I have been especially pressed for time lately. Without going into detail I will say that, for once, I don’t have any secret guilt about really having had the time but not using it well. This time, my excuse is that I was just plain old booked solid I firmly, truly, utterly did not have time to attend to my creative endeavors for the past month or so. The two months before that could have used some improvement in the time-management department, but October was overwhelmed with things other than writing.
I wasn’t planning on getting any writing done about a fortnight ago but I was trying to get through a bit of bookkeeping that had piled up and that the big boss (AKA DH) had been inquiring about for a few weeks with increasing panic. I’d picked up one of the kidlets early from school and he was planted in front of a DVD (yes, they still have the magic). I had, oh, half an hour or maybe forty good minutes left to finish the task at hand before I had to head out and pick up the rest of the clan, and I might have gotten there when
I did a bit of yogic low-level swear-muttering, clenched and unclenched just my fingertips a few times, and, with great difficulty, tore my hard-won hyperfocus away from the accounting software on my screen. Moments later, and smiling brightly, I opened the door to a person I like and would have, under many other circumstances, been happy to see. And her dog.
It was just a friendly visit. She happened to be walking by and thought it would be nice to stop by and say hi. And it would have been if not, like I said, for the timing. Also I’m not crazy about dog hair on my carpets.
The obvious thing to do here would have been to politely say ‘I’ve got only a few minutes left to finish something I’m working on, but it’s nice to see you and let’s do this some other time.’ Honestly, I think I may have said something to that effect, but not effectively enough, if I remember correctly (because, as I mentioned, I have been so busy since then that I really did not have time to sit down and write out the details). I may have said ‘Oh hey, Siobhan, what’s up? It’s good to see you. I’ve got to go out and get the kids soon.’ Because I have overly hospitable instincts– hospitable, historically speaking, to the point of near self-destruction– I did not express my circumstances clearly enough. I did not make it abundantly clear that this was work time for me, not play time. When someone comes to my door it’s like a switch is flicked in my brain which leaves it screaming ‘Brew some hot water! Defrost the babka!’ Madness. In my defense, people tend to stop by because they know I will always be welcoming and hospitable. And I hate hurting people’s feelings.
Have I mentioned in this blog before that I am prone to these kinds of interruptions, inasmuch as a person can be prone, involuntarily and unknowingly to the actions of another person? As you can see, I bring it upon myself to some degree by not being straightforward. (I blame my overly-hospitable mother for setting a bad example but that’s a whole other for a whole other blog). However, many times the interruptions are just random– the local handyman checking in after yet another six-week period of having been completely AWOL in my time of need, neighbors seeking eggs, sugar, advice, or some neighborly dialogue (gossip), deliveries, the tax man, it’s astounding.
And so I decided to take matters into my own hands in my signature passive-aggressive style. It’s a foolproof method that I have used before with resounding success, and one which does not require me to confront my tea-brewing and cake-serving demons. The next day, I opened a fresh Word document and changed the layout from Portrait to Landscape. I centered the justification and enlarged the font to movie poster proportions. Using a pretty script, so as not to appear too harsh, I write the word Please. On the next line, this time in block letters, several points larger I type: DO NOT followed by DISTURB immediately underneath. I slide my chair back to analyze; It’s too harsh. Hastily, in script again, add ‘I’m hard at work inside.’
It’s such a little thing, but it says so much. I attach it to my front door with kitchen magnets and enjoy an interruption-free afternoon.
When my husband comes home later he sees the sign, which is by this time handily mounted and ready for reuse inside the house on the back of the front door.
‘You can’t do this.’ he says. ‘I know you, and I know you mean well but I also know that you don’t realize when you’re being too harsh.’
I wince. That was harsh.
‘But it works!’ I protest. It had worked, hadn’t it? I hate being told that I’m insensitive.
‘It might work, but you are going to hurt a lot of feelings. Just explain to people that you are busy and don’t have time to spend with them. They’ll understand. Just do it face to face.’
I know he’s right on many counts but also wrong on every count. I consider his advice in light of what may be politically correct versus what I know to be feasible and realistic. I consider the people whose feelings might be hurt. This is what I come up with:
Imagine a neighbor coming to my door. I stop my work, I go downstairs, I open it and either spend time with them or else turn them away using polite and friendly dialogue. Even if I can find the wherewithal to do so, and even if they are in fact not insulted by the new closed-door policy, they will probably feel bad for having knocked at my door and disturbed me. Additionally , I still have to stop whatever I’m working on and then re-find my focus once I return to my desk , or to whatever project I happen to be working on. It’s a lose-lose.
On the other hand, if someone comes to my door and finds my sign, harsh as it is, they have the opportunity to refrain from knocking, thereby invoking a feel-good situation where, of their own accord, they have chosen to let me work, even though they were eager to see me, share a conversation, or borrow some butter. I will be none the wiser (until five minutes later when they text me to find out what I’m so busy working on that I can’t answer the door — a text which I will obviously ignore until I am done my work).
On the other other hand, I hope people will be smart enough to actually ignore my sign and knock on the door if the situation is urgent enough. I don’t want the fed-ex man to take off with my deliveries and cause me to drive out to the truck depot to pick up my Amazon orders. I don’t want Ed McMahon to turn away with my one million dollars. There needs to be a happy medium.
Obviously, some adjustments are called for. This is what I came up with.
Let me know what you think.