4 Pointers for Expressing That You’re Busy When Folks “Drop By” During the Day

4 Pointers for Expressing That You're Busy When Folks “Drop By” During the DayBy Erin Steiner

Perhaps the most frustrating part of working from home is trying to get your family and friends to understand that you really are working from home. Because of this misunderstanding, they think it’s okay to ask you for last-minute favors, or to ask you to run errands for them that can only be completed during the work day “because you have a flexible schedule.” And, worst of all, dropping by unannounced because they know you’ll be home and they’re in the mood for a visit.

Just because it looks like relaxing doesn’t mean it isn’t serious!

It’s hard to say no to these requests and drop-by visits. You want to be a supportive friend, and you don’t want to be (or feel) rude. At the same time, you genuinely are busy, and you genuinely do have more important things to do than pick up someone’s dry cleaning or wait all day for a package/electrician/cable guy. You definitely can’t afford to be dropping your work simply because someone feels like having a chat.

If you want your friends to stop taking advantage and understand that you really do have responsibilities, you need to find a healthy, friendly, and direct way to express this frustration. Otherwise you’ll never get your business off the ground, and you risk alienating people you care about when you do finally blow up at them for not respecting your time.

Here are four ways to do this.

1. The Best Offense is a Good Defense

Cut everybody off at the pass by pre-empting the pass to begin with. Send out an email, post a note on Facebook, etc. – say that you love everybody and that you want to be there for them, but that unless plans are made in advance, you aren’t available for last-minute requests during your working hours. Make sure you include those hours in the email or post so your friends can’t claim ignorance of when you are “actually” working.

2. Make Calling First a Rule

You know the “new baby” rule, right? Whenever a couple has a new baby, you call before you stop by. That way you don’t risk waking a “just-put-down” baby, and you give your friends time to get themselves together and ready for your visit.

Make calling first during the day a rule for you as well. You can include that rule in the email we talked about as an “If it is an emergency or can’t be avoided, please call first. That way there’s no risk that I’m in the middle of a meeting or on an important call with a client when you stop by, because I’ll be expecting you.”

This is a really easy rule to enforce and even condition into people. Because when someone does stop by (there are always a few people who think your polite requests are just for everybody else), you can say, “Wow, I wish you would have called first, so I could have made time for you.”

3. Don’t Let Them In

The act of stopping or dropping by does not automatically equal being invited in and being given undivided attention. Everybody knows this because dropping by means taking a risk that someone isn’t home. So if someone knocks on your door while you’re working, you do not have to invite them in. You can step out on to your front porch or into your building’s hallway and chat for a few minutes and then thank them for stopping by and go back inside. You can explain that you’d invite them in but you’re in the middle of a work project and have materials everywhere. Even if they say, “Oh, I don’t mind,” you can say, “I know, but I do.”

For that matter…

4. Don’t Answer the Door

This is going to feel incredibly rude, but it is still an option – especially if you aren’t working in a place that is clearly visible from a porch or the outside. Still, it can be a really great way to deter unexpected visitors. If you think it’s a package and it turns out to be a friend, you can employ tips #2 and #3 to keep them from completely invading your space.

If they can see you sitting at a desk and working from the door, you can wave and then send them a text saying, “Sorry, can’t come to the door! Busy on a project. Call next time and I’ll try to shift some things around.” They might get irritated or even tell you that they are offended, but remember: They’re the ones who aren’t respecting your time.

Have you had to deal with friends, family, or neighbors dropping by unannounced, because they don’t understand what you’re doing, or worse, don’t take your work at home status seriously? How did you solve the problem?

Erin Steiner writes about topics ranging from personal finance and helping people qualify for a federal auto loan to popular and geek culture.

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