Already this morning, I’ve had to deal with an email service problem, two phone calls totally unrelated to work, and I’ve had to search for things for other people while trying to start my work day. All of this and it’s not even 9 a.m. yet.

Some days you just know nothing’s getting done. Today may be that day for me, as I have a visitor arriving within the hour to pick up those things I had to search for. And that’s a shame, because I have a ton of work to finish. I’m not the type of person who can be steered easily off track and away from deadlines, so this will be a source of irritation most of the morning, or until I can get back on track.

Interruptions in any workplace happen. But at home, you will undoubtedly be expected to drop things and lend a hand much more often than if you were sitting in an office or a cubicle somewhere out of reach. It’s the bane of the freelance career–people assume that because you’re at home, you’re at their disposal.

I’ve had to pick kids up, drop kids off, run errands, head to the store, call different service people, make appointments, be home and available for cable and phone repair people, you name it. While the being home part was no great stretch, the rest of it is pure secretarial work. If I were a paid secretary, I’d have no problem with it. However, I’m a writer who’s actually paid by others, not by the people around me who put demands on me (and you’ll find the most guilty are your children and your partner).

If you find yourself in that position, like I do quite often, you have to assess the situation for what it is. Is the request for help something that will take five minutes of your time, or is it something that will require a half an hour or more? What’s your workload look like? Are you able to grant a favor, or would it put you behind schedule? Also, are you the type of person who needs to stay focused? If so, you might want to deny most requests on days where you have work to finish (or start).

It takes a lot of internal discipline to work from home. Also, it takes external discipline–being able to say no–for those times when you know helping out will interfere and cause you added stress.

And speak up. I’ve had to defend my workspace on many occasions. I know that saying no once or twice won’t stop the requests from coming in. But I know also that saying yes all the time won’t allow me time to meet deadline or to locate more projects. Time is money. If you frame it as such, you’ll have no trouble turning down the latest request to take the teenagers to the mall.

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