Work, Interrupted

How to deal with interruptions when you work from home
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the May 2000 issue of . Subscribe »

There's an ugly little myth homebased business owners are constantly called upon to shatter: that you're not really working. You're not really under constant deadlines, so you have the freedom to take off at any moment to share coffee with a neighbor, a long-distance chit-chat with Aunt Rita or an Oprah moment with your spouse.

While you thought you escaped the demons of watercooler gossip and cubicle chatter when you went homebased, unwelcome interruptions are not a thing of the past. But instead of annoying coworkers you could easily dismiss, now the interruptions are courtesy of people you actually like. How do you deal with well-meaning friends and family without sounding like a shrew?

Lynn Proctor Windle found it took time, patience and flexibility to help her family understand all interruptions aren't welcome. Her husband, a work-at-home realtor, didn't abide by a strict schedule, but by the hours his clients were available. Coming from a corporate background, Windle "lives and dies by schedules and lists." So how could she explain her tight deadlines when he popped in for a chat or to invite her on errands?

"I had to learn a more patient approach to working in our home," says Windle, 37, who started her marketing communications consulting business in Rockwall, Texas, in 1998. "if the project is routine or without an immediate deadline, I stop and answer his questions and even ask for his input on some things. If I'm on a tight deadline, I explain the project to him before I start." She also made the lucky discovery that he's willing to help her out clerically in exchange for her company.

"It's important that people treat their home offices with the [same] seriousness that they would [treat] a business if they had to commute to it," says Julian Lange, a professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College and founder of Chatham Associates, a management consulting business, both in Wellesley, Massachusetts. "As best you can, keep regular hours. They may not be traditional hours, but you should know when you're working and when you're off. You can tell people you're on deadline or simply [say] you don't accept calls or visits during those hours."

While Windle's convinced her husband of her tight schedule, her teenagers are another matter. Her interruption-free solution is to work when they're not home: up at 7 a.m. to check e-mail and organize her day, break at 8:15 to take her teens to school and run errands, and back to work at 9:30 until her kids get home at 4 p.m. "Your life can be a lot more flexible if you let it [be]," says Windle. "I actually get a lot more done now because I don't have meetings and visitors popping into my cube."

Thanks, But No Thanks

Though most telemarketers tend to call during dinner time, some call right when we're getting down to business. Here's how to deal:

  • Lynn Proctor Windle's lifesaving trick is anonymous call rejection, provided by her local phone company. "It's a godsend in screening out annoying calls. I don't really worry about missing clients because legitimate businesses don't block their names and numbers [from caller id]--usually only telemarketers do."
  • Entrepreneurship Professor Julian Lange suggests that when you do get the dreaded "Do you
    have a moment?" call, end it quickly and painlessly. "My feeling is you're doing them and yourself a service if you basically cut in right at the beginning of their speech and say 'Thank you, but I'm not interested.' Usually they will then say thank you and hang up. If they don't, then you have to because it's your time."

Contact Sources

Chatham Associates, P.O. Box 812155, Wellesley, MA 02482-0014

Lynn Proctor Windle, (972) 771-8868,


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