Dealing with Family Interruptions
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been discussing obstacles that keep you from finishing projects. Last week we discussed the intrinsic guilt we feel when demanding writing time. Now it’s time to tackle one of the obstacles that makes us feel guiltiest: family interruptions.
Think about it. You’re working on your brilliant masterpiece when your mother calls. You feel obligated to pick up and stay on the line for the next half hour. Since you only have an hour of writing time and you’ve lost focus, you give up entirely and you spend the day feeling guilty about not writing enough.
The next day your mother calls during your writing time and you don’t pick up. Your guilt about ignoring your mother eats away at you for the next forty-five minutes when you cave and call her back, interrupting the last fifteen minutes of your writing time.
In either scenario you lose writing time and feel guilty, but you don’t have to. There are several strategies that will allow you to maximize your writing time and minimize family distractions without creating guilt, and they work with almost any family.
So let’s get started:
1. Have a designated writing space. It doesn’t have to be a big space. It doesn’t need a lockable door. It just needs to be a space that’s distinctly yours and set up to encourage productivity. A space that you can say clearly belongs to you and is dedicated to your craft. Make a point of carving out even a small corner in which to write without distraction.
But setting up your space is not enough. You need to tell the people you live with that this is your writing space, and that when you’re in it you’re not to be disturbed unless the house is on fire. You’ll probably have to tell them more than once. You need to be firm about it but not mean. Remind them gently. After a while, all but the most irritating relatives will get the point and leave you alone when you’re in your writing space.
2. Have a designated writing time. And make sure that everyone in your family knows it. Start with half an hour. Tell everyone in your family not to call you from 5:30-6 because it’s your writing time. Remind them as kindly and frequently as possible. Every time you see them, tell them about how much you’ve accomplished in that uninterrupted half hour.
Make a point of reminding people when your designated writing time is even if they haven’t interrupted it yet. Keeping it fresh in their minds makes them less likely to forget and interrupt your precious writing time.
3. Make a buck off your writing. This one’s a bit difficult because it involves people other than you and a bit of leg work, but it’s worth it on a few levels. For one thing, it’s always nice to make a buck doing something you enjoy. But more importantly, it cements the idea that writing is important in your family’s brain.
Many relatives don’t respect your writing time because they don’t understand why you’d work so hard for something that isn’t making you money. Even if you only sell one article and make fifty bucks, they’ll realize that writing is valuable for you, because they’ll see the proof. Some people don’t understand value unless it’s in dollars, and making some money is a great way to reinforce the idea that writing is important—after all, everyone can think of a couple good things to do with fifty dollars.
4. Get some noise cancelling headphones. If you’re working from a desktop in the living room and you can’t move it, get some noise cancelling headphones or earplugs. You don’t even have to listen to music, though some soothing classical music or even some white noise might help your focus. All you have to do is put them on your head and enjoy yourself as the sounds of the world disappear around you.
The best part? Nobody ever gets offended if you don’t hear them the first time when you’re wearing big headphones, and most people won’t bother you unless it’s important. When you’re wearing headphones, people feel like they’re interrupting, and if they block out the noise in the room around you, they’ll stop unintentional interruptions too.
There are many ways to minimize or completely eliminate family distractions that don’t involve totally alienating your family or telling them to screw off. The methods above are just the beginning—which methods have worked for you?