Protecting Your Home Office Boundaries

by Annie

in the home office

Closeup of razor wire with jet flying in sky in backgroundCouch warriors, does this sound familiar?

You settle in on your couch or at your desk one fine morning. You’ve got your task list in front of you, your MIST list items identified, your first project of the day open on your laptop screen before you, and you’re feeling fine.

With a determined smile, you dive in, ready to rock the shit out of that project, and within minutes, you’re in it deep, you’re feeling the flow, you are smokin’ that list, baby …

KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK. *Doorbell-doorbell-doorbell*

“You home?” the hopeful, cheerful, loud voice calls from the other side of the front door.

You have just become the victim of another drive-by border intrusion.

They mean well. I truly believe that.

But for whatever reason, they just do not grasp the concept that working at home means you’re WORKING at home.

You, my friend, have a border security problem.  If you don’t get it under control quickly, you’ll soon find the invaders are taking over your work time, and making your time & task choices for you.

How to Deal With the Home Office Intruder

If you’ve got one of these folks in your life who just cannot seem to grasp that your work hours are for – y’know, work, then you’re going to have to muster up the guts to have a potentially less-than-pleasant convo with the intruder.

But before you start ranting at the poor sod, take a minute and make sure you’re clear on the following:

  • Off-limit work hours
  • Time spans that might be OK for previously scheduled outings or home entertainment
  • Hours reserved strictly for family, spouse, or personal time

Once you’re clear on this aspect of your schedule, it’s time to have a little heart to heart with the repeat offender. Here’s a script you can adopt for your own use:

Look, I appreciate your friendship, and it’s important to me. That’s why we need to have this chat — because I don’t want there to be any issues between us. Here’s the thing: if I happened to work at some office downtown, you wouldn’t dream of cruising in at any time during the day and expecting me to entertain you, or drop everything to go somewhere with you.

There’s no difference here, really. Working at home has its own challenges, and even a short five-minute interruption really means up to 20 minutes out of my day, because I have to reach a stopping point, transfer my attention, then pick it back up again and figure out where I was when you leave. So I’m going to have to ask you not to drop in between the hours of and y during the weekdays, at least not without calling me first and checking to see if it’s a good time.

Kicking It Up a Notch For the Intractable Offenders

All well and good for reasonable folks, but what about the intruders who don’t listen, even after repeated reminders?

Now, my friend, you’re gonna have to dig in for some tough love. And the solution might drive you a little batty at first.

Ready? Here it is:

Don’t open the door.

Don’t answer the phone.

Ignore your friend.

We’re thoroughly conditioned to drop everything whenever anyone pings into our consciousness, but the simple fact is we are not obligated to subjugate our livelihoods to the whims — or even the needs — of others, unless we’re legally or morally responsible for them (say, your minor children).

And I’d also add this: Any friend who expects you to ignore your own interests and pay attention to their crises du jour over and over like that is not really your friend.

Dealing With the Tiny Border Crossers

All that’s fine and dandy when you’re dealing with (putative) adults. But what if your boundary-smashers are your kids?

Well, that’s a different story altogether.

First and foremost, you have to grasp and accept a basic fact: you cannot run a business and care for your kids simultaneously.

At least, not when the kids haven’t hit their teens yet. Older kids are more than capable of observing boundaries and entertaining themselves for a few hours at a time.

But the wee ones? You can’t do it all. I know it seems like an awesome idea — you can re-enter the workforce by running your own business after the baby’s born! You won’t even have to get dressed! It’ll be  awesome! — but it just never works. (I know. I tried.)

So, you’ll need child care for your work hours. And that can get truly pricey in a hurry, especially when you’re just launching your creative biz and have much more time than money at your disposal.

One creative solution past clients have come up with is the child care co-op. The premise is simple: look for parents in your neighborhood with kids about the same age, and swap out child-care duties. Maybe the other parent gets her mornings free, while you watch the kids, and then you swap so you can work in the afternoon.

Yes, you have to do your due diligence before handing your kid off to anyone. You also need to be crystal clear with each other on the schedule, the expectations, and the rules. Written agreements here are a very good idea.

But I have seen this set-up work incredibly well before.

Other tips for dealing with the kids at home:

  • Be upfront with your kids. Explain what’s going on, why you need private time, and what you’re doing in there. Taking away the mystery reduces a lot of the insatiable curiosity behind many interruptions.
  • Establish shorter time spans, punctuated by “parent time.” For instance, tell the kids you will work for 55 minutes, and when the clock says 4:55, you’ll come out and spend 15 minutes exclusively with them. (But treat those 15 minutes as sacred – no phone calls, no diverted attention.)
  • Set up a reward system. It’s not a bribe if the good behavior precedes the coveted goodie.

Border Guards, Unite

What’s your worst or funniest home office intrusion story? How do you handle the relatives and neighbors haranguing you for “just a little favor” because you’re “not doing anything”? Share in the comments!

Photo Credit: Medhi via photopin cc

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sophie Lizard October 31, 2012 at 1:20 pm

YEAH! Especially the part about pint-sized intruders.

My toddler has her dad taking care of her while I work, but that doesn’t stop her standing at the safety gate shouting, “Mummy! Mumm-EEE! MUUUMMMMEEEEEEEEEEEE!” just so she can run away when I come out.

Sometimes I lock myself in the bathroom to work. People give you more time to sh*t than they do to work from home… that’s messed up.


Annie October 31, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Here’s the sad part: you’re not the first or even the tenth person to tell me she locks herself in the bathroom to escape the intrusions this month. Toddlers are a whole new level of fun, aren’t they? Reminds me of this experiment a university did one time – they put those green-screen body sensors on a toddler to record his movements during an 8-hour period, then had a professional dancer — a guy in optimal physical condition, mind you — replicate them. He lasted five hours. He couldn’t do it. (Something that surprises no parent, ever.)


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