Reduce the Time, Energy, & Attention Loss from Drop-In Visitor Thieves

Meggin McIntosh
4 min readJan 15, 2023
iStock by Getty Images: artiemedvedev

Well, now. The following tips are to help you get people out of your home/work space (which is counterintuitively even harder now that many more people are working from home — all at the same time).

  1. Arrange your office/work space so you don’t get or make eye contact with people who walk by randomly. If they need you, they’ll knock or call out your name — don’t worry. Make it clear if you work from home that it doesn’t mean your kids or the other adults may just interrupt you whenever they feel like it. Although I used to simply tape notes to my door to let my husband know I was interruptible or not, I bought these brightly colored door hangers and printed out specific repeating involvements so he knew what I was doing and knew whether he could walk in the room to get something or not (e.g., coaching (no), teaching a class (no), attending a class (yes), hosting Write on Site (yes), meeting with my two main assistants (yes), etc.)
  2. Make it clear to friends/neighbors what your work time is so that they know that you are working and not answering the door during certain hours, even if they happened to stop by.
  3. Do not invite people in unless you really want them to come in. Once people are inside, it’s much harder to get them out (plus you’re just encouraging this drop-in behavior). When I still worked in an office, I just stood by the door. Since the pandemic began, I have kept a mask near the door and I just pop it on if I am opening my front door to anyone and it’s an excellent signal that I am unlikely to invite people in.
  4. Whether you’re answering the phone or talking to someone who has the potential to be a time, energy, & attention thief, avoid aying “How are you?” and replace it with “What can I help you with today?”
  5. If you are headed into deep work focused time, close your office door. Put a sign out (or download one from Keeping Chaos at Bay) that says when you’ll be available again.
  6. If you are busy, yet someone has interrupted you, stand immediately and gently usher him/her toward the door. If the interrupter says “Are you busy?” say “Yes.” That’s all. No need to explain what you’re doing or offer an apology for not having time for the interrupter.
  7. If you are busy, but someone interrupts you with important/appropriate information, praise him/her with that in mind: “Thank you so much for bringing me this information. It seems that I get interrupted too frequently with unimportant information, but I really needed this. I appreciate it that you’re only bringing me critical information this morning while I’m working on this project.” Praise the behavior you’re seeking (and that includes children and spouses/partners).
  8. If you’ve gotten into a habit of allowing a person to steal your time (“Come on in — how are you?”) on a regular basis, i.e., whenever that person passes your door, use the next time you see them to explain briefly that you simply can’t chat on “company” time in the future. If you want to socialize with this person, set up a time to see him/her when you are “off the clock.”
  9. Establish clear boundaries with your family. Even small children can tell that the big picture of the clock (or some other symbol) means they can’t disturb mommy/daddy unless it’s very important. If they break in, immediately assign a chore that they must do (one of yours) to re-pay your lost time. One of my assistants used to hold out her hand for the $5 bill that her family members must present if they want to interrupt her (emergencies excepted). Remember to praise the behavior you’re seeking (see #6) if they remember to wait until you are “off the clock.”
  10. Learn to say “back to work!” and mean it. This is a good reminder since we often interrupt or “drop in” on ourselves.

Oh, my. I know these are tough ones. I could cite lots of statistics about how much time is wasted every day by drop-in visitors, but I’ll bet you already know this based on your own work life. Help make your time and everyone else’s more productive. Share this list.

Are you safe? Do you have time, energy, and attention thieves lurking around you — ready to rob you of your most precious resources?

If that sounds like you, and you’re ready to banish those burglars once and for all, you will love this practical and specific Get a Plan! Guide® to Thwarting the Thieves of Your Time, Energy, & Attention. If you like reading and having a document to refer to, you may purchase and download this 47-page, full-color Get a Plan! Guide® (and use this coupon code to access it with my compliments — GIFT-THIEVES2023). You’ll be glad you did!

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Meggin McIntosh

Meggin McIntosh, “The PhD of Productivity®”, invests time & energy with people who seek ways to be overjoyed instead of overwhelmed. https://meggin.com