Thursday, February 25, 2010

Visiting Hours

Okay, here’s the scenario.

It’s Wednesday afternoon. I’m in the studio shipping orders. I’ve hired a friend to organize my paperwork for tax time and she’s sitting on the floor sorting last year’s receipts. It’s distracting but I’m managing to stay on task. UPS is due in 48 minutes and I still have about eight more orders to process. The phone rings. It's my brother, who knows if he calls on my business line that I'll pick up. I'm telling him I'll call him back later when I get a delivery from the printer. The driver comes in to tell me all about his new truck which turns into 10 lost minutes. As I attempt to politely wrap up that conversation Rob arrives to deliver 24 alarm clock displays, for which he needs to get paid. He’s waiting patiently for his turn when I see another car pull in. A friend has stopped by to ask if he can borrow my folding table, he walks right in the open door and joins in the conversation.

It’s then that the personal line rings in the other room. I don’t answer it but I can hear my recently widowed friend on the answering machine telling me she’s in the neighborhood and wants to swing by to bring me some of her husband's ashes to scatter on my property.

This is all true. And no, I didn’t make my deadline. Not even close.

This is my challenge every day. I’m sure it’s yours, too. People seem to think working at home is not a real job. That they can stop by to visit, call to chat or entice us to take the afternoon off to go shopping.

The UPS driver delivers every morning and picks up every afternoon, five days a week. Each and every time he wants to stop and visit. Hey, buddy - that’s ten times a week you expect me to take a break to listen to stories about your softball team. And what’s worse, when I am sitting at the computer and don’t look up when he drives in, he tiptoes around, stands outside of the office window and raps hard and loud on the glass right in front of my face. It scares the bejeezus out of me every time. I jump (sometimes even yelp) and he just laughs and launches into some story, shouting it at me through the glass.

Does he not realize I have work to do? Does anyone?

When you tell people you work at home all week I sometimes think all they really hear is the “at home all week” part. They all seem to think it's like running a lemonade stand. We just make stuff and sell it, what's the big deal? I know most folks have no idea at all what it is we do all day, what it takes to do it, how many hats we wear and how hard we have to work.

In my case I think this is (at least to some extent) my fault. Because while I often tell people that I work from nine to five and can’t take breaks, I know I make just enough exceptions to confuse them.

When someone shows up at my door I’m happy to see them. Why wouldn’t I be? While I may groan when I see them pull in the driveway, I open my door and there they are, a sweet friend standing in my doorway smiling at me. Of course I’m tempted…and it feels rude to tell them I’m working and ask them to leave. So I figure hey, I’ll take a short break - just a few minutes. The next thing you know we're sitting on the couch, I offer them coffee and an hour slips by in a blink.

Or sometimes someone calls when I’m not so busy so I take the time for a quick chat and what I intend to be a short call turns into a gabfest. No one made me do it. I could have let the answering machine take it, right? So why wouldn’t they think they could call back the next day? How would they know that as a rule I really can’t take personal calls during the work day?

I know I need to be consistent. I know I have to have more will power when presented with temptation. I know, I know.

This, my friends, is one of the few times I need a boss. A boss who will give me a glare from across the room when I waste time, tell me that I really need to buckle down, deny my requests for a two hour lunch, lay down the law. But wouldn’t you know it, whenever I need her she’s on a break.