened during the day, the crew could reach me, and if they happened to be working on a Saturday, I would either leave my work phone on or check it regularly. Otherwise, an after-hours “emergency” had to wait until morning.
The key is to be disciplined in your approach and to set expectations early. For example, if you’re active in the field with your crew, you can set aside a couple of times during the day to check messages and return calls, or you can do this at the end of the day. In the instances where you absolutely need to make the after-hours call, do it, but let it be the exception rather than the rule. In my case, I was available from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 pm. That 11-hour window should be all that’s needed.
The next time you hear your cellphone ring or a text come through while you are enjoying dinner with your family or just after you get in bed, think about if it’s really worth it. I came to realize that working after hours – combined with what are often stressful and overloaded work days – made me question whether I wanted to be in business for myself. Adopting the two-phone approach made a huge difference in job satisfaction, and I truly believe that my career would have been cut in half without it. My only regret now is that I didn’t do it sooner. Try it yourself; I believe you’ll think the same thing.