“How can I handle interruptions?” was one of the top answers to the question, “What’s your biggest problem?” in a recent survey I did here.
I was surprised, but only because I’d forgotten what it’s like to live and work in a household with kids, pets, and spouses.
These days it’s just me and two cats. But when prompted, I do remember.
Interruptions come in three forms
In my experience interruptions seem to come in three forms.
The first are the interruptions caused by my lack of discipline – email arriving, the phone ringing, a sudden ‘need’ to do something other than write.
The next come because of circumstances. When I had small children at home I learned to write around the interruptions. When I got a live-in housekeeper life got easier.
Then there are the interruptions that seem to be unavoidable, like a power outage, someone pounding on the door, or a computer hard drive failure.
How to handle interruptions caused by lack of discipline
Practice is ultimately the way to handle interruptions caused by lack of discipline. When I first started working from home I literally had to get the kids off to school and drive to a restaurant in order to be sure I would write rather than go back to bed. Eventually I learned to go to my desk rather than back to bed or to a restaurant. I had to practice the discipline long enough for it to become a habit.
Other disciplines to consider might include turning off the phones – I do this because there’s nothing going on in my life that can be fixed by me being notified immediately. That wasn’t true when my kids were younger.
I’ve turned off my email notifications and now filter Facebook into its own folder so I’m not confronted with that distraction when I do look at email.
Take a look at what disciplines you could add to create distraction-free writing. Be gentle with yourself, but firm. Keep practicing until it works. Keep practicing and it will work.
How to handle interruptions caused by circumstances
Interruptions that come as a result of your circumstances primarily involve the people in your life. The most likely to cause interruptions are those who live with you. Often it’s a matter of training them not to interrupt or not as often. Having a door you can close on your office, “a room of” your own if you will, can really help. So can a do not disturb sign or both. It may take multiple conversations and a ton of reminder to make whatever policy is set actually work.
Of course, if the kids a little or you have an aged parent with you, your strategies either won’t work or won’t work well. If your circumstances allow you to leave for the library or a coffee shop to write, that may be your solution. Or you may have to take advantage of nap times.
Sometimes, however, your circumstances may force you to keep writing even when there are distractions galore. Get creative. Look at your schedule and the schedules of the interrupters. Where can you squeeze even 15 minutes of writing. Learn to leave your writing where it’s going next and it will be easier for you to make use of those precious moments.
How to handle unavoidable interruptions
Acceptance is the only real answer to those unavoidable interruptions – after all, there really isn’t much you can do if the power goes out or your hard drive fails. Oh, sure, there are battery backup systems and budgeting for a new computer every couple of years can make the incident less onerous. at least in those two cases.
When someone starts pounding on your door, however, or your hear a crash you know means trouble or any number of other distractions there’s not much you can do but go with the flow. Fortunately, this sort of interruption really doesn’t happen often. Assuming you’ve got a good backup plan in case of a major disaster, you can pretty much go back to your writing when the interruption is over. It is possible to handle interruptions with elegance and grace – although sometimes it will take at least a couple of deep breaths to do so.
How do you handle interruptions? Your thoughts in comments appreciated.
Write well and often,