Interruptions

Cranky. Cantankerous. Then downright pissy. That’s how I felt earlier this week, when interruptions, interruptions, interruptions came calling during my most productive hours of the day, and two days in a row!

When you’re in your groove and someone jostles your rhythm, don’t you find yourself tearing your hair out? And if you’re interrupted again, don’t you want to scream?

First, there was a friend on the phone in the middle of my morning writing. I was compelled to answer – she gets in touch rarely – and frankly, I was a little worried.

All was well. She just wanted to catch up.

Next… May we add the latest dynamic duo selling God door-to-door, dispensed with as quickly as possible?

More phone calls followed that I tried to ignore, but each potentially required handling. Then more knocking to encourage expletives a-plenty, as the neighborhood yard man was in the area – there for gutter cleaning which, while unplanned, is essential this time of year.

“Nice” versus Necessity

In fact, the yard man interrupted multiple times. He seemed to need to talk, he’s a nice man, and so I politely listened. I fetched him a drink to warm himself, and I extricated myself from the situation (with difficulty), feeling the day slipping away too quickly.

These unanticipated interruptions?

One of the most challenging aspects of working from home – precisely because you are at home.

At this stage I was two hours behind and stressed. I had two choices – spiral into more irritation or take a few steps back and adjust my own expectations. I chose the latter – (impressed with my maturity?) – and accepted that it would be a long night ahead – several long nights, in fact.

Time Management Challenges When You Work From Home

Whether you work for yourself or for someone else, the challenges of time management can be tricky when you do your job from a home office – and not necessarily in the ways you imagine.

You may possess superb powers of organization and concentration. You may have trained your children to respect your “office hours.” But that doesn’t exempt you from the spouse or partner who thinks you can run out and pick up the dry cleaning, or the neighbors who see your car in the driveway, or the yard guy, or the door-to-door wanderers, or even the friends who don’t quite comprehend that what you do in your home is Work Work Work!

Then, of course, there are the issues of relationship – not simple to manage if you work odd hours but your partner benefits from a more traditional schedule. This is the case in my life, and a source of constant negotiation… and guilt.

Parenting Interruptions… All Bets Off?

Occasionally in the middle of the day, there’s a call from one of my sons in college!

These moments are infrequent. They’re a surprise. They’re delightful. And short of being in conference with a client – I drop everything and go with the flow.

If I’m on deadline, I take the call, check to make sure that everything is alright, then say “I love you and need to call you back.” I deal with my tasks at hand, and return the call sometime in the evening.

If I’m talking to my Man and one of the kids calls, I take the call. It doesn’t happen often (they don’t call very often), but it does happen. The mothers I know understand, but I wonder at times if I’m offending my partner.

Interruptions, Priorities, Real World Constraints

If I don’t work, I can’t pay my bills. It’s a simple equation, no different for millions. What is different is where I work and the around-the-clockness of that particular effort. That sits in stark contrast to the man I date and his more predictable hours.

As a mother, and a single mother at that, I’ve been the sole responsible party for the day-to-day duties of raising my sons. It’s both habit and (now) pleasure to respond when I’m called upon. Since the arrival of Empty Nest, those occasions are far fewer, and to a large degree their calls are for connection.

My priorities feel essential to my survival, and in no particular order include: income, kids, sanity – and yes, relationship. There is never enough time, though I imagine we all feel that way.

Yet I worry that I may potentially hurt or offend friends, neighbors, or loved ones when they interrupt and I get annoyed.

  • How do you handle interruptions?
  • When you’re doing the interrupting, are you aware of it?
  • When you’re “put off” until later or the next day, do you take it personally?

 

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© D. A. Wolf

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Comments

  1. I so needed to read this right now — well, maybe not right now because I should be writing a review for my paying job — because I can not seem to get any work done! I also work at home which people seem to think means I’m available at their beck and call at all times. I don’t have any answers for you but I definitely have the same questions. Thanks for making me feel not so alone in being overwhelmed.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Yes! Exactly, Lois! As for those in the neighborhood, I’m thinking that’s solvable by parking my car behind the house. But everyone I know knows that I work from home… So that issue isn’t so easily solved.

      Nope. You’re not alone! (And it’s especially tricky when you don’t work regular hours, or when you’re self-employed and you’re only paid when you deliver the goods!)

  2. I share an office at work with another manager. His people come in all morning asking where he is. Sigh… I shouldn’t be pissed off, but it wasn’t my day to watch him! ;0)
    I have asked that rather than asking me, could they ask him in IM, email, or leave a sticky note. They say he doesn’t respond. I just stare at them. I have been trying to think of a better response.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      The years I worked primarily from a home office for a corporation, and in a managerial capacity, my schedule was clearly defined and known – and there were never any issues. I was basically always available when I said I was – and then some (making accommodations by rising before dawn for overseas phone calls, for example) – and doing “extra” work at night after the kids were asleep.

      My children were trained early – very early – that they didn’t interrupt Mom “unless there was blood.” Fortunately, blood was a rare occurrence. ;)

      What has been more surprising are the years of self-employment. My kids have continued to respect my hours (very long), but friends or significant others have much more trouble with it. I continue to set boundaries, and sometimes have to resort to “cranky” to enforce them.

      As for your manager working from home? What is there in the environment in-office or his communication of schedule and availability that makes other team members hesitate to reach him?

  3. With little kids underfoot, there are lots of interruptions. I try very, very hard not to get annoyed but sometimes I fail. And then if the kids aren’t home, the cat is needy? Argh!

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Kitch, you always make me laugh!

      And yes, interruptions with kids are inevitable – especially when they’re little. (I purposely did NOT work from home until my kids were old enough to understand certain boundaries. Thank God for going to the office in those years! But by age 5, they got it, and for us – it worked great! It’s all in the training, and I recommend a French door – you can close it, but you can still see what’s going on!)

      On the other hand, our pets are less trainable…

  4. I am terrible about recovering from interruptions. (A ringing phone when I’m writing is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.) And this is absolutely the hardest thing to me about trying to work from home with little kids about – throw a chatty neighbor on top of it and I’m toast. Glad to know I’m not the only one who struggles with this challenge! (Misery loves company, I guess.) xo

  5. DaveysHouse says:

    Turning down the volume on the phone, letting the answering machine do the work during productive times (or reverie times), and calling back when it is convenient to me works very well. I also never feel compelled to answer the front door just because someone rings during the day. There’s no good reason for them to do so unless they have been scheduled to come for a repair or whatever. Am I missing something? I also check call ID because charities keep calling my husband, who died 4 years ago, and if I try to explain they often hang up on me ;-). Go figure… But my cat interrupts me at will, and he’s allowed. Good luck, BLW!

  6. When I am here alone, I frequently don’t answer the door; not because I’m frightened, but because I can see it is a sales person or the like. Likewise the phone. Just because it makes a noise doesn’t mean I have to respond. On the other hand, Bill can’t cope with my closing the door to the East wing/ sewing room / my ‘office’. I don’t work for a living and heaven knows what I do in there is not important. However, setting myself tasks and accomplishing them is one of the main things that keeps me going in retirement. Losing myself in what I’m working on is one of my best pleasures. Having that constantly interrupted for trivial chat is the hardest part about our both being retired and occupying the same house. On top of that, my occasional need for solitude – just to rest and think my own thoughts – has nearly pushed me around the bend a few times. If it is a weekday I sometimes take a notebook and pen and go find a cafe in the village, a quiet place with no obligations to converse. If it is a weekend, I give up on projects and turn my attention to housework. When I had a cubicle for an office, I used to put a chair back in the doorway with a note pad and pen in the seat. A note was taped to the back of the chair which said ‘My door is closed. Working on a deadline. Please do not disturb. Leave me a note and I’ll get back to you. Or come back after X:00.’ I often had a headphone on listening to / ignoring classical music while I did my writing or data analysis. Perhaps a similar note taped to your front door might help? Tape over the doorbell? Find a quiet coffee shop? Drive to a pretty place and work in the car?

  7. Wolf,

    I am terrible at handling interruptions. I lose momentum in whatever I am doing and then it takes me a few minutes to get back on track. Even with a little one at home, I don’t think I will ever learn to embrace interruptions.

  8. Leslie in Portland, Oregon says:

    My work requires a great deal of study, analysis and writing. A decade ago, I switched from working in a traditional office environment to working in my home office, in order to have the solitude and quiet I needed to sustain focus and accomplish my work as efficiently as possible. To avoid interruptions in my home office, I don’t answer the house doorbell or the telephone when I’m working. My home office is in the back of the house, and my car is out of sight in the garage, so no one can see I am home. My kids (adults and living out-of-town) and husband know how to reach me if it is urgent (let the phone ring twice, hang up, then call again). My business line has a remote receptionist who logs calls and messages on my email and interrupts me only for what is urgent. These measures set boundaries that minimize interruptions from the “outside” world, so, for the most part, I grapple only with the distractions coming from inside my head. A 45-minute walk with our two dogs at noon and a shorter one at 4:30 pm help with the latter challenge, but I remain a work-in-progress. My biggest failing is not limiting my work to the work hours I have set.

    Shelley’s comments about working at home during retirement resonate with me…I know those challenges are coming!

    Thanks for stimulating this conversation!

  9. I’m relearning how to write with interruptions (the inevitable kind that a baby creates and then some not so expected ones). It’s not ideal for letting creativity flow, but it does force efficiency for me — I’ve experienced the opposite problem where, faced with a solid chunk of time specifically set aside for writing, I get bogged down in my own word pickiness and haven’t gotten nearly as much on the page as I’d want by the time I need to move on to other tasks. Under your circumstances, though, I’d definitely be irritated!

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