We Interrupt This Blog…

I thought I’d get a lot of writing done while I was visiting with my dad in Ohio earlier this month.

I thought wrong.

Dad’s 94 and still lives in the family home, with daily support from my brother. Dad loves company and is a great conversationalist, but often he slips into the eternal now. I’m pretty sure he knew who I was most of the time, but the details are foggy, such as where I live now, or how long I was staying, or if he’d had supper yet, or where my brother was (in Germany for a business meeting, which is why I was doing the checking-up and shopping and transportation to Kroger’s and the Senior Center).

By the time I got to the coffee shop in the afternoon–one of the few places in town with a public wi-fi connection–I had a bunch of emails to catch up on and a small job for one of my regular clients that needed a bit of attention on a daily basis. And there went my two-hour break and it was time to go home and help Dad decide what to fix for supper. By the time he went to bed, I was so drained I barely had the energy to listen to the audio book I’d brought, let alone write.

But as every caregiver learns, there are  times when the “interruptions” to your regular life become the work you are supposed to be doing, and everything else goes on Hold. It was a blessing to be able to spend this time with him.

During the long drive back to Wisconsin, I thought a lot about the regular old interruptions that get in the way when it’s just me and the computer. I remembered an article I read on the subject in The Writer magazine several years ago. I’d found it so interesting that I took notes and used it for a presentation I had to give.

The article about managing interruptions noted that one study found it takes the average writer 8 minutes to return to creative mode after being distracted.

I consider myself a somewhat-above average writer, but I sure could relate to the eight-minute delay. If there’s a load of wash in the basement, triple that amount.

Another study the article cited found it takes 15 minutes to get back into the zone after a phone call, but only 64 seconds after an email. HOWEVER, those 64-second email distractions do not include the time it takes to read or otherwise react to each email. And because most people receive a lot more emails than phone calls, and 70% of users check email within 6 seconds of the “New Mail” notification, the more often your email notifies you, the more time you lose to distractions. Further, people react more quickly to a sound alert than a silent alert.

So…new policy on email here. Now I check it once before breakfast in case Older Son, who is seven time zones away in an internet-challenged village near the Black Sea, has somehow scavenged enough bandwidth to let us know what he’s up to, and then I either close the email program (I use the Mac’s Mail program so it’s easy to do; no pesky gmail notifiers to keep popping up) or turn the computer’s sound off so I don’t hear the little “clunk” that lets me know a new message has come in. Unless I get bored or am working on a paying gig, I usually don’t check for new messages until lunchtime.

I check again in the early afternoon before I leave the house for an Undisclosed Location to give some attention to the Work in Progress. I leave the house to get away from the stuff that keeps tugging at my sleeve, whispering “Just throw one more load in the wash and then you can write your novel. Oh, wait. Don’t you need to water the plants? And how about that grocery list? And isn’t it time to rotate the tires?”

While at the Undisclosed Location,  I usually activate Freedom, an internet-lockout program, although sometimes I only set it to keep me offline for an hour in case I need to do some, um, research.

I’ve also started making use of the “Rules” thing so that certain kinds of mail automatically go into separate folders instead of my InBox: LinkedIn updates, round-robin discussions among members of a professional group I belong to, e-newsletters (mostly about publishing and writing), and what I call B Mail and other folks call Bacon: stuff that would be spam except that it’s advertising from places I do business with or would like to, such as Williams-Sonoma.

The emails from the professional group I keep up with every day. The rest of the filed messages I get to whenever… except, I confess, for the ones from Williams-Sonoma. I do check those every day, because there’s always the chance that something I’ve had on my Wish List for decades will be on sale For This Week Only. I snagged a chicken jug that way just last year and saved Santa a bundle. I live in hope that they’ll have a similar sale on the cow cream pitcher one of  these days, although a store manager told me that probably will never happen because it’s one of their best-sellers.

But you gotta have a dream. If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna make a dream come true?

© 2011 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

This entry was posted in Productivity Tools, Tech Tips, The Examined Life, The Writing Life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to We Interrupt This Blog…

  1. JLD says:

    Lovely post, Anne. Non-writers often don’t understand how long it takes to get back into the character’s mind, voice, setting, etc. once you are dragged out of it. “I just need one minute of your time,” means ten or fifteen minutes after you’ve finished with them to get your head back into it. And the most frustrating thing is when you’re having one of those rare days when you are just clicking on all cylinders and the words are pouring out of you with ease but then someone interrupts you and when you get back, the flow is gone and it’s like pulling teeth to find the words.

    It would be nice to unplug the phone while I’m working, but I have kids and must be available. Someone needs to invent a phone where you can program it to only ring if certain numbers are calling. All other numbers quietly go to voicemail.

    Judy (fellow Williams-Sonoma drooler)

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    • Anne Bingham says:

      Judy, thanks for stopping by! You could always buy one of those prepaid cell phones that only family and schools would have the number for, and then you could turn off the land phone and set the answering machine to silent.

      However, after 28 kid-years of school, the ONLY time anyone needed to call me because they’d gotten sick at school, it was six weeks before the end of the school year for Younger Son’s senior year in high school, and I was out on a walk and had uncharacteristically forgotten to bring my cell with me. My husband was at an out-of-town meeting, the non-family back-up was my neighbor and walking partner…but the emergency contact number was her home line, not the cell she had with her! So it went to the last Emergency Contact…our pastor, who happened to be near his school at the time. All this happened in the space it took to take a three-mile walk on a warm spring day!

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  2. MaryWitzl says:

    Damn it, I HAD one of those cow milk pitchers (the one where the tail is the handle and you pour from the cow’s mouth, right?) and gave it away. We have so much china, for a lot of crazy reasons. Next time I find one, I’ll hang onto it for you.

    Interruptions make my day. I love jumping up to do the laundry or tend to my garden — they make me feel less sedentary and dull. What I don’t love is having to get up to deal with dead mice or birds, or a cat who doesn’t know what to do with herself. I’m not crazy about answering the phone either, or signing for the neighbors’ parcels.

    You were good to look after your father for so long. My father spent ten days with us in Japan and required a certain amount of looking after (he got gastroenteritis there) and I thought I’d go crazy.

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    • Anne Bingham says:

      In the spirit of full disclosure, I had a lovely Olive Garden dinner with a friend from high school, and multiple home-cooked suppers (including bread pudding with brandy sauce!) and assorted recovery care from a friend inn town who goes back to my grade school days, so it wasn’t 100% eldercare!

      Your former cow pitcher is probably the same one I’m pining for, Mary! Was it white? I suspect variations abound in your part of the world, especially in charity shops. An English aunt (came over as a war bride) had a red plastic cow pitcher; you lifted its tail and the milk came out the udders. It might have been a jokey thing; it was fairly small.

      It’s not like I need a cream pitcher. I have one in Haviland, one in old pink glass, one in white stoneware, one that came with a demitasse set that we received as a wedding gift, one in Corelle that I picked up at a second-hand store because I liked the design and a largish one in pressed glass that I’m told was given out by local grocery stores as a premium back in the Fifties or Sixties.

      They all get some use during the year as syrup pitchers and gravy/ sauce containers, but I don’t think I’ve ever used them for milk or creamer.

      I read once about a mother whose children had never seen a milk jug on the table because she always served the milk for their cereal in a cream pitcher.

      I am not that mother.

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  3. Jim B says:

    Ha! “Bacon”. Never heard that one before, but I love it. Everything is better with bacon. Good post Anne.

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  4. JLD says:

    When I had very nervously sent my oldest daughter off to kindergarten, I received one of those phone calls. The teacher said she needed me to come to school because my daughter had an accident. My heart started pounding and I could hardly breathe. I stammered, “Is she alright?” and the teacher said, “Yes, but she needs her mommy.” I asked, “What exactly happened?” and she said, “Oh, it was no big deal. We were outside for recess and I think she just didn’t want to stop playing long enough to run into the bathroom.” She had WET HER PANTS! Once my blood pressure dropped and my hands stopped shaking, I advised the teacher that, in situations where the only casualty is a pair of jeans, she might not want to lead with, “Your child has had an accident.” She then realized how it had sounded to me and was very apologetic and embarrassed.

    I was the homeroom mom for the class and spent a lot of time helping in her classroom, so I had the chance to tease her about it a few times. Two years later she called me to tell me that my second daughter, who was now in her class, had fallen off the seesaw and hit her head, so I guess all that teasing came back to bite me.

    Judy

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    • Anne Bingham says:

      I have a client who is in law enforcement. The first time he called me to do some writing for me, he started the conversation by saying “This is Captain Ivan Pierogi of the Wauwatosa Police Force.”

      {stoppeth the heart…} I was sure there’d been a massacre at one of my kids’ schools or that one of my husband’s clients had brought a gun to the session and started firing.

      Fortunately, the officer was just looking for someone to help him fine-tune his application for a promotion. (Note: Name and police force disguised in the foregoing; a lot of the work I do is confidential.)

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  5. JLD says:

    Oh, man, and I was delighted with the idea that there was an officer out there named Ivan Pierogi of the Wauwatosa Police Force! What a letdown!

    Several times the police have called our house because the alarm has gone off (falsely) at my husband’s business. It’s always a jolt to the system. Once, I stepped out of my office (in an outbuilding on our property) and saw police officers with dogs wandering all over our property. Seems a neighbor had seen a guy with a camera watching her children playing in the back yard. The guy saw her and took off. The police were trying to find him. Very unsettling sight to walk into, especially when your mind is still lingering in the setting of the manuscript you were working on before walking out the door.

    Judy

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