I have always been comfortable on the phone. It's how I grew up in a pre-email/text world. Certainly I use texting and emailing to my advantage when I don't need to have a conversation, but the phone has its benefits. Real back and forth can actually take much less time by phone. Of course, improperly managed it can also be a time drain. Some people drone on and on when on a call, with no concern for others productivity.

You can take control of phone conversations so you can get the benefits of calls without the risk of a time suck. Here is how I do it, along with more insights from my Inc. colleagues.

1. Plan in advance.

When times are busy and I have can't postpone calls I make them more efficient by having a specific agenda written out before the call. I make sure the bullet points are in a logical order and organized. Then when I get on the phone I share the agenda at the beginning so the call is managed. Most importantly, I stick to the agenda.

2. Ask questions beforehand.

I get a lot of "quick phone call" requests, and unfortunately many of them turn out to be requests for things I can't do, or don't do well. So, I work really hard to make sure the call won't waste my time or the other person's time. I always ask for additional information or a brief summary of the call's intentions, and if it doesn't seem clear I keep asking. Sounds harsh, but it's the only way I know if a call makes sense for both of us... and so I can seem at least somewhat intelligent during the call. Jeff Haden--Owner's Manual

Want to read more from Jeff? Click here.

3. Have a clear objective.

A very smart entrepreneur suggested to me recently that every meeting and every phone call should have a specific objective, and once that objective is reached the phone call should end. That's a terrific approach, both for keeping calls from going on for too long, and also for keeping the conversation on point. If you've been talking for a while, stop and ask yourself if what you're saying is bringing the call toward its ultimate goal. If not, then stop, and refocus the conversation. If you're not sure, then interrupt yourself to ask the people you're speaking with if what you're saying is helping them meet their objectives. Minda Zetlin--The Laid Back Leader

Want to read more from Minda? Click here.

4. Skip the pleasantries.

As I have progressed in my career, I have learned that if I am going to get my work done, I have to be extremely efficient in my phone calls and Skype conversations. The first question I always ask is this: "Is this call necessary-- does it advance my goals?" If not, then I don't do it. Then, when I'm on the call, I try to direct the conversation in a way that gets past the pleasantries and to the heart of the matter as quickly as possible. As the old saying goes, time is money, and no one I know can afford to waste time on the phone. Peter Economy--The Leadership Guy

Want to read more from Peter? Click here.

5. Pre-screen new introductions.

Have you ever had someone introduce you to another party through email with no prior permission or warning? I've accepted too many warm introductions only to discover that they wanted to be included in one of my articles or appear as a guest on Million Dollar Mindset Radio. Now, rather than consenting to a phone call just to be nice and wasting time for both of us, I send an email kindly asking them to tell me more about themselves. Based on their response I either ask them to send me more information on their "story" or schedule a call with a specified end time. Sometimes, I respectfully decline. Being bold and specific will take the pain out of "getting to know you" phone calls. Marla Tabaka--The Successful Soloist

Want to read more from Marla? Click here.

6. Limit the call.

Phone calls are one of the most inefficient ways to communicate in today's business environment. Regrettably they are commonly used, especially as workforces become more dispersed and remote. By limiting the call, both in the amount of time scheduled and the number of participants, you will see an increase in the overall effectiveness of what you accomplish. Thirty-minute phone calls with no more than three participants are ideal. I hold a rolling call that moves from Sales to Operations to Finance for one of my companies each week. Each group rolls on and off of the call in thirty minute chunks covering topics that overlap while two groups are on at the same time. We work against a predetermined agenda and move deeper conversations to other more focused calls. Eric Holtzclaw--Lean Forward

Want to read more from Eric? Click here.

Published on: Mar 25, 2015
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The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.