Even though you may hate talking to a machine, the fact is answer systems are here to stay, like it or not, they can save you lots of time trying to reach someone. I like them so much now that I'm annoyed if someone doesn't have a voice mail system in place. When this happens I'm forced to keep trying to call this person back rather than simply leave my message. Of course, it's even more complicated if they don't have an email address.
When I leave a message I work to keep it simple because most just want to know that you called and what number they can call you back at. If you want to leave a brief message about the purpose of the call that's even better because they then have a point of reference with which to call you back.
Use short clear sentences in a volume that will be picked up easily by the recorder. Don't feel you have to be the personality kid when starting your message, in fact, that's not even a good idea.
If you can't get your thoughts together fast enough, just hang up, think about it, and call back. Also, listen for any clicks that may indicate you have been cut off. Some systems don't allow much time for a message. If you do get cut off and have more to say, you can call back to finish and get right to the point.
Your phone voice can and should take on different intonations. For example, you'll use a warmer more casual voice when you're calling home to talk to the kids and a crisp upbeat voice when calling professionally.
If you're calling home from an office setting and don't care to be overheard you may want to swivel your chair around toward the wall or window to allow yourself some "private space" in which to talk. Your voice will, no doubt, become lower in tone and less likely to be broadcast all over the office.
If you're home trying to make an important or professional call you may want and need to go to another room altogether to avoid barking dogs and squealing children in the background. When it comes to using your own answer system: Let the caller leave a message if you're in the middle of a project, important conversation, or even just reading a good book!
Learning to use the phone more efficiently will allow you more time off the phone to do all the things awaiting your attention.
Judy Warmington, Woman Time Management (owner) -- Busy wife, mother of three adult/married children, grandmother of 10 (5 boys and 5 girls!), former high school teacher (M.A. from W.M.U.), Speaker, Author, Radio Personality, and Trainer of Professional Organizers.